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…
The stillness has silenced our tongues and suppressed any grand displays. There are no demonstrations of success, no surges of happiness from either of us at having arrived – the stillness and emptiness is haunting.
“Few know of this place”, we have been told.
What we see is a shallow lake that is disappearing – we have been told that in the past ten years the water levels have declined dramatically. Quite what made the salt ‘better’ than other is a mystery but this salt was collected by traders from northwestern Sichuan making the two week journey, up to northern Qinghai and even to Lhasa in roughly a month.
A path to the north – a mere wisp – is what is left of the route which yak used to take their precious mineral cargoes to all points. One single nomadic tent remains. The family has been in the valley for generations and is the only remaining nomadic clan in view.
The family tells us how the lake itself will dry up in time. Thick salt coats the shallow lakes but is unused except by the odd bird that fancies a saline treat. Nomads left the valley when the famed salt dried up. When I ask what made the salt so special that traders traveled through such landscapes to access, the response was vague and simple – “because it was special salt”.
Silence pervades and the wind itself seems to be mindful that this is a valley of quiet – my mind wanders backward in time to when bodies came and went buying and trading for the salt. Traders from Sichuan would often bring special wood, sap and resin heavy pine for trade for salt – bartering has a deep and long running pedigree in these parts.
Two structures – salt storage facilities lie forlorn and dilapidated – lie just off of the shallows and saltpans.