A Haven where the Happiness and Clouds Dwell
May Myat Mon Win
“This is Burma and it is unlike any other land you know about”… so said Rudyard Kipling. Name it as you desire – nature, culture, wildlife sanctuary, biodiversity, endemic species, national heritage, architecture and archeological sites, the snow-capped mountains, mighty rivers and virgin beaches, exotic islands and archipelagos. Myanmar offers a huge diversity of attractions to world’s most discerning travellers. Above all these and towering upwards quite literally, Myanmar houses some of the significant Ultra-Prominent Peaks of Himalaya in Southeast Asia and they are –
- Hkakabo Razi 5881 metre (Kachin State)
- Saramati Peak 3826 metre ( Chin State at the border of India and Naga Land)
- Bumhpa Bum 3411 metre (Kachin State, near Sumprabum)
- Mt. Victoria or Natma Taung 3070 metre (Chin State)
One might fancy reaching the summit of those peaks once in a life time as a simple yet profound personal accomplishment. Among the list, Hkakabo Razi seems a real deal for the professional mountaineers; Saramati is accessible by foot only either from Dimapur, India or Layshi, Myanmar and the trekking will take 4 -6 days to reach the summit; and Bumpha Bum near Sumprabum, honestly I have no idea about it; after all, Mt. Victoria seems the best and more practical option for both professional hikers and amateur trekkers (office-bound people) like me. Mountain hiking and trekking were part of the itinerary but I did not know what to expect from the entire trip. The year 2015 was exceptional for me (wish I could screenshot my schedule here but that would be for another time). Like a friend of mine said, 2015 was my Year of Balance. I had taken several opportunities to challenge myself with high hope and grand goals. Did I make it ? Perhaps, even if some were not too satisfactory! At the end of the year, I was frustrated. I was completely drained. And I was longing to do something different. Something that would blow my mind, yet replenish my batteries. Thanks to a dear friend, Win Win Shein, MD of United Treasure Travel to make this trip happened and the Awesome Five (girlfriends) to make this journey even more Remarkable. And awe-inspiring !
Let the Journey begin !
We started our trip on the very first morning of 2016. An early morning flight on the new year day was a hard one especially after the late night parties. Our flight landed at Bagan at 8.00 am. A brief stop at Myo Myo Myanmar Buffet Breakfast was a must-do in Bagan. Myanmar buffet restaurants used to be popular in Bagan but due to increasing cost, Myo Myo seemed to be the only sustaining restaurant with regular customers from near and far. Myo Myo Buffet Breakfast reminded me of one of our late Myanmar Kings whose meals were served with 300 dishes. The Glory of Bagan never failed to stop our breath and left us in wonder of those golden old days where Kings, Queens and laymen were happy and prosperous. I knew at this point, my holiday had begun.
Our journey to the Chin Hills began at around 10.30 am. We took the southern route : Bagan – Chauk- Kazun Ma- Saw – Kanpetlet which was in total 254 km and about 6 hours drive by a town ace van. Kazun Ma, a small halfway village on the hot, dry and dusty highway road, was the only ideal place to stop by for a quick lunch if you did not have lunch in Bagan. There was a common tea shop with overly-zealous shop owner lady and interesting customers who enjoyed early beer, rice and classical songs played loud from their mobile phones. Life is GOOD and they know how to optimize it !
After Kazun Ma, we felt the change in landscape and rise of elevation along the highway road. Our young driver Moe Wai was very skillful and familiar with the narrow and winding roads of the mountains. We lost the GSM network after Kazun Ma. Best solutions to ensure the communication on those mountains are CDMA 450 or MEC at some locations. In other words, I could not be reached. That was a weird feeling. Forget about internet, 3G, instant messages, or any form of digital communication. It is only a true vacation when you are least connected with everything you are used to. When we passed by Saw, we were excited to see the little creek of Mone Chaung passing Saw with water so clear. A Bridge construction was going on at the creek. Good to know that locals would not have to worry about accessibility during the raining season. We were already excited to see a woman with face tattoo washing clothes. There were stories and legends of Saw and Yaw areas connected with strong black magic. One of my industry colleagues told me of famous Saw Mohingha.. Too bad we did not stop by at Saw to try it. “Next time”, was the mental note I made.
The way from Saw to Kanpelet was hilly all the way with rapid changes of landscape. On your left, steep walls of the mountains and to your right, the unfathomably deep valleys. We couldn’t help stopping by on the way to admire the scenery, selfie, groupie and photo snaps. From Saw to Kanpelet was only 12 miles away and we arrived to Kanpelet at around 4 pm. Kanpelet was a quiet hilly station of 4560’ above sea level. It was an isolated and peaceful small town not too far away from the low lands.
The hotel we tugged in for the night was Pine Wood Villa. Like the name, this little hotel was beautifully tucked-away in the pine forest hugging the hills. It was overlooking several mountain ranges all around too. It indeed made me feel blessed to see the white puffy clouds hovering so nearby that I felt I could reach to them. As we walked into the hotel compound, the burning smell of wood was unmistakably coming from a fireplace where the staff members gathered around to fight the freezing temperature of the late evening. Kanpelet does not have constant or any electricity supply for that matter and power is sourced from solar-based batteries. Therefore, do take note and try to conserve water and electric power. It was about 5. C and freezing cold outside at the terrace of the bungalow but it did not stop us from savoring the sunset accompanied by a nice wine and local snacks in the chilling evening of Kanpelet. That was rather sublime truly. What a day it has been so far!
Dinner was prepared by the hotel and the highlight was a local delicacy – a precious meat called Mithun or Gayal (Nwar Naut in Myanmar). Our local guide Mr. Naing Tam came and greeted us and explained about the trip and attended to all my curiosity about this amazing Chin Land. We chattered about their distinctive culture, belief, food, the amazing people here and also about our trip.
Evidently, this little town slept early. But not us! After all, we are the Awesome Five! We rode into the quiet little town with a sense of adventure and just the right dose of intrigue, in the darkness of the tranquil evening. There was complete silence on the streets. All shops were closed and people were in their homes presumably gathered beside the fireplace. We passed by a house where a group of people were sitting beside the fireplace in the garden. Gosh, it was freezing outside! We stopped by to say “ Na-gai-ne” (how are you?) and brought around some soft drink cans and cereal packets as gifts and goodwill gestures. It was really funny and rather astonishing that the old woman happened to be the grandmother of our local guide and they had not met for 3 years! Stories and encounters like this one reminded me why I used to and continue to enjoy traveling. To me, it is a never ending odyssey.
Thanks to the complete darkness, the starry sky filled with millions of stars shined at their brightest. It was a poignant moment and I stopped to think of my year that has slipped by me and the full year ahead of me. The glittering night sky full of shining stars felt so close and it beckoned to me, twinkling and asking me to pick one up! One would shudder from the immense closeness to the celestial beings that felt so near yet so above us.
Mithun/ Gayal/ Nwar Naut
If we talk about Chin, we should not miss Nwar Naut or Mithun or Gayal: one of the main elements of their lifestyle. Mithun or Gayal or Nwar Naut refers to a semi-domestic animal found in hilly regions of Northern India, Bangladesh, Northern Burma and Yunnan province of China. Mithun is like a bull with bigger head and bigger body. In Chin state, Mithuns are very important to the social life of people. Possession of mithun is the indication of wealth of the family. Interestingly, it is also a significant indicator to quantify dowry size in marriages. The groom’s family has to present 5 to 30 mithuns to the bride depending on the status and rank of her father. (I can’t forget a part of Juu’s novel “tain ne che de kyoe”.. At one point the hero “Oak The” tried to give one Mithun to his lady as compensation for an accident caused by him..)
Mithuns are also a value benchmark like gold or dollar prices. The general consumer prices depend on the Mithun’s market value. To date, one Mithun is worth about US$ 800. An amber seller would judge the value of amber depending on current price of Mithuns. Mithuns are commonly not for milk but for ritual sacrifice and meat consumption. It is the signature dish for a big celebration feast. Usually the owners would let Mithuns roam around in the forest. How do the owners call them back ? Interestingly enough – since young cattle age, the owners fed salt to Mithuns and by making the cattle addicted to the salt, they would always look for salt. Usually, salt pits were made and kept near the villages so that the owners are always in control of the freely-roaming Mithuns. I like the idea, akin to controlled freedom. The taste of the meat? Yes, it was quite similar to beef. Can be rather succulent too.
Natma Taung @ Mount Victoria @ Khaung Nu Thom, the Magnificent Ultra-Prominent Peak of Southern Chin State
It was a very pleasant yet freezing morning at Kanpelet. Just about 10 meters away from my room, was the balcony overlooking the amazing view of the mountains, the clouds and the pine trees. The morning slowly unwrapped with the glorious sun and courageous rays piercing through the busy crowd of cotton-like clouds. Standing at the balcony and witnessing the magical power of mother-nature, was truly remarkable. It was one of the most inspiring sunrises I had ever seen in my life. From the balcony, I could see a well-appointed lovely hill gracefully embraced by the white clouds facing to the ranges of Natma Taung. It could be a good spot for future resort development. Well.. you never know ! What a prelude of our day of adventure !
We left the hotel at 8.30 am and headed to Mount Victoria which was only 18 km away from Kanpelet and less than 45 minutes-drive by car.
Natma Taung is 10,200 ft (3070 meter) above sea level. Good time to travel is from October to April as rain would begin in May. Despite its elevated path, the trekking experience to the peak of Natma Taung was ultimately fascinating. You were literally walking above the clouds or with the clouds. The mountains and the forests were your trekking companions. There was the clear blue sky above you guarding and guiding you all the way. Giant pine forests, strong rhododendron trees baring its deep red flowers, little springs sprouting by the sides of the trekking path, chilling breeze challenging the warm bright sunshine, little white and blue wild flowers at the sidewalks, would steal your attention and take away your lethargy. Surprisingly we did not see many trekkers on the way. There are locals and visitors on the motorcycles and jeeps that passed by us once a while. We saw a small group of German trekkers only on that morning and felt this lovely destination deserves much more awareness and promotion to get more tourists and visitors. Beauty is to be shared and this, right here, is a fine jewel.
Natma Taung National Park is a UNESCO Heritage park and the park covers 72,300 hectares of Chill Hills including Natma Taung. The base camp was at 8000 ft and therefore, trekking path till the peak was just the height of another 2000 ft only. We reached the peak in about 3 hours of trekking and walking from the base camp and of course, including several photo-stops.
Euphoria!! We had reached the peak…We made it! The triumph was enlightening though expected. There was a small pagoda and a Buddha image established at the peak. The view from the peak was awe-inspiring and mind-blowing. There was this seemingly impossible blanket of silence at the peak. There was pretty much nothing else but just you and the loving embrace of Mother Nature, harmonizing as one.
Listening to the whispers from the mighty blue mountain far below and the white silky clouds up above surely lifts you up closer to the heavens! One will simply be intimidated by Supremacy of the Primes and realize how minute our existence in this world is and how flaw we human are ! I was grateful to all the Divinities for bringing me up here. Now I could understand why they called this mighty mountain “ Khau Nu Thom or Mother Nature Earth”. The gratitude and overwhelming emotions still linger today as I pen this letter in a totally different environment (think corporate office amidst a sea of papers and what-not).
Natma Taung enjoys beautiful warm sunshine and even at the lowest temperature, it never snows here. This magical condition enables the beautiful flowers to bloom at their best throughout all seasons. There were wild orchids, rhododendrons (white, yellow and red), cherries and several wild flowers. At the time of our visit, we could not see much Rhododendrons ( taung-za-lat) but by now (the time I am writing this article) the mountain might probably be painted red by lovely Red Rhododendrons. Red Rhododendrons are most common endemic flower species of this hilly region. Most rare species are White Rhododendrons. We laid our picnic sheet at a very nice spot overlooking the layers and layers of Blue Mountains far below. All of us were tired yet astounded with the beauty of the peak and unable to speak any words having fear of damaging the perfectness of the moment. Heaven forbid, one of us mentioned work and get swallowed whole! 🙂
Before travelling to Natma Taung, we heard someone mentioning and giving us the wrong perception that there was nothing at Natma Taung but full of trash up at the peak, there is nothing worth to go there, etc. But there was NO trash at the top and we saw visitors and locals were clearing their own trashes and threw into the designated trash pit. It was clean and lovely. On a side note though, we wish there were more than one public toilet up at the peak. It was clean and acceptable but the facility has to improve if Natma Taung is expecting more tourists and visitors.
Our guide told us that there was a ‘Mone Chaung’ flowing by the other side of Natma Taung. Mone Chaung (River) is surely the lifeline of the region. It was a good trekking path for the trekkers and adventurers to try. We took a car on the way down to manage our time for the next trekking journey waiting ahead of us.
Aye Camp or the A-Camp of the British
My little advice on trekking: Especially for office-dwelled amateurs, if you wonder how was it like to do trekking at Chin State, then my first tip is this: better train yourself at the gym at least 2 months ahead to earn and increase your stamina. Otherwise, such trip could be almost impossible to accomplish as you cannot stop in the middle of the trekking path because you are literally in the middle of either a forest or nowhere. As you cannot be simply left alone in the forest, you may cause delay to your group because of your incapability to catch up with the pace.
We drove for about 1 hour from the base camp of Natma Taung passing the National Park. The National Park covered massive forests of teak, pines, hard woods, and all kinds of huge trees. I was so glad to see the rich forests which were probably least exploited by the greed of mankind up here at Southern Chin State. Much thanks to the lack of easy accessibility to these mountains. Hopefully, the local residents would continue to appreciate the God-given gifts and preserve those for many more generations of our beloved land. It gave me great joy and excitement to glimpse at the wild orchids dwelling on the high trees. These forests are homes for the Chin Wild Orchids. I was told that somehow those orchids were smuggled to China and subsequently branded as Chinese species. Not sure how true it was but indeed something to think about! I believe all of our natural treasures: mountains, orchids, rivers, flowers, wild animals, etc are our national assets. Shouldn’t we promote them and do the right and deserving branding?
Our car dropped us on the way near to the trekking path inside the national park where there were some villages with a small population. It was said that they had recently moved in around the 1970’s from faraway valleys and looking for better location near to the road. After the steep descending into the hidden misty valley, there was a small village called “Htat Shwae” Village. There seemed to have less than 50 households there and the village is unusually deserted. People must be at their work either at the plantations or in the forests. We met an old lady with face tattoos and she was with all smiles and very happy to see us the visitors. There was a neatly-built primary school in the village. At the end of the village, it was time to ascend a soaring path which would take your breath away literally. Remember, there were always soaring ups, after the playful downs. Our car was waiting at the other side of trekking path ready to take us to next stop Aye Camp.
Aye Camp was a rest camp between Aye Village and Natma Taung. It was the popular stop-over camp for the trekkers unless they reached Mindat or Kanpelet in the same day. Aye Camp and Aye village was named after British troops’ A-Camp during the WWII era. There used to be a B-Camp at the peak and a C-Camp at the base camp. Aye Camp was located on a clear surface on a cliff of the mountain overlooking Mindat which could be seen at the opposite far mountain.
In the middle of the forest, Aye Camp was very accommodating with all the basic necessities. It was basically a wooden house with 12 guestrooms, electricity generated by solar power, clean toilets well installed a little distance away from the camp, shower rooms, store rooms, kitchen, a staff house and fresh spring water from the mountain. On the mountain, water is a luxury product. The only source of water is fresh springs from the mountain. They had to build a water distribution system by small bamboos from the mountains till to the villages. Here at the Aye Camp, we could enjoy really fresh spring water directly from the mountain tops. All were well organized. Oh, I should not forget to mention the little benches at the cliff gazing over Mindat town across the valley. Our challenge is looking for hot water to take bath and wash ourselves in the freezing cold evening. Could there be any heater in the middle of nowhere. But we were pampered with the heart-made hot water kindly boiled and mixed by the camp owner so that all of us could enjoy the luxurious warm bath after the thriving day. Without our JW black bottle, we would be left frozen in a wooden camp amidst the 3 degree of crazy night cold. The heart-made dinner kindly cooked by the camp owner and his team were heaven sent. The camp owner hardly talked unless he was asked but that old folk was a real-time Chef ! We had the best fresh organic vegetables at Aye Camp.
Great news we heard during the dinner! There was another trekking group from Myanmar Mountain Trekking Association having a traditional fireplace gathering at Aye Village. Hoping that we could join them, we drove to Aye Village immediately. Unfortunately, the event was already over as we arrived there. Our most talented guide did not seem to be giving up so easily. He talked to the villagers and arranged another private traditional dance and fireplace gathering at Aye Camp and also invited many of them over to join us.
The villagers both young and old, men and women, boys and girls walked up to our camp where the fire was made ready for the party. Sitting by the burning fire, gazing at the glittering stars in the midst of freezing night surrounded by our Chin brothers and sisters was a great experience of a lifetime. Our guide translated that there were several types of Chin Traditional Dances – solo, duals and groups performed for various occasions such as harvest, ritual, wedding, funeral, etc. One of the Interesting dances was the harvest festival dance celebrating and asking the spirits what would be the next crop they should grow for the coming season. They used the empty new bucket during the ritual dance performance and at the end of it, they would place the bucket upside down. They checked later and would find one or two piece of crops that the spirits let them grow. Rice was not possible to grow at Chin Hills. They grew other crops such as wheat, cereals, maze, millets, etc. They now also grew coffee, tea leaf and yam. The performance was very fun and enjoyable. There are some young lads and lassies from the village who all joined us too.
Young ladies were very pretty with beautiful Thanakha on their faces. They all seemed shy and reserved. To break the ice, we offered them to teach us how to do their dance and we danced along with them. It must be quite entertaining to see us dancing awkwardly as the kids could not stop laughing. Even after the traditional dance, we all hang around beside the fire with the villagers until 11 pm as someone volunteered to play guitar and others started singing. We sang many different songs: Chin songs, Myanmar songs, English songs, X’mas songs, with missing lyrics and wrong rhythms, but it did not matter at all. What truly mattered on that night was the new friendship and trust we built between us and the local villagers at Aye Camp. That night, strangely I dreamt of a large pile of hundreds of snakes intertwining to each other and hope this is the great omen of good luck for me and for Aye Camp in 2016.
The next morning was as chilly as any other mornings on the Chin Hills. I was the last one to get up as I had several interruptions during my sleep. The hot water was ready in the flasks to wash our faces. Sitting at the front porch of the camp, enjoying the early rising sun, savoring the smell of burning wood from the kitchen, doing the morning ritual of washing, it was such a different morning of my life. I sat there, frozen in time, deep in thought – thinking on the difference (a working lady waking up in a house in a concrete forest within the city, and rushing to work). When was the last time I stop to smell the roses on the way to my waiting car? I just had to chuckle…!
The breakfast at the camp was no ceremonious spread ala hotel but more than sufficient. In some ways, it was better – made with genuine care and warmth! I felt lucky.
We had the heart-made fried rice with eggs cooked by the camp owner and the team. The camp owner had put so much effort to make the pancakes and it was the most out-of-shape pancakes I had ever seen but oh goodness, did it taste good, so good in fact. We all sat by the fire in the little earthen kitchen cottage, finding fun cooking our potatoes and had our heavenly breakfast. It was no glamour and without any roses and silver, it was just a very humble meal made from the sincere hearts of the host. Such experience of joy will make you smile every time you recall that morning! To our surprise, some of our local friends from last night’s fireplace gathering came to say good bye to us. We waved goodbye to our new friends of Aye Village to proceed with our Day 3 trekking journey of approximately 4 hours to Mindat.
Unforgettable Trekking Experience: Villages built in the clouds and the Legacy of Tattooed Women
As we were behind our schedule, we did not have time to stop by at Aye Village. Day 3 itinerary was a bit ambitious with 4 villages to visit by trekking and walking all the way. The roads were very freshly made after the raining season. Every corner, there were holes and tractors making roads. We drove about 1 hr to the trekking path leading to the very first village called “Shane Village”. There were some elderly women with beautiful tattoos on their faces. Probably the oldest women in face tattoos is around 90 years and youngest around 30 years.
Tattooed women of Chin are a legacy indeed. So much has been talked and written about it and widely anticipated by travellers and historians. The story of face tattoos of Chin Women is different from one to another. It is said that in the older days, to protect their women from other tribes or from the low lands, Chin people tattooed their women. But since 1962, face tattooing is strictly prohibited by the central government. Nowadays, newer generations are willing to go to schools and colleges and they did not want to have tattoos on their face and they do want to put a stop to this tradition. Therefore, it is very rare to see a tattooed woman nowadays. The tattoo patterns are different from clan to clan. Chins are originated from the Tibeto-Burman tribes and features are very similar to Bamars from the low lands. They have slight tanned skin and slender frames but strong hands and legs. Normal Chin women are normally all pleasant and beautiful. Apparently, this is a male-dominated culture and society where women are for having babies and looking after the house chores. We also saw some local women in the plantation at work.
After passing the coffee and tea leave plantation, we stopped at one of the local house of Shane Village. The new crop that the locals are eager to grow recently is “Wa Au” or Yam. They are growing “Wa Au” together with tea leaves in the same plantation as an added crop. Yam price is Kyats 5,500 per viss which is almost the same with tea leaves. But growing Yam is economical as it needs much less manpower to gather. The house we visited has stored about US$ 6000 value of “Wa Au” and ready to send to the low land. A young girl appeared to greet us. She is apparently a first year student of AGIT at Kyaukpadaung and now at home during the vacation.
As we passed by Shane Village, the trekking path started to descend. The view from the trekking path is simply amazing. We are literally descending to a valley where the next village “Kyarr Doe Village” was. There are more villages lying at the other side of the mountains. It is amazing that the people here had made their homes on such high elevated lands. We visited a local house before Kyarr Doe Village and were greeted by the family of the house. The woman was a beautiful woman with face tattoos. She was about 30 years old with 7 children and the eldest being 12 years, we guessed she was married since about 17-18 years of age. I asked if they want any more children and guess what they said with big smiles? “Of course, Yes.. In our village each household has the average about 10 children … !” I was speechless in a positive way.
Kyarr Doe village had about 65 households with 600 people. They grow beans and other crops as their livelihood. As we proceeded, the couple joined us in our journey as they are also heading to the church. It was a lovely Sunday in the Chin Hills. As the trekking path took us deeper and deeper into the forest, we could hear the sounds of water beneath us. It was the beautiful “Makee Creek” originated from Mount Victoria. The string bridge was nicely built across the creek. We took a temporary photo-stop at the creek. At the creek, we were greeted by a local hunter and his young boys who are on their way into the forest to catch birds. We have trekked and walked in the forest for almost 2 days and did not encounter any birds expect one eagle. Community education process should be done to the locals to preserve the gifts given by Gods such as rare birds and animals, trees and flowers. Here bird –catching is a common practice as one basket of birds can earn as much as US$ 200.
Right after the string bridge, we reached Kyarr Doe Village. In this village, they sacrifice animals such as bulls, pigs and mithuns for spiritual reasons. Every household in the village is decorated with the skull of bulls, goats and wild animals they secured from the forest. To the villages, there is a sense of pride to decorate their houses with these skulls because it shows their power, wealth and prestige. They record how many animals they had sacrificed by decorating a large wood spike with different carving for different meanings.
Before travelling to Chin, we were fascinated by the Chin male traditional costume which was barely covering their bottoms. It was our luck or the nice arrangement of our guide that we met this Chin man in his traditional costume holding bow and arrows at the village. It was a great experience for all of us to see the unexpected. Then we continued our walk passing through other local house where there is a tattooed women sitting with her 5 children. We found that this woman and family belong to the same clan as the first tattoos woman. In Chin, clans are very important. They protect each other within the same clan and avoid any inter-marriage within the same clan. In Chin State, there are 53 different tribes as per the official records but in reality, it is said that there are only 42 tribes.
After Kyarr Doe village, there is a place with stone structures looking like a miniature version of Stonehenge. They were built on the hills surrounded by white wild flowers. Chin people believe in heaven in their next life. They would cremate the dead and bury the ashes in these graves together with the personal belongings such as beads and rings.
Next village on the higher hills is called “Lote Bell Village” where there were only 40 households. As it was on Sunday, almost the whole village was at church. We stopped by for lunch and to rest at the preacher’s house. The house was a strong wooden house build on the hill and commanding a fantastic view of the other side of the mountain where Aye Village is. As we left Lote Bell Village heading to Pukwan Village, the trekking path were a very steep way down the hills into the valley. From the trekking path, one can enjoy the magnificent mountains with wild flowers and huge thick forests. Mindat can be seen at the far end of the mountain. This trekking experience is unbelievably pleasant and enjoyable. At the bottom of the valley, there is another round of Makee Creek again. Right after the creek, the trekking path led to more ascending hills as we literally climbed down from one mountain and now climbing up to another. The way up to the main road is breathtaking and it is also very hard for beginners. You will need strong will to overcome the exhaustion. The trees are so high that you hardly could see the sunshine. It is only quietness around you along the way. Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing but nature and our footsteps with laboring breathes. Finally at the end of the trekking, our car was waiting to take us to Mindat city.
Mindat or the Cloud City
Mindat is considered a major town in southern Chin State. It has 46 villages under its administration. The town is beautifully perched along the side of the mountain top. We had seen Mindat along our trekking path of ups and downs as it hovered over the clouds and we were fascinated by the uniqueness of the town. Before checking into the hotel, we hit the market. You know when a girl is visiting new places, shopping is her kind of thing. And here, there’re five of us!
We were so thrilled by the colorful handmade Chin traditional fabrics at the shop. Beautiful Chin beads and necklaces were so beautifully crafted as well that one cannot keep the eyes away. You have to pull me away literally before I buy it all up! Shortly after the shopping, we checked in to Hotel Mindat; a newly built hotel and at its soft opening period. Through the conversation with the owner, we learned that having construction and development projects in this part of the world could be a great challenge. Due to the accessibility and road conditions all the materials’ prices were 2-folds higher than normal price. Contractors and laborers are hired from Pakkoku and their accommodation and daily cost would simply add in to the construction cost of the project. The hotel project had been delayed for almost 2 years and finally they were at soft opening stage. I was happy for them indeed.
Mindat is a relatively busy town with several guest houses and small hotels for both backpackers and local guests. We had dinner at one of the most luxurious restaurant owned by an ex-Sous Chef of Le Plentur Restaurant of Yangon. It was very inspiring that he gave up his career with one of the top western fine dining restaurants in Yangon and started his own restaurant in Mindat where there were only very few foreigners during the tourist season. He said he wanted to do innovative Chin cuisine in western style. We had enjoyed his signature dishes and very sweet and smooth home-made “khaung-yay” or local liquor. It was worth choosing “The Salt” for our farewell dinner. No regrets at all!
There is a small village outside Mindat where Makaan tribes resided. There we met an old Makaan lady who played traditional flute by nose. This is a special skill of Makaan tribe women passed down by generations. Unfortunately none of her daughters and granddaughters were able to play flute by nose like her. Hope there were other Makaan women who are still carrying this unique skill. We had a good chat with her granddaughters after admiring their grandmother. We admired their beads and bangles and they, our laughter and curiosity.
Next, our unusual visit was the football field. It was the 4th of January, Myanmar Independence Day and there were football matches going on. Strange enough to find out that there were 2 football fields in a cloud city like Mindat which was perched on the mountain. These were indeed God’s gifts and I just sincerely hope that they would not trade those off with development projects in near future.
In no time, we had to say goodbye to this little cloud city. Even though, we had just a night stop over, I felt the hesitation to leave. I need more time to explore around and listen to the voices. Yes. Next time! Oh, how I will need to come back and soak it all in once again.
On our way back, we took the northern route Mindat – Kyaukhtu – Pauk – Pakokku. As we passed Kyaukhtu and approaching low lands, the landscape had totally changed. From the fresh green mountains to dry yellow dirt roads! It was also hard to adapt to the change from 10. to 30.. Anyway, we are back to our real daily life now!
Our way back was serenely quiet as everyone had their own thoughts roaming back in the Chin Hills, that is now miles and miles behind us.
It was sort of sadness and blues that dwelled upon us. We had a once-in-a-life-time experience and it was truly unforgettable. Every time we felt stressed of the city, we would definitely be longing for the mountains, the clouds, the stars and the simple Chin friends. Chin is a hugely diverse land with more than 42 tribes who all have different languages and customs. They are happy people who made homes on the mountains and in the clouds. Nature has embrace and taught them to be brave and independent for the survival of their families. Their world is their family, their clan and their tribe. They are usually shy to strangers but extremely helpful once they know you. They do not have make-believe manners to impress us. To some, they may not seem gentle or so-called cultured but their heart is pure and simple. These small villages in the far remote areas do not have the luxury of our modern cityscape such as television, internet, and electricity. They are still living for their basic needs. They have everything: crops and grains from their own plantations as food, firewood from the forests to make them warm, these mountains are no barriers under their strong feet which are their vehicles. One thing for sure is they have the abundance of happiness in the world that everyone is tirelessly seeking.
I had a medley of confusing thoughts. Personally I wish to develop this area, bring more and more tourists, improve infrastructure such as better roads, better transportation, electricity, communication, internet, better colleges, schools, hospitals for our Chin brothers and sisters. Hopefully the arms of modernization will not dilute the beauty and charm of the Chin Hills. Yet there are places on our cherished Mother Earth that should be preserved as it has been and I also hope part of the Chin Hills will be as I have seen it in another 50 years, or 100 years down the passage of time.
Special appreciation goes to our guide Mr. Naing Tam who took all the patience and sincerity to help us with every challenge we had and my personal thanks for answering to my every curiosity. My love goes to my fellow travellers “The Awesome 5” who had shown and shared great understanding and fun throughout the trip. We laughed a lot as if we had never laughed before.
Our trip has been “the Perfection” that we occasionally hope to seek. Everything was just right to create such lasting memories. Right time, right company, right itinerary, right circumstances, right moments and all the right details! Even if we would ever do it again, the experience and joy might not be the same. We had all the portions we need to make “the Perfec-tion”.