MOUNT Victoria, located about 100 miles
west of Bagan, at 10200 feet (3109 metres) is the third tallest
mountain in Myanmar. Khakaboratzi at over 18000ft is the tallest,
followed by Fungumratzi at over 12000ft.
From the top of Mount Victoria on a clear day you can see the
Bay of Bengal and Bangladesh. The temperatures are close to
freezing but rarely does the mountain have snow. The winds are
usually quite brisk causing hands and ears to go numb from the
cold and the mountain is usually covered with clouds.
restaurant in Mindat
There is a well-maintained dirt road up
the mountain that takes you within an hour’s walk of the peak.
However, for the athletic ones, the peak can be hiked from Mindat
in two days, with an overnight stop at the small village of
Aye. Our expedition of course chose the more energetic approach,
hiking up from Mindat and taking Jeeps back down.
The expedition converged on Bagan on the
evening of March 12. At the last minute Patricia, Bob and Peter
decided that they must not miss an opportunity and took a sunrise
hot air balloon ride over the magnificent temples of Bagan,
before Kevin and Gill arrived from Yangon.
After we had all gathered, anticipating
the days ahead of us with unrestrained excitement, we met our
guide Zaw Zaw and were taken to the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy
River to catch a ferry boat to the opposite side, just south
After a half-hour boat trip we were met on the other side by
two Jeeps which were to take us to Mindat – a gruelling 100-mile
With sleeping bags and tents strapped to the hood of the Jeep
and the rest of us scrunched in the back – the shortest of our
group may have been 5’4” but the rest of us were an average
of 5’9” - we set off on a seven- hour drive through the rolling
hills west of Bagan. Fortunately our drivers took pity on us
and stopped every hour so we could stretch our legs. We reached
Mindat at sunset, after a 3000-foot climb up a winding road.
After settling into a government VIP guesthouse, we had rather
brisk showers to wash away half the road we had amassed.
Our kind host and his wife, the caretaker of the guesthouse
welcomed us with a friendly smile and a couple of rules – the
most important of which was not to take the towels. Apparently
the last group had – leaving him to explain the situation to
lead the way
While waiting for our guide to take us
to dinner, we watched Myanmar TV and got stuck into a lovely
bottle of red wine one of us had had the forethought to bring
along. There was even a floor to ceiling map on which we could
plot out next day’s adventure, and a telephone which we could
use to call the partner and kids back home that we had safely
arrived in Mindat.
We then went for a delicious Chin-style
candlelit dinner at a local restaurant before returning to our
The next morning we woke early and made
our way back to the same restaurant for breakfast only to be
distracted by a souvenir shop loaded with everything from dried
monkey heads to silver coin necklaces. The curator of this ‘museum’
was beside himself with excitement at the prospect of some wealthy
customers, but this soon turned to disappointment after the
potential benefactors contemplated the extra weight any souvenirs
would add to their already enormous packs.
Unfortunately we returned by a different
route so were unable to go back to buy the delightful items
he had on show.
After breakfast we were taken to the market to pick up last
minute supplies before heading to the starting point where we
were to meet our porters.
We were all reluctant to show our packs to the porters – souvenirs
or not they were all huge backpacks, duffle bags or Gucci carry-alls
(yes, Gucci carry-alls) filled with everything you might need
on a trip such as this.
You know what it’s like – “what if we get stuck and need a torch”,
“what about a compass”, “we’ll need a couple of packs of cards
or a board game”, “we might need this hair dryer to dry out
Besides our packs the porters needed to carry six sleeping bags
and six tents, along with their own things and food for two
Plus one rooster. This was to be our luxury dinner that first
night in the mountains. Mr Rooster was carried on the back of
one porter, tied to a pack and we became a little attached to
him – a tiny squawking fowl version of us intrepid hikers and
not once did we hear him complain.
We began our hike with a 1500-foot downhill climb to an Indiana
Jones-style rickety old suspension bridge that had been built
by the British nearly 100 years prior. At the bridge we were
met by two army guards with rifles who Zaw Zaw informed us would
be accompanying us on the rest of the hike. The discussions of
their presence were endless, but they soon became just another part
of the happy, tramping group.
Unfortunately the only animals we encountered
were Chin dogs with interesting diet habits, fat pigs and of
course Mr Rooster. At one point during the hike someone though
they heard the cry of a rare Shriek eagle but it was difficult
to confirm this.
Along the way we were greeted by Chin villagers coming down
the mountain, many of the women adorned with facial tattoos
much like the New Zealand Maori. We were informed by Zaw Zaw
that long ago the beautiful Chin women would tattoo their faces
to make them less attractive to ruling kings from Bagan who
were in the habit of kidnapping beautiful women. Apparently there is
now a Myanmar law preventing women from tattooing themselves, but
from what we could tell it is still a tradition practiced in
After a full day of hiking we arrived in the village of Aye
and were shown our VIP accommodation for the evening – a hillbilly
shack made from bits of wood and corrugated, galvanised iron
The women inquired about shower facilities and were escorted
to the village chief’s house who had the only source of spring
water fed from a series of bamboo and plastic pipes that snaked
their way down a hill. The shower itself consisted of a black
hose lying on the ground next to the house.
Peter stripped down to his shorts but the women found it a bit
more difficult as they tried to keep a cold, wet longyi wrapped
around themselves as they washed their hair. Kevin could not
resist and got out his video camera to film Gill, his wife,
as she struggled with the soap. Part of that evening’s entertainment
was watching the resulting video.
We then watched the preparation of dinner; Mr Rooster was hauled
up by his skinny legs and carried off to a chopping block. But
by the time the cooking smells had worked their magic on our
gurgling stomachs, all thoughts of that colourful hiking companion
were gone as we munched on what was a superb Mr Rooster curry
with rice and sweet and sour vegetables.
It was then announced that the village chief had organised a
tribal dance around a bonfire, to which the entire village showed
up. While the village band practiced their numbers, Kevin Peter
and I practiced the Haka – a Maori war dance.
The show went off without a hitch, and we were all rewarded
with a local corn wine served in buffalo horns. Though most
of us were a little dubious about drinking it – having experienced
other such ‘home brews’ before - Peter got stuck into it and
the next morning said he was feeling only slightly off colour.
The aversion to alcohol did not, however, include a heavy bottle of
25-year-old malt whisky which we managed to polish off that evening.
Just so our poor porters would not have to carry it, you understand!
Then we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bage, laid out neatly
by our porters, for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise. After
a quick breakfast of rice and canned sardines we set off once
more up the mountain. The weather turned cool as we hiked through
dense forest, interspersed by burnt out areas. These areas are
where the Chin slash and burn in order to plant crops in what
is quite rocky, unforgiving soil. They take one yield from the
plantations and then move on to another area.
Often we were following old trails made by the British, but
for the most part we took short cuts straight up the mountain.
We reached the cloud-covered peak at around sunset and set up
camp just below the summit. We were all freezing, so the first
priority was to get a fire started and then set up the tents
and sleeping bags. Dinner was another tasty meal of canned sardines,
coupled with our last bottle of Boujalei wine. A small satellite
radio belted out oldies tunes, making our mountain ascent finale
The night was cold, and many of us spent it trying to figure
out how to stay warm inside our sleeping bags, but a couple
of us were up early the next morning to catch the stunning sunrise
at the top of Mt Victoria before starting the one-hour trek
down to meet the Jeeps at the road.
After taking group photos, tipping our porters – who were attempting
to surreptitiously stretch their stiff limbs – we set off down
the mountain by the road route. The trip back was long and dusty
and all of us were happy to see Bagan, and its promise of a
hot, luxurious shower. A sunset cruise over the river back to
town completed what was a wonderful trip – sore muscles, rooster
curry, Chin dogs and all.
Zaw Zaw was from Himalaya Tours, Summit Parkview
Hotel tel: 227 978