During the National Day holidays in the first week of October we were joined by a small Sino-Australian group for a 5-day excursion along the Tea Trail between Dali and Shaxi. Fortune smiled upon us. The weather was fine, as was the food and wine. Scroll down for several pictures and unusually few words…

Our route began above Zhoucheng, on the northwest corner of Lake Erhai, and then crossed Cangshan to the Fengyu Valley (saluted above by Alek Sigley). After lunch and a resupply mission at Fengyu market, we made a short drive and boat ride to the north shore of Lake Cibi, from where it was a two-day hike across the range to Shaxi, our favourite old caravan town…

After several days rain, the skies cleared just in time for the journey to start. The trail above Zhoucheng was steep but in good condition; on the other side of the range, our mule team had struggled up a terribly muddy path in order to join us.

Mud notwithstanding, the mules arrived on time. From the trailhead to the pass leading to our campsite, we gained approx. 1,000 meters in elevation.

Luo Guohu was in charge of our mule team to Fengyu. Ordinarily he looks after goats on the pasture where we camped.

The pasture of Xiao Huadianba as we saw it first. We made slow progress and the sun was setting by the time we got over the pass.

Luo Guohu and the rest of the mule team had moved ahead and settled into Guohu’s herder’s hut already.

Yaks share the pasture with Guohu’s goats and trekkers.

It was September 30, or August 15 by the traditional Chinese calendar, making it the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival. We were rewarded with a good view of the full moon, which provided the lighting for the picture above. The mule team joined us for local moon cakes and various drinks to celebrate.

The next morning we left Xiao Huadianba early and lunched on the next pasture to the north. To evade the mud trail down, Guohu suggested an alternative route – which took us back up close to 3,300 meters above sea level, where a handful of unseasonal rhododendrons were just coming into bloom (see the Flower Blog here).

Our campsite in the evening was close to Luo Guohu’s home village. His dad (above right) is a keen musician and organized a few friends to visit for some music, song and dance before dinner.

The village is 100% Bai, although they reckon their ancestors came from Jiangsu back in the Ming Dynasty, meaning that they were once Han but were assimilated by the locally dominant Bai culture.

Day 3 involved a short stroll down into Fengyu Valley, after which we said goodbye to Guohu’s team. This was the first time they had taken part in a trek like this and they all seemed to enjoy it greatly. Their village is large but remote and they depend very much on the mountain for sustenance – hence the unusually large number of mules available for our modern-day caravan.

Fengyu’s weekly market was in full swing when we arrived just after midday. After lunch, our team shopped for supplies for the second half of the journey.

Fengyu’s market is among the most traditional of the local Bai markets. Although this was right in the middle of the National Day “Golden Week” and Dali was already heaving with tourists, we didn’t see any other outsiders here.

After a shower and a good night’s sleep, our second mule team met us by the north shore of Lake Cibi. From there we had another 1,000-meter climb to the top of the range.

En route we stopped for tea at my friend Yu Zhifa’s house. I had some photos of her family to give to her from our last visit. Gary helped her light up with a coal from the fire. Several Yi households dot the mountainside between Cibi and Shaxi: all are related to old Mrs. Yu.

As it was our last night in the mountains – and thanks to our team’s sterling resupply effort in Fengyu – we pushed the boat out for the last camp meal. Many thanks to Warwick and especially Qilin for their help in the kitchen!

On the way down the following day we stopped for lunch at the fish pond looked after by Ding Xuewu (below) and his wife.

Mr. Ding spent a good couple of hours trying to catch a fish for the pot, but had no luck. He claimed he had fed them too well and so they weren’t interested in his bait.

Our caravan came over Yujin Bridge, which spans the Heihui River just outside Shaxi’s old east gate, at around 5:30 in the evening. From here was only five minutes further to lodgings at the Laomadian and the end of the trail.