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Join National Geographic magazine photographer Michael Yamashita as he shares images and stories from his newest publication, Shangri-La: Along the Tea Road to Lhasa. Yamashita, a 30-year professional documentary photographer and filmmaker, specializes in topics in Asia.
Yamashita says that the inspiration for this latest folio started in Jiuzhaigou (the Valley of Nine Villages), where crystal-clear waters cascade from glacial peaks into a progression of emerald lakes, ponds, streams and virulets, punctuated by blue-green waterfalls and luxurious vegetation. Yamashita's Chinese photographer friends all cite Jiuzhaigou as the most photogenic place in China.
It was in Jiuzhaigou that Yamashita first heard of the ancient trade route, the Chamagudao, or Tea-Horse Road. This route was established roughly 4,000 years ago when Chinese merchants began trading tea to Tibetans, in exchange for horses, much in need for China's constant battles against mounted Mongol invaders. Though the Chamagudao was named primarily for the read trade, many other products, especially horses, also moved to markets along this route, a network of pathways winding up precipitous mountain passes and into deep river valleys in what is some of the most spectacular and beautiful geography on earth. Often mistakenly known as the Southern Silk Road, the Chamagudao has also served as a major channel for cultural exchange between China and Tibet.
More recently this region has become plagued by many new environmental challenges such as a booming trade in chongcao, caterpillar fungus, a Chinese medicament much in demand which has lured whole villages to dig destructively through virgin lands.