We have been traveling in the country of Myanmar (formerly Burma) for the past three weeks. We arrived in Yangon on January 20 and met the 3rd member of our trek, Fred, an American living in Bangkok. Up until recently it was the capital city of Myanmar but in 2005 the capital was moved 200 miles north. We took a quick tour of Yangon visiting our first pagoda, Sule, in the center of town.
Pagodas are tiered Buddhist religious structures. In Myanmar they are painted white or gilded in gold. They are mostly solid but can contain small shrines with Buddhist relics. In Botataung Pagoda, the hair of Buddha in enshrined in a chamber of gold leaf.
|Chamber inside Botataung Pagoda|
The British ruled Myanmar from 1824 until 1947 and vestiges of this period remain such as the Colonial Courthouse now vacant and falling to ruin.
The next day we flew to Putao, a small town in the far north of Myanmar . Closed to foreigners until recently, few tourists venture into this remote area of Myanmar wedged between India and China. Our goal was to trek to the last village, Ziyadum, and beyond to the snow-capped peak of Phongun Razi.
|Our Trek Route (click to enlarge)|
Early on the morning of January 22 we were met by our local guide, Phu Sar, for the one-hour drive to the trailhead. Our transport was in a three-wheeled motorcycle with a cart bolted on the back!
|Phu Sar and our Transport Contraption|
This strange-looking vehicle was the only way to negotiate the crude bridges we had to cross on the way to the start of our trek.
|Crossing a Crude Bridge|
We were met at Shangaung by our trek crew.
|Peggy and Phu Sar with our Trek Crew|
We had a total of 3 clients, 9 porters (3 per client), a cook and our guide so our small group of 3 had grown to 14. We headed out crossing a stream on a bamboo bridge and started climbing up an old road that had washed out in 2010 but was never rebuilt.
|Our First Stream Crossing|
As we neared the top of Shangaung Pass we got our first view of the mountains, the eastern most end of the great Himalayan Range!
|First Mountain View|
We descended to the tiny village of Wasandum where we spent the night in a basic but comfortable guesthouse.
|Guest House at Wasandum|
The houses here are built on wooden stilts and are constructed of woven bamboo walls and thatched roofs. The interiors are simple with a large living area with an open fire pit and smaller bedrooms where we slept on bamboo mats. There is no electricity or indoor plumbing. Water is brought in with bamboo pipes from a local well.
The next morning we were served breakfast consisting of a sandwich, a hard boiled egg and mini potatoes.
The village kids and a dog that we affectionately called "One Paw" for obvious reasons were up early to see us off.
|Village Kids and "One Paw"|
Leaving Wasandum, we descended to Namro Creek and crossed on a series of bamboo bridges.
|Marc Crossing Namro Creek on Bamboo Bridges|
The trail was mostly level passing through several villages including Awadum I where the locals were constructing a new house.
|Constructing a House in Awadum I|
They were in the process of thatching the roof with bamboo leaves. Bamboo, the largest member of the grass family, is used in the construction of houses, bridges, fences, baskets, mats and utility poles. One of the locals could speak some English and asked "are you going to Ice Land?" We weren't sure what he was referring to and just nodded in agreement. We stopped for a cup of tea at the last shop on our trek.
|Last Shop in Awadum I|
We continued on passing the village of Awadum II before stopping next to the river for lunch. There was a long, rickety suspension bridge over the river. "Do we have to cross that?" I asked Phu Sar. He replied "not until on the way back". "Whew", I thought. The locals had no problems crossing even where carrying big loads of bamboo thatch.
|Locals Crossing a Suspension Bridge|
We reached our destination for the day, Ziyadum, the last frontier village in the Putao region and settled into our guest house for the night. Tomorrow we would leave the villages behind and enter the forest on our way to the remote peak of Phongun Razi on the border with India.
As we entered the jungle the next morning we could hear Hoolock Gibbons, a primate found in northern India and Myanmar, calling from the treetops. They sounded very close but we could not see them in the thick forest canopy. The trail undulated along the river where we stopped for lunch. Our cook, Min Ram, prepared us a tasty meal of stir fried noodles.
|Min Ram Preparing Lunch|
We left the river and climbed steeply up a forested ridge to our first camp at Thitpingyi. The forest had been cleared to make way for our tents and a fire was started to ward off the sand flies which have a nasty bite similar to our black flies.
|Fred and Marc at Thitpingyi Camp|
The next morning we continued up the ridge where we final got our first view of Phongun Razi!
|First View of Phongun Razi|
|First Snow, Phongun Razi is Behind|
As we climbed higher, we encountered more snow and by the time we arrived at "Snowline" Camp there was barely enough dry space left to camp.
|Setting Up at "Snowline Camp"|
We now knew what the villager was referring to when he asked if we were going to Ice Land. We hoped that the weather would hold and that the snow would not be too deep for us to reach the summit of Phongun Razi!
We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc