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A Guide to Tourism Destinations and Beyond      Vol.4   No.4     July September 2005

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ORCHID TRAIL TO
  HPON KAN RAZI


By Kyaw Nyunt
Photos: Kyaw Nyunt/Thein Aung

Cymbidium longifolium
"We reached the peak at 1320 hours on 28 November 2004. There was nothing but pure white snow falling all around us. Wherever I looked it was just snow, snow, snow. My eye- brows were covered with snow and my com- panion U rhein Aung, Park warden of the Hka Ka Bo Razi National Park, looked like a Snow Man from the Arctic region. I have never experienced such cold weather in my life but being surrounded by magically beautiful snow flakes made this a wonderful experience despite the icy wind blowing from the Himalayas."
My six-member team and I were on top of Hpon Kan Razi at 11919 ft, one of the snow- covered mountains in the Kachin State The northern-most part of Myanmar is bor- dered by India in the west and
China in the northeast and the peak that we had success- fully assaulted is on the Myanmar/India border, situated on north latitude of 27.30.437' and east longitude 96.56.119'. Hpon Kan Razi is also known as the watershed of the wide Nam Lang stream, which flows into the Malikha River near Machanbaw, Kachin State. Why did I climb this mountain? Not "because it is there" but to search for new species of orchids. Did I find them? Yes! And in abundance all along the route until we reached the camp called Ye-Khe-Sutl! (literally "edge of the ice") where it was too cold for orchids to grow.

 

Cymbidium eburneum xinsigne Steel cables suspension bridge
One outstanding find was Cymbidium longifolium, a beautiful white flower with a slight tinge of red, growing on the moss-covered branches of trees such as laurels, birches and maples, at 7649 ft. above sea level. I have come across a similar species Cymbidium elegans in the Chin Hills at the alti- tude of 5000 ft. . near Falam about twenty-five years ago but this was the first time I spotted it in the Kachin State.

We had started off from Putao in a jeep left over from World War II to San Kwang Village at 1480 ft, which is about twelve miles along the road. The village population is slightly over 800 and the residents are mostly of Rawan and Lisu races.
After spending the night there we left the next morning on foot, crossing the stream by a bamboo bridge. As the footpath had been cut six feet wide by side of the hill the climb was not too bad. We reached Hpatek Peak at 4690 ft. and there I saw some rare Arisamea spp in full bloom in the shade by the side of the road. I still need to find out the species name of this beautiful blossom.
View from Ziadam village to the Snow Peaks of the alpine region view to the lower route

The journey is downhill after leaving Hpatek as it plunges nearly 1700 ft. to reach Wasandam Village at the altitude of 2916 ft, which we reached at sunset. It is a tiny village with only 90 inhabitants. We stayed at U Saw San Aye and Daw San Daung's home. I came across yet another beautiful orchid in bloom, Cymbidium eburneum x insigne.

The most exciting moment was crossing the steel cable suspension bridge the next morning. Since Wasandam is situated between two streams, Nam Lang and Nam Hu, \we had no choice but to cross the wobbly,. sagging a 250 ft bridge. I did not know how I long it took us to cross one by one, but it was \ worth the shaky knees as once we reached the other side a picturesque view of the forest greeted us together with songs of birds such as Mesial laughing Thrush, Green Magpie and Tree Pie. It was like a dream for me to hear the musical sound of water gurgling between the boulders backed with the bird songs.

The next village we reached is named Awadam. Since the sun was quite high by then, we decided to have lunch at the primary school teacher's home. The teacher herself is only, fifteen years old! She is also the principal and \ looks after forty students not much older than herself.

Ziadam village at 3519 ft. was our last stop before making the ascent to the peak. We hired porters who are more experienced. Then we replenished our supplies after deciding on the route, because this was the last chance to shop! We also had a discussion with the local elders to select the best and easiest route to reach the peak.
Dendrobium nobile
Satyri nepalense
Ziadam village at 3519 ft. was our last stop before making the ascent to the peak. We hired porters who are more experienced. Then we replenished our supplies after deciding on the route, because this was the last chance to shop! We also had a discussion with the local elders to select the best and easiest route to reach the peak.
There were two routes to consider: one is from the southwest to both Hpon Kan Razi and Sarimadim (12260 ft). Another is to Hpan Gran Razi (14100 ft) by the Hpan Gran stream and then along the Hpan Gran range to the peak. Naturally, fter weighing the pros and cons
we chose the easier southwest route. Among the moss of a 40 feet-diameter boulder sitting in a stream by the village, we saw large clumps of Dendrobium nobile.

We left Ziadam on 25 November.Our route I passed through many leftover Taung Ya areas (slash and burn plots). As rain was falling our pants and boots became soaked and leeches I began to attack. I found four bloated ones inside my boots.

As we climbed the forest gradually changed from tropical evergreen to temperate rain forest and we saw Quercus (oak), Castanopsis (chestnut) and Acer (maple).

Any Satyrium nepalense were in flower by the footpath.

Some were in bud, and some only seed- ling, growing in the partly shaded areas. We began seeing Rhododendron all around us at the altitude of7469ft. Laurel, birch, oak, maple and magnolia are abundant as well.

Our team at the peak Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra)


The branches of these trees were covered with thick moss and we saw a variety of Cymbidium longifolium and Cymbidium eburneum in full bloom. We also saw Cymbidium ensifolium on the ground with a bunch of seedpods and another with a flower -sadly, already wilted.

When we reached Khan Dauk camp at 8321 ft., the porters and team members had to go down a ravine to fetch water for cooking, drinking and washing. It took an hour each time. They again had to fetch water the next morning to prepare breakfast and to pack lunch- boxes. As we climbed higher, water became the criterion in selecting a campsite. After leaving Khan Oauk camp we had to use our water bottles sparingly as is no water avail- able along the route until we would reach the snowline.

We saw black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) after climbing another nine hundred feet. Rhododendron trees grew everywhere but unfortunately flowerless as November is not the season. The surrounding vegetation changed from Rhododendron to mixed Alpine forest of Yew (Taxus baccata), Abies spp and we could see the pine forest at a distance. We reached "Ye-Khe-Sut" (edge of ice) camp on the afternoon of 27 November. This time it was easier for our team members to fetch snow in buckets to melt into water.

It was not that simple to start a fire at an altitude of 10377 ft. and it was not much fun either when we all were tired and hungry. But we managed to get the fire going with a manual blower and prepared our meals before settling down for the night. The campground is about fifty feet wide and we erected our two tents as close as possible to the fire.
It was the day after the Full Moon of Tazaungmone, supposed to be the most beautiful moon of the year. The whole sky was lit up with light from the moon and the twinkling stars. It was a dazzling night but a sleepless one for me as I was too cold. I was also anxious of the last lap of our climb.

Calanthe brevicornu Cybidium ensifolium
We left Ye-Khe-Sut" camp at 9:00am on 28 November 2004 for our final assault. There were no more orchids as everything was covered with snow but the Taxus trees; Abies, Rhododendrons and black bamboo were growing bravely in the chilly wind.
The ascent became harder as the air became thinner, and I was exhausted. I could only walk forty paces at a time before resting for a minute or two.
We reached the peak at 11919 ft, at 1320 hours. I looked towards the west, to the snow capped Himalayan range and thought, "there are yet more mountains to
climb", The descent was quicker and we covered more ground as we were walking downhill most of the time. We saw two terrestrial orchid species such as Calanthe brevicornu, plantanigea or tricarinata at an altitude of 8500-9000 ft.

We also saw Eria coronaria on the branches broken down from maple trees and also Cleisostoma raciferum on a colony of begonia besides the footpath near Hpan Gran stream.

On the fourth day of our descent, we reached Wasandam Village in the late after- noon. That was the first time I managed to get a full night sleep, at U San Aye's house!

The next morning's walk was up-hill again. From Wasandam we had to climb the Hpatek range to reach Hpatek camp.
Between Hpatek and San Kwang village, we found a different kind of Oendrobium densifolium, which we had not come across in higher altitudes.

Were we delighted to see our WWII jeep waiting for us at San Kwang village! We instantly forgot our aches and pains and climbed happily into the jeep for the twelve- mile drive to Putao.

On the way my thoughts ran wild: should I embark on another expedition in search of orchids? The answer is "yes" whether my wife agrees to it or not. But where? All can say is, "watch this space!"
Note: This is the adapted version of the original paper read at the Okinawa International Orchid Show 2005 in Okinawa, Japan. The adaptation was written by Kyi Kyi May.
Snow-Capped Himalayan range                                  Eria coronaria
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