Monday, March 11, 2013

A Journey to Lao Ban Zhang, Bu Lang Shan Mountain

-By Richard Zhang

Lao Ban Zhang, the small village located in the Bu Lang Shan Mountain, Xishuang Banna, became world-wide known by people because of Pu Erh tea produced here. Lao Ban Zhang Pu Erh has been the same word of the most famous Pu Erh in the eyes of Pu Erh fans. For years, Ban Zhang Pu Erh is likened to the King of Pu Erh.

Bu Lang Shan Mountain is mainly settled by Bu Lang Minority. That is why the Mountain got its name. It lies between Menghun, Daluo and Da Meng Long in the Southeast of Xishuang Banna, with its south tip bordering Burma. There are more than 50 ethnic Minorities scattered among the stretching and undulating hills and deep valleys of Bu Lang Shan Mountain.

We made a long and arduous journey to Lao Ban Zhang of Bu Lang Shan Mountain, wishing to get to know more about the secrets of Pu Erh in the early March, 2013.

Our car passed Menghai, drove on the Kunluo road for a while and turned to the left, then began to climb on a narrow, twisting and bumpy road. The road was so bad that your car would probably break down here if it wasn't good enough. We all held tight the handrail in the car to prevent our head hitting the roof. The road to Bu Lang Shan Mountain is characteristics of danger, steepness, twist and bumpiness. It is difficult to get into it even by an off-road vehicle when rainy season comes.

Time and time again, before I traveled here, I imagined what Bu Lang Shan looked like to be. I imagined big rolling mountains covered by dense forests and a paradise of wild animals and birds while what I saw here turned out to be far different from what I imagined. Forests are not dense here and mountains and gullies are nearly barren. I haven't even heard of singing of birds and found the trace of wild animal along the long and twisting road. It is obvious that the ecosystems here are fragile. Everything looked dull and grey when you looked far into the distance.

After more than three hours driving, a tea garden appeared in front of us. It is a "young" tea garden. We said it was young to compare it with the old ones. In fact, the tea trees in it are all more than 30 years old and they are in the productive age. Don't look down upon these young trees. We got to know the price of the tea here was close to that of Lao Ban Zhang village.

Lao Ban Zhang half-way down the hill is a village settled by Hani Minority. When we arrived in Lao Ban Zhang, it is about Am 12:00. It doesn't like the popular saying told there were many tea dealer gathered here. During the few hours we stayed here, there were only two groups of people coming from outside. One is the people coming from the township government.  The other, telling from their accent, are the people coming from Zhejiang Province. We finally got to know they came here just to buy 20KG Lao Ban Zhang Loose Pu Erh from the tea farmers here, staying with them from harvesting to manufacturing for several days.

Most of people staying in the village were the elder. The young people all came outside to harvest tealeaves. Currently, fresh tealeaves can be sold at more than USD60/KG. It is a big sum but when you came into the homes of the local people, you would find how poor they were. It is so strange considering the big money they can earn from tea each year and why didn't they improve their living conditions with the money?  It was obviously beyond our aim coming here so we didn't think it anymore.

Two barriers have been set up to prevent Pu Erh tea outside coming into Lao Ban Zhang. It seemed to be a good idea while if you paid attention, you would find it wasn't same as what you thought. Great profit can urge people to take risk and change everything. It seems that if you wanted to drink authentic Lao Ban Zhang Pu Erh, the most reliable way would need to be like, as I mentioned previously, what the Zhejiang people did.

The photos taken on the road to Lao Ban Zhang, Ban Lang Shan:

The Photos taken in the Lao Ban Zhang Village:

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