Chin State, Mount Victoria, Burma

In May, 2016, I could tick off one of my bucket lists which was travelling  to Chin State. Not only I went to the place I desire to see, but also I could escape from the maddening heat of El Nino in Yangon. As weather forecast has predicted, 2016 is the worst year of Burma and neighboring countries ; suffering from the strongest El Nino and when it was paired with very often power cut off, Yangon was as equal as Sahara to me. I could not take the heat.

I requested my uncle to bring me along as he was planning to travel Chin State with my cousin. He was reluctant as the trip would be of only males and I would be alone as a woman. When I said I couldn’t care less about that, he really helped me to tag along with them.

We went with a bus until Ma gway division and then a friend of my uncle came and pick up us to give a lift to Chin State. Buses are quite ok and they have aircon and comfortable seats.

Our destination is Nat Ma Taung ( In Burmese, meaning spirit favored mountain ) or Mount Victoria which is the highest mountain in Chin State. It is located in Kanpetlet Township   https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanpetlet_Township and Mindat district.

Take note: there are 117 villages in Kanpetlet Township and only 13 villages have  access to motor road. How sad !

Yes, I went to Mount Victoria for my own pleasure and to see the wonder of nature as it is famous for its lush forests, orchids, varieties of birds and distinct culture. However, I came back with a heavy heart ,carrying the sadness of Chin People who have to endure unpredictable weather, frequent landslides due to soil erosion, deforestation, lack of proper transport and spine chilling roads, improper health care , inadequate education and poor social support. I am not surprised at all most of them migrate to main Land Burma, or take refugees under United States and India.

Chin people do not have proper record where they originate from, but it was mentioned that they are of ” Tibet-Mongolian” origin. I have seen that they have facial features like Tibetan, fair and square face with narrow eyes. Their thin lips show their determination and strength.

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Chin woman with facial tattoo on her face . They like to use basket made of bamboo  to carry things

Above photo is taken by me and the below is from following link. ( credit to the original photographer ) https://www.pinterest.com/maiabey/face/

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Regarding facial tattoo, it has been practiced for 200 years and nobody knows exactly why they like to fill their beautiful face with tattoos. A lot of people told me it is originated from the era of Burmese Kings who liked to pick up beautiful women regardless of their marital status to be their wives . To avoid  becoming the slaves to the Burmese Kings, the beautiful ladies tattooed their faces to disfigure themselves. However, a lot of senior citizen women think that the more tattoos you have on your face, the prettier you look. In fact, most of them chose to have tattoos willingly . Nowadays, a lot of Chin women do not carry out their tradition of facial tattoo.

 

 

Earliest notice of Chin is in stone inscriptions in Burma of 12th century adjacent to Chindwin River of Northwestern Burma. In the next century, the Chindwin plain was conquered and settled by the Shan ( another ethnic of Burma ) and from there, more and more of the Chin were pushed up into the mountains.

By the 17th Century, these pressure increased owing to the Burmese wars with the Kale Shan and with Manipur/ India.

Some became refuge under the protection of the maharajas of Manipur ( India ).

In the late 19th century,they were brought under British rule.

When India and Burma got independence in the late 1940s,some became under the Indian union and some part became under Burma.

Inspite of their traditional freedom, these people are dependent upon the plains civilizations of India and Burma.

They have very few amenities like brass ware, woven goods, gold and silver like the plains have. May be thats the reason Chin call themselves as “Zo” meaning. “People who are inadequate”. So they had to trade to have those luxury items with their products of Chin forests or raiding the plains

There were also human right abuse towards Chin people by previous military government and to make the matter worse, Chin National Army composed of Chin people were worse than Burmese military and instead of helping people, they beat, shot and killed villagers in Chin State. Basically, like other ethnic groups in Burma, Chin people were sandwiched between army and the rebels composed of their own people.

well, I don’t want to bore you with the history, now let me show you the journey to Mount Victoria. Like I told you, our travel started from Yangon and the bus used the Yangon-Pyay road, then we had to cross the Irrawady river to be on Pathein-Mon ywar Road. We had to pass the Magway Division first to arrive Chin State.

It is a vast contrast between two states, Magway state is dry and barren partly because we went there in the summer. But once you drove towards Chin State, the temperature significantly drops and you can start to see green forests and mountains.

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the view in Magway division, dry and barren
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toddy trees in Magway Division, you can get liquor and brown sugar out of toddy trees
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if you see carefully, you will see the ladder and the sitting area made of bamboo .

Some toddy plan have sitting area on the tree for the drinker who like liquor fermented from toddy fluid. By drinking on the tree, the person will not dare to drink excessively , otherwise he will fall down. Sounds credulous? That’s what a local told us. Most probably the drunkard can have possibility of lots of fractures and injuries .

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sunflower field.
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villages in Magway division near paddy fields

Sometimes, the road passes through the stream without any bridge. These areas are called ” water by pass” or in Burmese ( yay kyaw) . It is mainly because the streams are quite dry most of the times except in monsoons. It is costly to build bridges for every stream . The draw back is once the monsoon comes and when there is turbulent flow of river, these roads are not accessible anymore as the water is too deep to pass through. The local person told me he was once trapped in a secluded area as his car could not pass through the river and he had to rely on plain rice alone for one whole month.

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water by pass / Ye-kyaw road
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This area or similar places can be flooded during rainy season

We were suffering from the heat while we drove through Magway division because of the scorching sun. Once we entered into Chin State, there was decline in temperature and we felt better especially after seeing green mountains.

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Welcome to Chin State

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It is impossible for you to go there without a guide or a skillful driver as the roads are rough and can be quite dangerous especially nearer to Mount Victoria.

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Another thing I notice about Chin State is the nature of the soil. Even though it seems rocky at some parts, the soil is extremely soft , causing a lot of deadly landslides and accidents associated with mortality.

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you can take off  the soil easily from the rock by bare hand

I quite salute the courage of Chin People who build the flimsy houses near the divine and live there. The houses are cute, made of wood and either thatch or zinc roof. They also like to use a lot of blue and green color to pain their houses. The houses are long legged and they keep their livestock such as fowl, pigs, goats and pet dogs under the houses.

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Main transport is motorbike as they can’t afford a car
house
I would not feel secured living at those houses, but may be this is the best they can manage
house at Kan petlet
More reliable and beautiful house at Kan Petlet Town

Along the way, even before we arrived Mount Victoria, we saw lots of beautiful birds. We also saw lots of people grow orchids in front of their houses in Kan Petlet. The temperature is at comfortable range in Kan petlet and we stayed at a motel in Kan Petlet as we can get a cheap motel there. We paid 10,000 kyats ( 10 us dollars ) per head while foreigners have to pay double. If you want to stay near Mount Victoria , there are two expensive hotels at the base of mountains, but they can be pretty expensive.  I have read in a blog written by another Burmese that foreigners need to get permission before you enter into Chin State and the process can take a few days to weeks . Please discuss with your tour agent before you go there, otherwise, the motels will not let you stay without permission.

Here , there are more photos of our journey and the mountains.

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lovely view of a village from the higher hill

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Now I am going to tell about how Chins live. It seems like Chins are non pioneer shifting cultivators. They grow rice and other wheat and grains as long as soil permits on the hill slopes and after 5 years and more, the soils have to be left to regenerate. The longer the soil is used for farming, the longer regeneration time is needed. They also grow peppers, vegetables, cotton, fruits such as apples, oranges and teas. But the chief hindrance is poor transportation system to send the products to the other parts of Burma especially Yangon.

Chin States used to have a lot of wild life including Bengal Tiger, brown and black bears, rhinoceros, elephants, deer, monkeys, various kinds of jungle cats. They like hunting with dogs and there used to be hunting games even towards big animals.

Nowadays, it is almost impossible to see a Bengal tiger there . Even before when they were quite available, Chins avoid hunting Bengal tigers because like other South East Asian regions, they think that tigers are related to the souls of human beings and after killing a tiger, they need to do expensive and dangerous ritual ceremonies. It is the same as they did rituals after doing head hunting. It was mentioned that Northern Chins used to practice head hunting related to dispute of land ownership  or with the hope of sending their slaves to the world of spirits for the next life.

We have seen lots of  animal skulls displayed on the front yard of the houses. We tried to get some information from the locals why they put the skulls there. Most skulls belong to the semidomesticated bovid forest browser , which are bred to get meat and for ritual sacrifice.

According to the Chin people we met there, the cows or the bovid is tied to the pole and the house which do ritual sacrifice will prepare food and liquor . Then they kill the cow by using rifle ( may be by knife or arrow before ) and after the cow died, the crowd can dance and cut the cow to cook . The food will be distributed to other villagers. Usually the ritual sacrifice are done before cultivation or after hunting the big game animal or before getting a new house.

The merit feasts show the social rank

For the dead, they erect memorial posts to show one’s social and ceremonial rank.

They beliece only if one had conducted feasts of merit, he and his descendants have wealth and well being.

Sometimes, ritual sacrifices have to be done by the order of medium who can call spirits or when someone is sick in the family.

There is a guy who told us that the higher the number of skulls , the higher the status or the wealth of the family. That means they have done enough rituals for the societies.   At some houses, we also saw lots of goat skulls.

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Display of cow head

the skull 2

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it was written in Chin ???, and the circle is called ” Evil eye”
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Most henious traditional offences in the society were theft, bastardy and  having an evil eye or jealousy towards the wealth of others. By having jealousy, Chins believe one can have a downfall such as sickness, losing property or having a child out of wedlock.

Although they still believe in spirits and ritual sacrifices, a lot of Chin people became Christians after colonial time and even before that, after arrival of missionaries. We saw a Baptist church and some nuns. I have read some advertisement about  sponsorship of Chin students, fund raising is arranged by the church in collaboration with foreign missions.

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a nun with the children
A nun with the students

I am grateful to all these donations and missionaries who are trying to promote the education of children in Chin State. Other wise, children have to walk miles to go to a school. In some area, monasteries and monks help for the education of children like other parts of Burma.

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It is very common to see a kid carrying a younger sibling, I wonder whether they can go to school seeing them during school time at home.

Usually, it is very uncommon for the Chin to allow you to go inside their house willingly. However, we visited the orchid farm and the worker at the farm wanted to sell us some wine and also strawberries. So we had a chance to take the photos inside the house. Let us look how they live.

A tool used for farming
A tool used for digging the soil for the farming. The children are so happy because we gave them some pocket money
baskets
baskets are piled at one corner ( used to collect vegetables and fruits)
cooking place
cooking place ( take notice they need to use the wood and some burn the pine trees to get oil from the trees, I wonder whether it contributes of deforestation )…. but of course, not up to the amount the previous junta had raided the jungles and the forests
wood used for fire
wood used to make fire
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burning of the trees to get oil which is used as fuel to get fire

We had to sleep at Kan petlet as it was too late to continue to Mount Victoria. We had a lunch and dinner there. The food was quite expensive and fish was not readily available there as Chin State does not have many rivers and streams. We need to pay more than we pay for the food in Yangon. And the taste of the food is not really outstanding like in other districts like Shan and Mon. However, the wine is really yummy and as the temperature drops at night , it helped us to warm ourselves. ( temperature of Chin State can be below zero up to 32C  )

Kan Petlet is 15 miles from Mount Victoria and some hikers start hiking from Kan Petlet up to summit of the mountain. Otherwise, you can drive up to 10 miles and then walk for 5 miles. After a few miles, it became earth lane.  We traveled there with a four wheel drive and the driver is very skillful and experienced. The lanes can be uneven, narrow and it is too close to the divine. Here are the photos.

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The plants in these pictures are called ” taung za lat ” and they can have beautiful red and white color flowers which we unfortunately could not see as it was not in season.

If you come during winter ( from November to February), you will see those beautiful red color flowers

Below photos with flowers are from website

https://www.adventurehoney.com/experience/trek-mt-victoria-burma-culture-and-nature-1127

 

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The mountain is at the elevation of 10,070 feet and when we went there , the temperature was just below 20 while in Kanpetlet is almost 30. Please bring your sweater if you go there during winter and rainy season as it can be quite cold there.

It was mentioned that there are 159 species of birds in Nat Ma Taung national Park . But I could not see them clearly as I didn’t bring the binoculars although I could hear their singing and shouting from everywhere.

I did observe some wild flowers scattered on the grass and even slept on them for awhile. These flowers are small and white, purple and pin and color.

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orchid on the tree

beauty

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tree

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flowers at the summit
flowery bed at the summit of mountain
Buddha statue
Buddha statue at the summit

There are two parts of the summit, one has a pagoda and another one has a Buddha statue. Sometimes I wonder why people cannot just let the nature alone without anything related to religion and let us enjoy the view. ( No offence, I myself is a Buddhist, but I sincerely don’t think we have to conquer every summit with pagodas. )

Well, in the end, I just sat at the summit and enjoyed the view. I tried to look far, far into the ranges of mountains and try to be thankful. It may be only a few minutes, but I was totally recharged and came back home with gratitude. Thank you Mother Nature, please never cease to bless us with your beauty.

Thank you for reading.

Hninn

Reference. http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Chin.aspx

I highly recommend you to look following link to get information how to go to Chin State. The following blog is also written by a Burmese blogger.

http://www.myanmar2day.com/tag/chin-culture/

 

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