WITH THEIR USUAL respect and creativity, the invading Brits renamed her Mount Victoria. This 3053m peak is likely as high as the average person will climb in Burma, as access to the northern Himalayan mountains is restricted and expensive.
Fortunately, Nat Ma Taung is not only accessible, but also spectacular. The “national park” houses a range of tropical, subtropical, alpine and temperate species. Oak and pine trees, as well as rhododendron are common. Two likable and sleepy towns, Mindat and Kanpetlet provide access, and are both good places to interact with the local Chin people, who call the mountain Khonuamthung.
At 3053m ASL, Nat Ma Tuang (aka Mount Victoria) is the highest peak in Burma soith of its Himalayan ranges.
Restrictions mean its the highest peak you and I are likely to see. The main ethnic group in the area is the Chin.
Nat Ma Taung can be accessed from two sleepy towns. To the south, Kanpetlet......
....and Mindat to the north.
Our journey had begun in the south of the country, so we stayed in Kanpetlet first.
Not a lot happens in Kanpetlet.
It is a pleasant and friendly town, in a delightful setting.
The choice of eating is adeqaute.
The small shops and market are interesting, but it is pretty quiet.
Except at Christmas time! (Well, and a lot of other festivals, I'm sure.)
The Chin are predominantly Christian, as are many of Burma's ethnic groups in the hills.
We were invited to join a Christmas feast, Chin style. Not a turkey in sight, but cauldrons of curry and rice, shared by several generations in the church hall.
But then the town reverted to its charming, sleepy ways.
Families did their shopping.
Rickety tea shops filled the town's stomaches.
There are plenty of good views along the 20kms to the starting point for hiking the mountain.
From the park entrance, many locals get ferried part of the way by motorcycle.
The terrain is never challenging, generally quite gentle.
The views are truly rewarding.
For the deadly keen, a five day trek takes you through Chin State to the ancient remains of the Arakan kingdoms in Mrauk U.
A gentle day's amble was more than enough for us, and we headed on down the other side (by car) through even more stunning scenery to Mindat.
This crazy kid was tearing down the mountain road. He grips either side of the axel, rests his feet back on the poles and hurtles down head first.
By comparison, Mindat is a thriving metropolis!
Busy people rushing about.
We found a number of good places to eat in Mindat, where the vegetables differed to central Burma.
And places to enjoy a brew and a view.
Mindat is essentially a one street town, one direction towards Bagan and Mandaly, the other deep into the hills and on to India.
Young novice monks with a spring in their step make the rounds.
Lads indulge in a game of takraw.
Chickens hang from motorcycles, probably suspecting things won't end well from here.
And a lot of friendly folk just hang out, like my new best friend, who was pretty cooked by 10am.
His two friends sport the traditional facial tattoos of the Chin, a means to stop the Kings' men taking them back to his household, as was his habit.
While some are quite happy, others are tired of tourists taking their pictures. Always check if it's OK- you won't get a smile like that by sneaking it.
In both the old and new sense of the word, one of the gayest men in Mindat....
...and his partner, just a couple of the good folks we met as we wandered through this growing town.
Positioned between India and Bagan, and provided access to other hill towns and hikes, Mindat should be thriving. Who knows what awaits Mindat, as Burma reverts to brutality.