The following is an excerpt from Jeff Fuchs’ Tea and Mountain Journals, a blog by explorer, photographer and writer Jeff Fuchs. Jeff is the 2011 recipient of WildChina’s Explorer Grant. He and friend Michael Kleinwort are currently traveling through unknown portions of the Tsalam route in Qinghai.
Below is an update from their journey…
Breakfast often brings realizations – some stimulated by the first thoughts of the day and others brought to life from without. Tucking into bowl after bowl of milk tea this morning comes with a nugget of information imparted almost casually, which reminds me very clearly of what is key to this journey. It has to do with salt.
Muscle pain is thrown aside as this new tad of information settles in. We are nine people tucked into a square room no more than three metres square. Two beds, a wood stove, a makeshift altar and Michael and I trying unsuccessfully to shove our legs and filthy boots somewhere where we aren’t tripping people up.
My question comes amidst a full mouth of tea and tsampa (barley powder) and there are subsequent sprays of powdered barley as I bark out my query about salt.
“Was salt transported here by caravan”?
A middle-aged man with tawny eyes and large hands issues the answer and it is straightforward.
“Of course. Salt was always being moved around and there used to be a tsaka (place of salt) close to here”, he continues, “Traders often used these pilgrimage routes as trade routes”.
Somehow just hearing the words again, hearing this most informal of confirmations from a local lights up the morning. Within the landscapes that we have been traveling the land and elements have at times overshadowed the mineral itself. Here the daily doses of the spectacular overwhelm all, but suddenly and reassuringly the old salt routes come front and centre once again.
The sky is grey and ambiguous as though pending. It is weather that is deceptively still and heavy and it is my least favourite weather system. I detest its heaviness. It feels tenuous like it cannot quite decide how to proceed and its quiet, windless heat plays with my brain and skin. I crave the winds, which I know are out there waiting somewhere just beyond this soupy grey. Snow fell last night and a bizarrely even snowline appears where the temperatures dropped below zero turning wet into white.
Like many good-byes within the Himalayas, our own from this little home is disjointed, sudden and without any pomp. Gamzon, our guide is perky from her time with family and clearly energized. Terrier is his usual self, though slightly impatient to get on with it. I share his neurotic need to press on and get out of this warm valley, which is slowly strangling me. In the village we have picked up yet more noodles and some strange lumps of glutinous rice candy for the road.
We cut south down a valley that will take us to a divide with one route heading directly south and another cutting back west and then north. We will take the later cut-back, which will take us around the bulk of Amne Machin and hopefully to my old friend the wind.