April 23, 2013


Hello dear readers, some time ago I had this idea of contacting few friends I met along the way to write about their experiences to share in my personal blog. This are trully respectful and beautiful human beings who I shared happy few minutes, hours, days or even weeks.

I met Will Hatton via CouchSurfing, both of us were in North India at the same time so we decided to attend the Camel Fair in Pushkar together and afterwords we attended a indian wedding with 30 more couchsurfers. One day I will tell you about this interesting website ;) Now back to Will, the english cowboy :D

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The Jungles of Myanmar

With only a month to spend in Myanmar we quickly decide to leave the glitz of Yangon and head to the rural heart of the country. Kayin state is located in the south of Myanmar and is home to the Karen National Union (KNU) who has the dubious honour of forming the world’s longest running resistance. For many years the area was completely closed to foreigners and the few journalists who braved the war zone emerged with horror stories of massacres and mass rapes. Today parts of Kayin are finally beginning to open and although there is still a significant military presence the violence appears to have abated. With this in mind we pile into the back of a pick-up truck and leave the bright lights of Yangon behind us. Local men wearing checkered green lungis zip past us on battered motorbikes whilst their wives and children wave enthusiastically. All of the women and children have thanakha smeared across their faces; this milky green paste is produced by grinding sandalwood and is used as sun block and moisturiser seemingly non-stop by the Burmese people. Local villagers pause from chewing their beetle-nut to flash us horrific black and red toothed smiles as we bump along potholed roads and over dilapidated bridges. 

The landscape slowly changes from flat farmland to soaring limestone mountains and mysterious inland lakes. Instantly we make the decision to climb the highest peak we can find. Although we are stopped by bored police a few times we reach the state capital, Hpa-an, without any major incidents. We track down a rudimentary guest house run by an amiable pair of brothers and arrange a driver to take us to the foot of Mt. Zwegabin, the largest in a chain of limestone mountains dominating the landscape. Knowing tomorrow will be exhausting we retire for the night and try in vain to dry our sweat streaked clothes with the fans in our room. 

It is impossible to see more than a few metres in any direction. The sticky, claustrophobic jungle presses in on us from all sides as we scramble up the muddy path. A colourful fresh water crab skitters away from my foot, shocked at this unwanted intrusion. Sweating, I curse and grab a branch to heave myself up another short cut through the tangled undergrowth. When we began our ascent we had passed thousands of Buddha statues uniformly laid out in a huge grid in a series of fields. Many were cracked, broken and half consumed by jungle, others had been freshly painted. Smiling serenely they had seemed to wish us well as we began our climb but that had been two hours ago. I have run out of water and the sweltering heat is sapping my energy. After half an hour we finally reach the monastery atop the mountain, the largest in Kayin state, and are able to refill our water bottles whilst chatting with some friendly monks.

To my left two young novices stare out at the scene unfurling before us. Tantalising windows in the swirling mists below provide glimpses of forest covered ridges and stupa crowned peaks. Every major crag seems to support a monastery and even the tiniest spikes of rock are topped by golden stupas. In the distance I can make out a churning brown river ploughing through the countryside. Below us, luminous paddy fields are bordered by crystal clear lakes and small clusters of houses. It truly is a breathtaking sight. Best of all we have it all to ourselves, very few travellers make it to this corner of Myanmar and although this is likely to change I feel very lucky to be here. Once we had climbed down from the monastery, we snacked on juicy mangoes and delicious sweet bananas given to us by the monks before heading to a small village. Here we swam in a local watering hole hemmed in by mighty limestone buttresses. It was not long before we heard of a huge cave concealed in the mountains. Intrigued, we went to investigate...

The villagers living in the hills spoke no English but were always happy to see us. Throughout the day we would stop every couple of hours to drink delicious green tea and devour bowl after bowl of steaming noodles. Later that day we came across a young boy chewing beetle-nut and picking handfuls of mushrooms, excitedly we bought a whole basket of the delicacy before heading to a cluster of huts where we were to spend the night. We stayed with a local family and although they spoke no English and had no beds to offer us they heartily cooked us a feast of fried rice, green vegetables, spinach with herbs, garlic mushrooms and young bamboo shoots. Following dinner I smoked a cheroot with the men of the household. A cheroot is a weak mixture of tabacco and herbs rolled in a dried banana leaf and resembles a cigar. Throughout Myanmar cheroots are smoked by everyone from wizened grannies to crazed motorbike taxi drivers. As we continued to head further into the hills a ragtag group of children followed us shouting "bye bye!" again and again. It seemed to be the only English they knew and they were determined to use it.

On our final night trekking we stayed in a local monastery perched atop a finger of rock. Upon our arrival the head monk was busily shaving novice's heads with a razor and bid us to wash ourselves and peel off our filthy clothing before showing us to a small room with a set of reed mats for pilgrims to sleep upon. Later that evening the dutiful monks bought us tea as well as biscuits and honey which we wolfed down quickly before heading off to search for more delicious noodles. Throughout the night the monks sporadically chanted and rang gongs via a massive loudspeaker and so after a somewhat restless night’s sleep we began our descent back towards the main town. The trek back to civilisation takes nine hours and passes through some truly untouched territory. Besides a small huddle of women in conical hats busily collecting firewood we don't see another soul. As we round a corner a crumbling pagoda with peeling white paint bursts unexpectedly through the undergrowth. I can’t help but wonder who on earth builds and maintains these structures. The insect orchestra envelops us as we follow a rough dirt track and penetrate further into the jungle. On my left side the path disappears altogether and the thick jungle mist half obscures a steep drop concealing unexplored valleys, waterfalls and tiny collections of huts. The simple beauty of the region and the warmness of the people continues to take my breath away. In the words of Rudyard Kipling "This is Burma, it is unlike any place you know".

Copyright Will Hatton *** (please don't use his pictures without permission) 

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