Ashimei: The Female Tea Caravan Horse Rider
From about a 1000 years ago horse and mule caravans carried tea along the Ancient Tea Horse Road. People and horses travelled on foot from Southern Yunnan all the way to Tibet and beyond China's borders. These journeys that could take up to 180 days and were mainly a task for men. The caravan leader had to deal with the risk of mudslides, the health of the horses, extreme weather situations, and negotiate with bandits.
Yet, one female horse rider rose up to the challenge when she was just 16 and dedicated 50 years of her life on the caravan road. This legendary female rider's name is Ashimei. The story goes that she cut her hair and dressed up like a man to embark on her first journey. Eventually she became a caravan chief when she was 50. She owned 300 horses and had 100 drivers working for her.
Her achievements should be remembered not just because it was unusual for a female to be a horse rider at that time, let alone a caravan leader. She also managed to run the largest and most profitable caravan.
Nobody knows for sure why she was so successful. But one thing is for sure, she must have taken good care of her horses and planned her trips with more attention to detail than any other.
Some believe the Ancient tea horse road wasn't the most difficult challenge of her life, but to give up on love and family. As a saying goes:
For women, this road is a path of internal suffering and love hanging in their lives.
For men, this road was a path of life and death hanging on the cliffs.
Note: In some folk tales the story goes that Ashimei eventually found her love and moved to Myanmar. This however, isn't confirmed by historians.