Khaw-nu-soum or Nat Ma Taung or Mount Victoria
From Mount Khakabo Razi in the far north to Kawthaung town at its southern tip, Myanmar has ice-clad mountains, the salubrious and scenic Shan Plateau, excellent beaches touching the blue sea, a pearl-producing archipelago, etc, etc.
Clan and races of Myanmar have their own cultures, customs, traditions, faiths, and languages all worthy of study or observation. As for the major religion, i.e. Theravada Buddhism, pagodas, temples, compounds, ordination halls, and rest-houses abound as resources of tourism to foreign tourists Buddhist or not.
Trekking to Mount Victoria, a well-known summit in the Chin State of Myanmar, is gaining favor among eco-tourists. There are still many pockets of natural beauty with rare flora and fauna where very few have set foot on. Mount Victoria in Chin State is like a jewel in the crown in this respect.
Mountain climbing generally falls into three categories: Hill or Mountain climbing, Rock climbing and Ice and Snow climbing. Myanmar can cater to all three. In fact, Myanmar is the only country in Southeast Asia with snow-clad mountains. In the north of Myitkyina and astride the border are mountains 10,000 – 19,000 feet high. Some mountains in the far north are covered with snow from the summit down to the foothills. The highest mountain in Myanmar is 19,096 feet Khakabo Razi in Kachin State.
The 10,200 feet Mt. Victoria in Chin State is snow free the year round although water can freeze over in the depths of the cold season. Moreover, the mountain is not rocky enough, so climbing it is just ordinary mountain climbing. A person with moderate health and stamina can tackle it. Then an added attraction is it is the only high mountain close to the plains.
A Remarkable Climb
Why climb a mountain? “Because it is there” is an answer of world renown. The answer is not very satisfactory because people scale the high peaks to win prestige and glory for themselves or their country. Nowadays conquering the 29,020 feet Mt. Everest has become the best yardstick for serious climbers of any country.
Scaling Mt. Victoria is not much to speak of, but a climb far back in 1971-72 is remarkable in that it was conquered en masse by youths. Under the strict and disciplined guidance of the founder of the Hiking and Mountaineering Association, 180 youths from Universities including girls successfully climbed Mt. Victoria in the last days of 1971.
By air (8 flights) to Kyauk-htu and thence to Mindat by motor vehicles, the expedition reached Mindat on 29-12-1972. Mindat at 4,860 feet is a starting point for scaling Mt. Victoria. The other route is from Kanpatlat. Much of the way in both proceed along mule tracks, sometimes cut into the steep cliffs.
The group rested for the night at Aye-sa-khan station, at a height of 5,700 feet to the southwest of Mindat. They made fires to warm themselves and cooked their own food. They spent the New Year’s Eve night at another camp, at 9,800 feet and just a little short of the summit. The group reached a peak in the morning of 1-1-72. With this victory, the hardships they had encountered — rough tracks, strong winds, the intense cold, and tiredness — seemed to have evaporated.
The group observed firs and pines on the mountain slopes up to 7,000 feet high. But some trees were burnt down due to natural fires — a sorry sight indeed. Red rhododendrons were seen at heights of 7,000 – 8,000 feet. On slopes of about 8,000 feet were observed white rhododendrons. The thick forests of Mt. Victoria used to be abundant in wildlife — tigers, leopards, bears, sambars and barking deer. But thanks to the activities of local hunters, the wildlife had become somewhat scarce even then.
A Mount with a Lot to Offer
The increasingly appreciated Mt. Victoria is a force to be reckoned with in ecotourism. Apart from vigorous trekking, its flora and fauna, hold a great attraction for foreign tourists. Many species and subspecies exist, some peculiar to this region alone. Mt. Victoria is great for bird-watching and observing butterflies. Those interested in anthropology can study Chin’s culture to their satisfaction. Then Mt. Victoria is considered to be an extinct volcano, of a very rare kind.
Moreover, local nationals are known to be friendly and hospitable. All these seem to be guaranteed to elicit a repeat visit.
Due to its unique geographical position, Myanmar is home to more than a thousand species of birds. It has the distinction of being the only home of four species, of which the White-browed Nuthatch (Sitta victoria) is one. Only a few specialists have seen this bird. 10-17 birds of this species were observed, mostly paired, on Mt. Victoria recently.
Some Favourable responses
Towards the end of 1998, two foreign botanists, David Sayer, and Charles Nelson were allowed permission to climb Mt. Victoria. They are the first legal visitors to the area after 1956.
In fact, they got their inspiration and ardent wish to go to Mt. Victoria from botanist and geographer Mr. Frank Kingdom Ward (1885-1958). Kingdom Ward was a meticulous explorer and observer. Due to his efforts stretching over 30 years, Myanmar flowers, trees and plants have become well-known to botanists the world over.
The two botanists crossed the Ayeyarwady river by ferry, thence proceeded to Kanpatlat in two open jeeps. They were accompanied by two drivers, two tourism personnel and a cook. On their climb, they observed Christmas flowers and orchids growing in the wild and oak-like evergreens. Sometimes the underbrush had to be hacked away and cleared for proceeding. They even saw a rare snow cover in the early morning.
They returned by way of Mindat. On their descent from the summit, they saw some local huntsmen with bows and arrows. In the houses among plantations of sunflower, maize, chilies, and beans were seen tattooed women in colorful national dress, doing household chores with smoking pipes in their mouths.
The visitors had been delighted in no small measure with the hospitality shown by the locals and the authorities. Local youths in national dress welcomed and greeted them in a ceremonial fashion, complete with bonfires and dances.
Their trekking from Kanpatlat, across the summit of Mt. Victoria, and then down to Mindat was no easy feat, not to say many hours of a ride along dusty and sometimes flooded dirt roads. Yet the visitors have expressed their desire to come to Mt. Victoria for the second time.
Another foreign tour operator who was allowed to visit Chin State in 1999 has also expressed his satisfaction; Sai Travel Service and local hospitality were a great delight to him. Local authorities helped in every way, Nimura Satoshi, director of Nature-view Com Sdn Bhd claimed. He believes that Chin State will contribute much to the promotion of tourism in Myanmar. On his part, he will help make the region better known by way of articles in magazines and other publications. In brief, he has promised to work for the promotion of tourism in Myanmar.