In the far southwest of China, the Lancang River flows from Himalayan headwaters, eroding perilous gorges on its spectacular descent towards Southeast Asia to become the mighty Mekong, Mother of Waters . Here, preserved within subtropical forests, we encounter the remote origins of tea, agroforestry gardens established by the ancestors of indigenous Mon-Khmer language-speakers. Present-day communities of Wa, Bulang and De’ang, along with several other ethnic communities, steward these biodiverse gardens, some having been passed down through ancestral inheritance for a millennium or more.
In the heart of the Jingmai Mountains, atop Mangjing Village’s highest peak, stands the Tea Spirit Terrace (chahuntai), ritual platform and cosmological axis around which revolves the ceremonial life and cultural identity of this Bulang community. These mountains, newly inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are home to some of the world’s oldest tea gardens.