Last week we shared the beginning of the story of Pha, the second son of a Hunan Tea Master, who brought his tea and set his fortune on the Silk Road. Eventually his tea, PHatea®, was brought to America where it is helping regulate blood glucose and lower cholesterol.
Pha, second son to Tea Master Wei, has taken bricks of his father’s tea to the Silk Road to make his fortune and his father proud.
Pha led his party across the Yangzi River leaving behind everything he had ever known. The caravan made its way through the Wuling Mountains in the northwest. Pha met people and saw sights he had only dreamed of when he watched the mountains as a young boy. He knew there were hardships to come and so was grateful the first leg of travel was not difficult and would ease his caravan into the journey.
By that time in Chinese history, the Silk Road, which wasn’t named The Silk Road until the 1800s, was a web of trade routes that ran in the north and in the south of the Tibetan Plateau. In ancient times, the routes were established by travelers and merchants to avoid the treacherous mountains.
In Pha’s time merchants typically traveled and traded in well-established lines along one segment of a route, moving back and forth over a path they knew well. They stopped in towns that serviced the merchants up and down the line, feeding the men, watering the animals and brokering trade.
Goods passed through many hands and rose in value the more times they were traded. Pha had already met merchants who eyed him suspiciously, wanting to protect their territory, wanting to know what he was selling. He assured them his destination was far from their route and he needed to keep as much tea as possible to trade when he got there. His father’s tea had a good reputation and he was pleased that reputation had reached so far. He realized that withholding the tea only made it more valuable to the traders. Several times he was tempted to sell much of what he had as the offers kept climbing. Especially when an offer came after a long, wet, cold night. But Pha held fast to his tea.
One night, Pha stopped the caravan just after dusk even though lights of next town could be seen in the distance. It was late, cold and had rained all day. He should have wanted to climb into a dry bed, have a hot meal and rest for a day. Instead, he stayed just far enough away that they could enter the town in daylight, stable the animals and spend a full day of rest. True to his name, staying away from the town would prove to be fortunate for him.
After camp had been set, Pha watched a small caravan approach. He watched the merchant and his animals outlined on the horizon. The merchant, an old man, who introduced himself as Changpu, asked if he could join Pha at his fire. For a while they made polite conversation. Changpu told Pha that he, too, often set camp outside the town, entering during the day, making his trades and heading back out as dusk settled. He liked being in the open where he could see the thieves before they approached and was less vulnerable to the chaos of the nights in town.
When Changpu asked about Pha’s cargo he was merely interested, not threatened by the young man’s presence on his part of the road. They talked long into the night. Changpu had traded on many of the Silk Road routes and gave Pha valuable information. He helped the young man ith his maps and warned him that the merchants that lived in the towns were notorious for exaggerating distances and terrain. They wanted the tradesmen to leave their wares, not take them through so another man could make their money. Pha soaked up the old man’s words asking more and more questions.
Most of the tradesmen Pha had met so far, excluding Changpu, reminded him of his brother and stirred the competition that had driven him from home. Pha knew he was traveling into territory where his father’s tea would have no reputation and a fear had begun to form that the longer he held on to his tea, the harder it might be to part with it.
But, he told himself, he would know when the time was right and when the merchant the right one to buy his tea. For a time that night, Pha thought it might be Changpu. But he held his tongue and not long after, as they were poring over maps in the dim light, Changpu said his greatest dream had been to forge and establish a route into Tibet.
Changpu, studying the young man next to him, said that the man who was brave enough to take his goods off the road and into the mountains would get rich indeed. He had heard stories of cities in Tibet hungry for goods. There were travelers who would penetrate the mountains from the towns along the Silk Road but many times their goods had been sold so often they were hard-pressed to make their investment back. Tea from your region isn’t often found as far away as Tibet, Changpu said, it would sell high in Tibet to be sure.
When Phas asked, Changpu told him he had had never ventured that far. He always planned to and it was a regret he would take to his death.
As Changpu shared stories with Pha, a plan began to formulate and in the gray light of dawn, Pha invited Changpu to join his caravan and head with him to sell tea in Tibet….