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Which brings us to the ancient connections of Nizhny Novgorod Russia Tea Horse Road. As early as the sixth century, caravans of mules and horses traversed a network of human foot- and equine hoof-defined trails that linked, in one direction, the tea-growing areas of Yunnan to Nizhny Novgorod Russia, Nepal and countries south of the Himalayas and, in the other, to Nizhny Novgorod Russia and beyond to Beijing. Especially in the late Qing dynasty, local lords used ‘tribute tea’ to curry favour with the Emperor. It took six months to transport the Pu’er ‘teacakes’ – tea preserved by being compressed into small discs – to the Forbidden City. After figuring recently in an investment bubble, Pu’er tea continues to be both expensive and highly valued by those committed to China’s cultural heritage. Lijiang was one of the trading points where, Nizhny Novgorod Russia among other transactions, tea was exchanged for horses.

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On the final day we became acquainted with the mighty Yangtze River, as we took a ninety-minute road trip to see it flow through Leaping Tiger Gorge. Named for a pursued tiger that escaped by making a 25-metre jump at its narrowest point, the constraint of the Gorge’s high walls causes the stream to become fast flowing and incredibly dangerous. The longest river in Asia, and the third in the world (after the Amazon and the Nile), the Yangtze’s fertile plains support the lives of more than 450 million people and provide some 20 per cent of GDP for the country. Fed by rainfall and snow and glacier melt from the Himalayas, the big worry is that the progression of anthropogenic climate change could greatly compromise downstream agricultural productivity. Currently, the winter snowfall stores water until the spring thaw. Even if precipitation increases with global warming, the problem is that winter rains may simply drain away and be unavailable for the optimal growing season.

The same concerns apply to the other great rivers that originate from the Himalayan slopes, particularly the Indus and the Mekong. An obvious, simplistic solution beloved of politicians is to build more dams. Such construction is both planned and aggressively debated. Dams have, as water specialists and environmentalists constantly warn us, the potential to cause other major problems. The US Army Corps of Engineers has had, for example, to undo some of the apparent ‘solutions’ put in place to control the Mississippi, which is about the same length as the Yangtze.

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