The Ancient Tea Horse Road (in China) was a trade route mainly through Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet. From the 6th century to the 20th century, people in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces traveled by foot and horseback with pack horses to exchange tea for horses with people in Tibet — and thus the pathway was called the Tea Horse Road.
The Tea Horse Road originated from 'tea-horse trade markets'(茶马互市), the traditional 'tea-for-horse' trade between Han and Tibetan people. It began with Tibetan interest in tea in the Tang Dynasty(618–907), During the Song Dynasty, some places in Sichuan, such as Mingshan, had a specialized government agency (茶马司) to manage and supervise the tea-horse trade.
The Tea Horse Road linked Sichuan, Yunnan, and Tibet, stretched across Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, and India, and then reached the Middle East, and even the Red Sea coast of Egypt. Generally speaking, (in China) the Ancient Tea Horse Road was divided into two major roads: the Sichuan–Tibet Tea Horse Road and the Yunnan–Tibet Tea Horse Road.
The Sichuan–Tibet Tea Horse Road
The complete length of the Sichuan–Tibet road was over 4,000 kilometers, with a history of 1,300 years.
The Sichuan–Tibet Tea Horse Road stretched from Ya'an in Sichuan to Lhasa via Luding, Kangding, Batang, and Chamdo in Tibet, and extended to Nepal, Burma, and India.
In the Tang and Song (960–1279) dynasties, the Qinghai–Tibet Highway became a major alternative for transporting tea to Tibet from Sichuan and other more eastern areas, taking the less-steep long way round through Chengdu, Xi’an (then Chang’an) and the Silk Road.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), the Sichuan–Tibet Tea Horse Road was officially recognized, and this helped the commercial towns and cities along the road to expand, and promoted commerce between inland areas and Tibet.
The Yunnan–Tibet Tea Horse Road
The Yunnan–Tibet Tea Horse Road was similarly formed in the late 6th century. It began from Simao (a major tea-producing area) and led to Lhasa, crossing Pu'er in Xishuangbanna, Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La, and continuing to Nepal, Burma, and India. It was thus the critical trade route connecting Yunnan to Southern Asia.
Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road
Episode 1 - The Last Horse Caravan
Episode 2 - Road to Pilgrimage
Episode 3 -Tea Makes the Road Open
Episode 4 - The Salt in Yanjing
Episode 5 - Himalayan Salt Trek
Episode 6 - Guge, Mystery of the Lost Kingdom
Part of the Insight Asia series, Asian Corridor In Heaven is a six-episode HD documentary series co-produced by KBS and NHK about the world's oldest trade route, the "Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road". Pre-dating the Silk Road by 200 years, the Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road crossed from the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces of Southwest China over mountainous terrain into Tibet, Nepal, and India. The Caravan Road was not only an important route for the trade of tea and horses, but also a corridor connecting Chinese and Tibetan language, people, religion, and cultures.