Shaxi – On the Ancient Tea Horse Trail

Everyone knows the Silk Road but not many are aware of the Tea Horse Road which was a trade route linking south west China with India through Tibet. There were two main routes originating from tea production centers of Yunnan, famous for its Pu-er tea and Sichuan, famous for its Ya-an tea. Tea being one of the priced traded goods along with sugar and salt were all carried by caravans of horses, mules and yaks though various routes. These caravan routes also went though Myanmar, Laos and Nepal until the 1950s.

Today not much is left of this route, and only three caravan oases remains in China of which one is Shaxi. Shaxi is a small village not directly connected to any larger touristy towns in Yunnan. From Lijiang, we took a bus (2.5 hours to the closest town – Jianchuan) from which we took another small bus to Shaxi (1 hour).

Beautifully preserved wooden houses

Trickling stream

As if time has stood still

Shaxi has two main streets which can be divided into the new town and the lovely old town. Sideng street is the old town street lined on one side with small wooden courtyard homes and a small stream running alongside the other side of the street. Villagers sit in front of their homes washing their vegetables and dishes in the stream. At the end of the street is a large square flanked in the middle by Xingjiao Temple and the Three Terraced Pavilion.

Three Terraced Pavilion

Just harvested, laid out to dry

On each side of town are gates leading to the river which leads to the same trail which many horses, mules and yaks once took on the Ancient Tea Horse Road.

We were lucky to arrive in Shaxi on Friday which is market day. Villages from afar visit this market to buy and sell fresh produce straight off their farms. Spices, especially chili in all sorts of form are sold. We even saw a table with rows of teeth together with a small collection of tools. Not entirely sure what the service provided was but he seems to be the local dentist. The Bai people are an ethnic minority group largely living in the Yunnan province and on market day you can see lots of women in beautiful colorful traditional clothing with large baskets strapped on their backs. But also these baskets are becoming more modern and amongst woven baskets are lots of plastic baskets to be seen.

Baskets for sale

Not for the faint hearted

Shaxi is a lovely quiet town which has not yet been run over by tourists and walking around gives you a taste of the old Tea Horse Road.

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