For the past few months, a commercial shown often on a Korean channel drew my attention. Without English subtitles, I could not tell if the commercial was a preview of a Korean historical drama or an infomercial advertising a travel agency’s tour package to a pristine region laden with majestic mountains and raging rivers. A few noticeable English words appearing on screen read “Asian Corridor in Heaven”.
Then one night I switched to the station and caught an unforgettable episode of this exquisitely produced documentary fully subtitled with succinctly written English, a collaboration of Korea’s KBS and Japan’s NHK broadcasting corporations. This installment featured the treacherous Ancient Tea-Horse Road, a caravan route via which commodities, most notably Pu-erh tea for the Tibetan people to supplement their unbalanced diet and horses for the Chinese, were exchanged and transported between Tibet and the Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces in China. The Ancient Tea-Horse Road predates the Silk Road by 200 years. Travelling on its narrow trails carved against mountain cliffs or crossing bridges suspended over torrents seems a mission impossible even for the most agile, invincible, modern-day mountaineers with state-of-the-art gear. How did the merchants travelling with their livestock manage this dangerous trip thousands of years ago? Frontier people who first identified and constructed the route must have possessed mystical powers! The path, though less traveled, is still in use. With its tremendous historical and cultural significance, it can never be completely replaced by convenient highways.
Another installment followed closely and objectively three Tibetan men’s extraordinary pilgrimage to Lhasa, Tibet. They were accompanied by two older gentlemen in their sixties who hauled the young men’s daily supplies of food and clothing purely on foot. After 180 days of travelling by prostration – a process that required the pilgrims to walk three small steps, then stretch on the ground, facing down, and repeat the monotonous sequence throughout the entire journey, not only on paved highways but also on rugged terrain – they reached their destination, Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. Two of the men, deeply moved by this ascetic experience, chose to stay in Lhasa and became Buddhist monks.
I am in the process of acquiring a copy of this six-episode documentary, which is entitled “Asian Corridor in Heaven”. The production very successfully records and commemorates the human spirit and imagination!
The images accompanying this post are original photographs taken specifically for the piece by Richard S. Chow.