Hill Station in MyanmarMountain station in Myanmar
Visit the mountain stations of Myanmar
In the middle of February, the Myanmar lowland was flooded by an inexorable amount of solar radiation. "Taxis in Myanmar are a kind of misnomer. Win's English was a little bit restricted, but we got along well enough, and I let them choose which pages to show me. Leaving Mandalay one of the mornings in the hope of avoiding the terrible transport in the town, we slowered down to a creep just before the town.
Unfortunately, the only street that leads to Myanmar's north-eastern mountain station is also the major arterial route through which most of China's export is made. When we arrived at Pyin Oo Lwin, the scenery was a real haven. In search of rest from the choking heats of the valleys, they set up a small Shan hamlet as a army post and dubbed it Maymyo in honour of their Col. May, the commanding officer of Britain.
Although the Burmese army rulers re-named the city Pyin Oo Lwin after the takeover in the 1960s, many natives still call it Maymyo. However, it is best known as the home of the National Botanical Garden of Kandawgyi, where I strolled through its beautiful lakes and mulberries for a few pleasurable moments.
First one, Maha Ant Htoo Kan Thar Pagoda, is widely regarded as powerful, so natives who visit Pyin Oo Lwin always stop there first to make a sacrifice. Next day we drove to Hsipaw, but instead of leaving I was picked up by my guide at the station.
The route between Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw traverses the Gok Teik Gorge on what was once the world's biggest railroad buck and is still the highest viaduct in Myanmar. The old engine was chugging at the pace of a quick runner and covered only 34 mileage in the next four-hour.
In 1899 the British chose to construct the link to expand their rule to Burma's Shan people. It was a miracle of technology at the times and was able to withstand the World War II bombing and the acts of terror by ethnical groups, but in recent years, it has been unevenly maintained and the security of the building has been questioned.
Instead of going on to Hsipaw, I got off the bus at the next station, Noung Peng, where my rider was there. The ones who remained on board had a few extra lessons ahead of them while I was in Hsipaw within an Hhour. Hsipaw was not only one of the beautiful mountain resorts of Myanmar, but also provided a captivating insight into the Shan's past.
Hsipaw, once an independent state in Burma's Shan Mountains, is the Shan princes' home town. Following his college studies in Colorado, the last Saopha (Prince) of Hsipaw, Sao Kya Seng, came back to Myanmar in 1953 with his family. They worked hard for almost 12 years to enhance health services, training and the economy of the Shan tribe until the Shan was captured by the army during the 1962 war.
He' s never been seen or listened to again and it is generally assumed that he' s been assassinated by the war. For two more years Inge remained in Hsipaw to find out the destiny of her husbands, but when it became too risky to remain, she fled with her young. Old Shan Palace was given to the prince's son, Donald, and his spouse, Fern.
In 2005 Donald was imprisoned for saying bad things about the army régime and was given 10 years in jail. Fern told the history of Shan State in the last 50 years, silently and with great honour, paying particular attention to the repression of her own nation during the years in which the army governed the state.
It was too early to return to Mandalay, but not before a last stop in Pyin Oo Lwin to see the extraordinary Chinese temple and the Cane Ark. In the latter, a place that is seldom frequented by Westerners, my ascent to the mountain peak was repeatedly broken by climbers who wanted to be photographed with me via a precipitous staircase.
That must be exactly what the whole human race feels when I ask them to take their pictures. At the top of the hill the stairs became wider and began to tilt backwards. The Hill Stations of Myanmar not only offer an exit from the violent summers, but also the chance to meet with members of the more than 135 ethnical groups that make up Myanmar's many.
Hsipaw's main square is a great place to see the Chinese, Chin, Karen, Kachin and Shanghai, who act every day from 3:30 to 6 am. Kyaukme and Lashio can now be frequented by non-nationals, and as the recently democratically reelected administration is continuing to resolve complaints with minority communities, other cities in the north and east of the countrys territory will no doubt be opened to tourists.