Enchanting    
 

Myanmar

 

A Guide to Tourism Destination and Beyond

Vol. 2

No.2

January-March 2003

Home | Contents | A Letter to Our Readers | Mindon's Mandalay | The Thrones of Myanmar Kings | Northern Magic
Folk Toys of Myanmar: Simple Pleasures | Kekku :The Gem in Pa O Land | The Wedding | Events Calendar

Northern Magic

Our northen cousins celebrate the Manaw at Myitkyina (Clockwise from left)

Northern Myanmar is a magical kingdom.The richness of plant and animal life, the topography, the tapestry of ethnic diversity are a wonder for all. Although Myanmar is treated as a tropical country the Tropic of Cancer passes through the country at a point just north of Katha and the area above is in the temperate zone. It is a place where the flora and fauna of both the tropical and the temperate zones can be found, especially in the northern part of the country. Also Myanmar is the only country in the S.E Asia region that can boast every variety of geographical zones: ice-clad mountains, semi-desert regions and. thick and dense tropical rain forest that come down to meet the white beaches fronting the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

The mystery of the north deepens when we hear of the ancient cultures and traditions that the people of the region still preserve lovingly, the exotic creatures that are found there, the miracle cure-all herbs that the native use.

Here also is the source of the Ayeyarwady River. "Tanpre, 27 miles north of Myikyina is where the N'maihka and the Malihka rivers meet to form the Ayeyarwady River. Everybody knows it as Myitson (the Confluence). If you follow these two tributaries of the Ayeyarwady you will get to places where outsiders have seldom set foot. These mountain rivers all have their sources in the glaciers that cover most of the high peaks in the north. There you will find many exotic plants and animals that are still new to science", Ma Lay our guide explained. We were on assignment to cover the Majoi Manaw Festival at Myitkyina and were at the confluence of the N'maihka and the Malihka rivers. "My name is Khin Khin Swe but call me Ma Lay", she had told us when we
met at Myitkyina Airport. Ma Lay is a lovely girl with an engaging smile. Her speech is a singsong rhythm so common with our hill cousins. Previously she had been a teacher in Myitkyina but now working as a guide and obviously very proud of her native land.

"Where is Hkakaborazi? We want to see now-clad mountains", we asked our guide. We had heard of Mt.Hkakaborazi since we were at school. It is on the northwestern part of Myanmar near the Indian border and at 5881 metres elevation this is the highest peak in S.E Asia and covered with ice and snow. This mountain was described in Frank Kingdon-Ward's book "Burma's Icy Mountain" and was conquered only once, as recently as 1996. The two conquering heroes were Mr. Ozaki from Japan and U Nama Johnson, a native Myanmar-Tibetan from the Myanmar Hiking and Mountaineering Federation.

The high mountains on the northern borders of Myanmar are the southern spurs of the Himalayas. Himalayas in the ancient Sanskrit language means "the abode of snows" and this term describes the mountains of northern Myanmar very well. Apart from Mt. Hkakaborazi there are many other high peaks above 10000 feet also covered with snow and ice in this part of the world .

"You will see the snow-clad mountains when you get to Putao as the town is surrounded by high peaks. From a distance they look like piles of cotton wool but when spring approaches the slopes are carpeted with multi-coloured wild flowers and beyond description", a native of Putao said.

Leaf Deer

Ma Lay told us that a nearby snow-covered mountain, Mt. Phungan, is a popular site for foreigners Who wish to experience nature and meet the local Rawang and Kachin people. "It is 10500 feet above sea level and not only foreigners but also many young local people go to Phungan", she told us. "It is a very interesting experience but also very hard. It will take 13 days to make a round trip. You have to cut your own trails, Construct your own rattan bridges and there are leeches and sandflies also. But the scenery is spectacular". That's great, I would love to go there", someone volunteered. That's being optimistic as we are just young at heart now!

The Myintson (confluence). The two tributaries, N'maihka on the left and the Malikha on the right, join at Tanpre to from the Ayeyarwady River

This northern Myanmar area is full of surprises. Just a couple of years ago a new species of deer was discovered by a team of scientist from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) of New York and the Myanmar Forestry Department. A village elder that we met at Putao informed us "This deer is so small that it can be wrapped up in one big leaf and the team had named it the Leaf Deer (Muntiacus putaoensis)". Some other interesting animals that are native to this area are the Takin (Budorcas taxicolor) and the Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens).

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The Rawangs also celebrate the Manaw at
Putao

Ma Lay was full of knowledge. "There were many botanical collection trips in this area by Frank Kingdon-Ward before and just after the War. On one of his trips Kingdon-Ward was able to discover a new species of orchids which still bears his name. It is the black slipper orchid and the botanical term is Paphiopedilum wardii" she elaborated. Yes, we had heard of this British naturalist and also about his collection trips. Now after years of neglect the rich fauna and flora of the region is being protected. The Hkakaborazi National Park was established in a 1996 and covers an area of 1472 sq miles. "Some of the world's most endangered butterfly species like the Apollo, the Kaiser and the Birdwings can still be seen here " Ma Lay commented. There are supposed to be more than 1000 butterfly species in Myanmar and many are found in the northern areas. Also globally endangered species like the Hume's pheasants and Blyth's tragopans have been recently discovered here.

But we have to complete our assignment. The Kachins are celebrating the Majoi Manaw, a reunion of all Kachins tribes. "This Manaw celebrations had not been held for more than three decades and now every Kachin had congregated here, some even coming back from abroad to join the festivities" one of the organizers of the Manaw Festival informed us.

The traditional Manaw poles, decorated in Kachin motifs are in the centre of the Manaw  ground. Sounds of brass gongs are heard and line of dancers approaches the Manaw poles. Leading the procession are the shamans for  although most Kachins had now embraced Christianity they are still proud of their ancestral traditions. The shamans are radiant in their flowing robes and elaborate head -dresses; peacock feathers and fangs of wild boar stuck on rattan hats. Behind them came other people, weaving and bobbing in tune with the music. Everybody was in their finest native costumes, especially the women folks with silver flashing from their blouses.

Thaikhamti Kharku Lacheik Thaisar Lisu couple from Panwa

Rawang

Rawang Elders

There are many kinds of Manaws; to celebrate the New Year, others to celebrate victory in battle etc. And as usual for all mountain people the dance is communal, everybody joins in line behind the leaders. One of the elders explained to us "It is a show of gratitude to their ancestral spirits and their wish for a bright future".

Flying to Putao the next day we were greeted with a magnificent sight. "See, I promised to show you the snow-clad mountains and there they are. But you are lucky that today is clear", Ma Lay was jumping with joy because she was able to show us the snow capped mountains in the distance. Located on the Hkamtilon Plain, Putao was once known as Fort Hertz, in honour of the British District Commissioner, Capt. Hertz. The original fort building can still be seen. According to her Putao is the starting point for many scientific expeditions towards Mt.Hkakaborazi and beyond.

A scenic view from Putao with snow-clad
mountains in the distance

There are many ethnic villages around Putao; Rawangs, Usus and Hkamti Shans etc. The Rawangs are also of the Kachin stock and many of their rituals are similar. They celebrate the Manaw as the Kachins. Ma Lay told us "A couple of years ago the Rawangs also held a Manaw Festival in Putao". Putao is at the centre of many interesting trekking routes. Machanbaw is close by, approximately 10 miles away and easily accessible. Nogmong is a little farther away; about 7 trekking days away and along the way are many Rawang and Lisu villages.

Dargoshiezar bridge at Putao

There are even some Tibetan villages in the north. But one of the most intriguing ethnic groups is the Taron. Discovered only in 1954 by a border demarcation team, these people are sometimes referred to as Myanmar's pygmies because of their short statures. According to a medical survey report done in 1962 they are of the mongoloid race and not Pygmies but due to the degenerated gene pool occasioned by generations of intermarriages and poor health conditions their normal development had been badly effected resulting in stunted growth and numerous other medical problems. They are found at Karung village under the shadow of Mt. Hkakaborazi.

A group of Lisus from Putao

But time flies and now we have to leave. "Kyezu Kabar Sai Yaw (Thank you and goodbye until we meet again)", Ma Lay whispered and waved goodbye when it was time for us to board the plane. The misty curtains closed on the distant white topped peaks as the flight took off and Ma Lay's farewell echoed on the mountain breeze. For surely the magic of the north has captured our hearts forever.

Hpone Thant is a regular contributor to Enchanting Myanmar and a keen trekker. He can be reached at: harry@swiftwinds.com.mm

 

 

Home | Contents | A Letter to Our Readers | Mindon's Mandalay | The Thrones of Myanmar Kings | Northern Magic
Folk Toys of Myanmar: Simple Pleasures | Kekku :The Gem in Pa O Land | The Wedding | Events Calendar

Enchanting

Myanmar

A Guide to Tourism Destination and Beyond

Vol. 2

No.2

January-March 2003

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