The Tea Explorer – Documentary Film
The last month and a bit have been spent contentedly and sometimes manically slurping back tea, humping it over snow passes and sitting with the treasured elders who still recall the days when tea (and salt, wool, and so many other commodities) travelled by caravan.
Churned Tibetan tea: butter, salt, stewed tea leaves all coerced into a potent ‘meal’.
Award-Winning filmmaker Andrew Gregg of 90th Parallel, the incomparable and newly tea-addicted Michael Josselyn and I – after years of plotting and preparing – embarked on a journey to create a film (and experience) a tribute to tea, the tea routes through the sky, and to the spirit of the people who were a part of the 13-Centuries of unending tea trade into the Himalayas.
A Hani elder from southern Yunnan hand-makes a tea basket.
The film, The Tea Explorer is set for a ‘fluid’ release in 2016. During a reconnaissance trip in 2014, Andrew looked incredulous at many points, remarking how “this whole part of the world was driven by tea”…and it was and still is to a great degree.
The crew atop Shola Pass. Route of Pilgrims, brigands, traders, and migrants, the Tea Horse Road pre-dates the Silk Road and was an entirely ‘Asian’ adventure.
Sub-tropic tea forests of southern Yunnan, which have long provided the sumptuous leaves for caravans to export, gave way to rampant tea-high’s of buzzing sweats, which in turn gave way to sacred white snow passes in the sky.
Along for our journey, Sonam: mountain goat, comedian, and channeling conduit for old stuff.
It has led us through the Himalayas, down the Kali Gandaki valley of Mustang to here, the old trade capital of Kathmandu. Regardless of the petrol embargo, and the still tenuous tectonic situation, the city (and the country) still hums with energy and light.
Andrew (left) and Mike at peace (and tea) in Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang, Nepal.
“Tea was everything and everywhere and without it the Himalayas wouldn’t be what they are”, said Himalayan hard-man, scribe and trader Tenzin. I would only expand that Asia wouldn’t be what it is either without the unending flow of the leaf.
It was through valleys like the epic Kali Gandaki in Upper Mustang that tea, salt and wool caravans travelled
Along the way, we were gifted with company and words of old mountain hands Sonam Gelek and Dakpa Kelden, tea dealer to my leafy addiction Mei, and to the bulletproof legend of trade Konga Dakpa. Fuelled by tea, the journey has briefly given a flicker of life to the ancient Himalayan corridors and ushered in some deserved credit for being one of the great adventures of time.
Trade route, pilgrimage path, migration highway and eternal trail through the sky, the Tea Horse Road predated the Silk Road
Updates and sips to be shared.
Nothing is quite complete without a few sips. Photo courtesy of Andrew Gregg.