The small village of Shaxi was once well known as one of the key stopping points on the so called 'tea-horse' route – an ancient trade route that shipped tea, cloth, salt and daily necessities, from southern Yunnan to Tibet, Nepal, Burma as well as other parts of China while Tibetans would bring yak furs and traditional medicines in the other direction. As well as being a stop off on the tea-horse route Shaxi also had an important commodity of its own: salt from the nearby Misha salt wells. However, the caravan routes died out around 60 years ago, eliminating the main source of revenue on which Shaxi had thrived. The town then reverted to reliance on agriculture and has passed the decades quietly, missing out on the benefits and drawbacks that other Chinese cities have gone through since the late 1970s.
Blessed with blue skies, sunshine and cool breezes year-round and located in a mountain valley with no airport, modern buildings, traffic congestion or significant pollution, Shaxi is almost too good to be true. The village receives surprisingly few visitors, and you are unlikely to encounter many tourists, either domestic or foreign. It is pristinely preserved, reminiscent of a bygone era in China. Today you will find cobbled streets, slightly crumbling architecture, a bustling market, and family courtyards where little old women are likely to invite you in for tea.
Shaxi is nowadays the only market town on the former trail and the Chinese authorities are beginning to understand how important this historical town is. With that understanding comes a danger that it may go the same way as Lijiang and Dali and become over populated with tourists and end up losing the appeal it had in the first place. Get there soon before the inevitable changes!