Jeff Fuchs

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Tea and treks: two words that crudely sum up the loves of Jeff Fuchs, intrepid explorer and connoisseur of the Himalayas. Fuchs, from Ottawa, Canada, was the first Westerner to walk the entire length of the Tea Horse Road – the legendary trail that, from as early as the seventh century, was used to transport tea between China and Tibet. An impressive seven-and-a-half month journey, Fuchs documents his experience in The Ancient Tea Horse Road: Travels with the Last of the Himalayan Muleteers, published in 2008. Completing his most recent trip in Ladakh, ‘tea and trek’ enthusiasts can expect a second account of the adventurer’s enduring love of the trail in the as-yet-unpublished The Forgotten Route of Wind and Wool – which he is set to talk about in Hong Kong on October 10.

Mountaineering is in Fuchs’ blood – and he has made his passion an experience that resonates for many other budding trekkers. “It’s been about turning an obsessive joy into something that gives a window into the isolated parts of this Earth and its cultures,” he says, “and it’s also about looking twice at the lands that are on the fringes of the world.”

Fuchs’ reason for choosing the Himalayas is seemingly instinctive. After discussing the Tea Horse Road with a Tibetan friend whose father had travelled it, he took little more than 10 minutes to decide that he would travel the route by foot and document its 5,000km length. Having completed the epic feat, Fuchs tells us how he kept it together on the road: “It isn’t always about brute strength so much as the absolute commitment to an ideal. The challenge is often about simply maintaining that feeling and managing various teams of people to understand what the intention of the journey is.”

The new book looks at another mountain trade route, this time in northern India, and focuses on some of the world’s most isolated communities and the way they live. Fuchs retraces a forgotten pathway that was once a fundamental route for transporting goods across, as he describes it, ‘the top of the world’. “It’s as much about the day-to-day grind along with my trek partner along these magnificent highways,” he says, “as it is about the route’s history. There’s also a 65-year-old horseman who comes into the tale whose sheer force of character and eccentricities almost dominates the formidable landscapes.”

When comparing the trails of his books, Fuchs says: “There is a strand that connects so many of these Himalayan trade routes and you can only see this when you actually do it.” His drive to give a voice to these routes is persistent and, along with a slight addiction to tea, it seems his expeditions are now inextricably part of who he is. “Mountain winds and silence inevitably worm their way into you,” he says, “and it feels as though one is suffocating sometimes when away from them for any length of time.”

The Forgotten Route of Wind and Wool is yet to be published but details are available soon at jefffuchs.com. To attend his talk at the Royal Geographical Society (Hong Kong) on Thu Oct 10, see rgshk.org.hk. Tickets: $250-$100.
 

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