The Ancient Tea and Tea Horse Road in Puer City

The Ancient Tea and Tea Horse Road in Puer City

Reflections of Yunnan: Magical, Beautiful, and Abundant

In the middle of the twentieth century, poet Xu Chi eloquently captured the essence of Yunnan with three evocative words: magical, beautiful, and ample. During this era, Yunnan’s landscape resonated with an authentic and ethereal allure, akin to the ripples spreading from the intense fragrance of the Five Golden Flowers. Against the backdrop of the enduring Love Song for Lusheng, caravans traversed the rugged terrain of Belling Mountains, their bells echoing through vast mountain ridges exposed to winds and rains.

Old Tea-Horse Road in Nakeli, Ninger County, Pu'er
Old Tea-Horse Road in Nakeli, Ninger County, Pu’er

Unveiling the Mysteries: The Ancient Tea-Horse Road

While many admired Yunnan’s colorful ethnic customs and legendary love stories, few pondered the origins of the echoing horse bells amid mountains or the rugged voices of horsemen. The term “Ancient Tea-Horse Road” only gained widespread recognition years later, shedding light on the arduous journey of tea from jungle depths, explaining why caravans continued their mountain songs.

Evolution of Pu’er Tea: From Wilderness to Cultivation

Pu’er Tea, born in Yunnan’s borderlands, emerged from wild ancient tea trees to transitional varieties, evolving into today’s cultivated tea gardens. This transformation, spanning millennia, intertwined with the region’s history and natural evolution.

Guardians of Time: Ancient Tea Trees of Qianjia Village and Kunlu Mountain

In Qianjia Village, Zhenyuan, Pu’er, Yunnan, ancient tea trees form the oldest and largest wild community spanning over 4,200 acres. The venerable No. 1 ancient tea tree in Shangbai, Qianjia Village, with an age of 2,700 years, stands alone in the Ailao Mountains, revered for its deep connection to heaven and earth and unwavering loyalty over millennia.

Kunlu Mountain Ancient Tea Garden, a sanctuary over 30 km from Ning’er County Town, boasts a collection of big-leaf, medium-leaf, and small-leaf ancient tea tree species. These trees, adorned with rain-soaked moss and wind-worn rust, are treasured as national heritage, blending seamlessly with the natural and cultural tapestry of Yunnan.

Old Tea-Horse Road in Nakeli, Ninger County, Pu'er
Old Tea-Horse Road in Nakeli, Ninger County, Pu’er

Trails of Legacy: Ancient Tea-Horse Roads Extending from Pu’er

The Ancient Tea-Horse Road, originating from Pu’er Tea, extends in all directions with Ning’er as its source and distribution center. These roads include:

  • Official Tea-Horse Road to the Capital: Known as the “Previous Road for Official Horses,” linking Ning’er to Kunming and onward to Beijing, while also connecting southwards to Burma and Southeast Asia.
  • Pu’er-Tibet Tea-Horse Road: Facilitating trade between Pu’er and Lhasa in Tibet, with branches extending to Burma and India through Baoshan.
  • Pu’er-Jiangcheng Tea-Horse Road: Vital for exporting Pu’er Tea abroad, passing through Simao to Ximeng or Menglian.
  • Pu’er-Lancang Tea-Horse Road: Also known as the “Dry-season Tea-Horse Road,” traversing from Ning’er to Jingmai Mountain Tea Garden and further south to Laos via Simao and Mengla.

These ancient routes, some dating back to the Qin and Han Dynasties, bridged cultural exchanges over vast distances, carrying the essence of Pu’er Tea and shaping its rich cultural heritage.

Enduring Legacy: Caravans of Hope and Heritage

For generations, caravans embarked on the ancient roads laden with Pu’er Tea, embodying hope and perseverance amidst sweat and toil. These wandering caravans, like clouds drifting through rain forests and canyons, traversed mountains towards the Himalayas and beyond, enriching global tea culture with the unique essence of Pu’er.

In summary, Yunnan’s Ancient Tea-Horse Road stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of exploration and trade, weaving together nature, culture, and history across millennia, and securing Pu’er Tea’s place as a globally cherished icon of heritage and charm.

The Tea Horse Ancient Road in Ning’er County

The Tea Horse Ancient Road in Ning’er County spans towns like Ning’er Town, Mohei Town, Dehua Township, and Tongxin Township within Ning’er Hani and Yi Autonomous County, Pu’er City. Named after the Tang and Song Dynasties’ “Tea Horse Trade,” this ancient transportation route originated from Puer Prefecture (now Ning’er County). It played a crucial role in transporting Pu’er tea domestically and internationally, evolving from the ancient “Southern Silk Road” through various historical periods.

Historical Significance and Development

Since its establishment during the Qing Dynasty in 1729 AD, Puer Prefecture has been pivotal in the development of the Tea Horse Ancient Road, boasting a history of 280 years. This route facilitated trade and cultural exchange across southern Yunnan and beyond, contributing significantly to regional unity and economic prosperity.

Preserved Sections of the Road

  1. Tea An Tang Tea Horse Ancient Road Site
    • Located approximately 12 kilometers long, paved with variously shaped mountain stones, and featuring visible horse hoof prints along its 2-meter-wide path.
  2. Kongqueping Tea Horse Ancient Road Site
    • Extending approximately 27 kilometers, paved with limestone, gravel, and other stones, showcasing the road-building techniques of ancient times.
  3. Nakeri Tea Horse Ancient Road Site
    • Approximately 30 kilometers in length, paved with stone slabs and gravel, 1.5-2 meters wide, and notable for its winding stone steps. It served as a crucial route for tea horse posts from southern Yunnan to northern regions.
  4. Gypsum Well Tea Horse Ancient Road Site
    • Spanning around 8 kilometers and paved with gravel, this section is approximately 2 meters wide.
  5. Shiya Po Tea Horse Ancient Road Site
    • Approximately 6.5 kilometers long, featuring a well-preserved stone-lined section of about 500 meters, with a width of approximately 2.6 meters. This segment is currently the widest discovered part of the Tea Horse Ancient Road.

Cultural and Economic Impact

Ning’er is celebrated globally as the origin and distribution center of “Pu’er Tea,” deeply intertwined with the historical legacy of the Tea Horse Ancient Road. This route served as a vital lifeline for southwestern China’s diverse ethnic groups, fostering economic prosperity, cultural exchange, and regional unity.

Research and Cultural Value

The Tea Horse Ancient Road holds immense historical and cultural significance, offering valuable insights into ancient trade routes, cultural exchanges, and the development of regional identities in China’s history.