The Shanghai International Literary Festival hits the 10th anniversary this year and is most successful than ever: the tickets for the sessions are already impossible to find, all sold out.
I got a lucky chance though, and managed to put my hands on a spare ticket to join at least the Jeff Fuchs talk on his book “The ancient Tea Horse Road”.
The “M on the bund” location was charming as usual, and the “Glamour bar” has been pimped up at its best to welcome the international litterati and audience who were attending.
So I got to know this handsome, adventurous and multitasking guy – photographer, climber and writer – and his unique project. What a find!
Being Fuchs very interested in tea and tea history – he says almost obsessed – and a climber since young age, some areas in Asia and China were a natural appealing destination for him with wide tea plantations and wonderful mountain landscapes.
Once in the east Himalayas he learned about the existence of an old trading Tea Horse Road on which he started to extensively research. He found out that this trade way, used from the 7th century to the 1950ties, has been as significant as the Silk Road but less investigated and almost unknown by the Westerners.
The dream of exploring this path linking, through Himalayas, the original tea forests area of Yunnan – to Tibet, Nepal and India, with extensions to Persia and Middle East, soon became reality.
Fuchs and his team traveled 5000 km of the old road in 8 months and the journey turned into an amazing cultural and anthropological accomplishment.
The last old muleteers and tea traders were interviewed, filmed and portrayed to build a huge database, which will enable further and future researches. Oral narration and different ethnical and minority cultures became the main characters of this job, while DNA sampling and testing, together with linguistic comparisons among the different dialects spoken along the path allowed to highlight the uniqueness of the route as a cultural link.
Due to his achievements Fuchs gained the “2011 Wild China explorer of the year” award for “sustainable exploration of the Himalayan Trade Routes”.
And don’t think of him as an introverted highlander: Fuchs is indeed a brilliant and tireless talker. He easily managed an almost 2 hours talk, sharing anecdotes and showing his beautiful portraits from the Tea Road journey, proudly aware that his project will help to preserve a witness on a nomadic world that is disappearing.