The South Silk Road is not as well known as the Silk Road of Marco Polo fame, but its place is firmly established in the history of the tea trade. Named the ‘Chamadao’, (tea and horse road), the South Silk Road’s rugged trails linked China’s southwest provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan to Tibet and beyond. Evolved from ancient routes, the tea and horse road was officially established as trade routes during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The South Silk Road stretched more than 4,000 kilometers, traversing rugged mountain paths, rivers and lush valleys. Before becoming formal trade routes, the trails were significant corridors for migration and cultural exchange between ethnic groups that still populate southwest China and Tibet today. The Tang-Tubo routes, as they were known in pre-Tang times, reflected the ethnic groups that anchored the trails.
Although other products were traded, tea and horses were the major commodities exchanged along the South Silk Road. The Chinese introduced tea to Tibet during the Tang Dynasty. Initially, tea was only consumed by Tibetan aristocracy, however, it quickly became a mainstay of the Tibetan diet for all classes of society. This resulted in tea displacing silk as a main trading commodity. Tea rituals soon followed Tibetan’s taste for tea and soon tea practices emerged in homes, ceremonies and monasteries.
As tea became an important part of daily life, large scale commerce in tea and horses between the Chinese dynasties and Tibet further developed the caravan trails. The Song court, (960-1279), established the Tea and Horse Office, (Chamasi), to oversee the burgeoning trade of tea for war horses. Trade continued through the Yuan and Ming dynasties. In 1661, the fifth Dalai Lama set up a large market in the town of Beisheng for the tea and horse trade. After that time, the amount of Yunnan tea transported rapidly increased with the demand for tea. Tea served as an important gift for the elite and annual tea allotments were presented to the Dalai and Panchan Lama.
No longer an active route, today the South Silk Road or CHAMAGUDAO, (ancient tea and horse road), continues to be sacred to many people. There are more than twenty different ethnic groups and many different religions to be found along the route. It is said that language changes every 2.5 kilometers. Along the route, there are also many revered mountains, lakes, rivers and cliff views that are destinations for pilgrimages and a growing traveler class who desire to walk the same paths of past tea caravans.
Our goal with this site is to continue in the tradition of the South Silk Road by creating new trade routes. By offering a diverse selection of the highest quality teas and tea wares, we hope to serve the connoisseurs, as well as those who are new to the world of tea.
Tea is that rare commodity whose influence extends far beyond its singular purpose. Philosophy, trade, art, health and social practices the world over are all indebted to this mythical beverage. Ask any tea master and they will tell you there is a story behind every cup.
Welcome to the South Silk Road. Let the journey begin.