Myanmar has become famous as the road less traveled attracting tourists from virtually every country. Its breathtaking, untouched natural beauty against the backdrop of which we see countless pagodas in every city, town and village, has led to a flurry of tourist activity. The number of tourists entering Myanmar in 2014 has touched 3 million, and the numbers are only increasing every month. Most of them explore Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle, Mytkyina, Taunggyi, and Kalaw.
Myanmar, interestingly also offers numerous hills less climbed-that crown its northern fringes. The mountains and hills are largely along the borders of the country with neighboring India, China, Laos and Thailand, and in the past, served as barriers to entry. The opening up of the country and tourist foot falls increasing have led to increased interest in the exploration of Myanmar’s highlands, which are now catching the world’s eye.
Highland is a term used for a mountainous region that rises above the surrounding areas. It could be a mountainous plateau, hilly terrain or even steep, high mountains. Generally, Highlands have been synonymous with the Scottish Highlands (in Scotland), but other countries including Myanmar, do have Highlands of their own. These less explored hills and mountains, with their snow clad peaks and rugged, steep climbs uphill, offer Alpine climate, thick natural forests, and a flavor of life unseen elsewhere. Many of them are not even inhabited due to tough living conditions and climate.
Myanmar’s highlands form a ringed top for the country’s central lowlands. Running mainly north to south, there are numerous mountain ranges that are both precipitous and craggy.
The Shan Hills
Shan is the largest of Myanmar’s seven states located in Eastern Myanmar, sharing a border with China in the north and Thailand in the south. The Shan plateau is picturesque with its natural beauty that includes the Shan Hills, often referred to as Shan Highlands stretching across to neighboring Thailand. The hills with their narrow valleys, are a trekkers’ delight, who get to see the alignment of the mountain ranges to the Himalayan foothills in the north west.
The highest mountain in the Shan Hills is Loi Leng with a height of 1823 meters. It falls approximately 45 km south east of the small hill town, Lashio. The Daen Lao Range is in the southern part of the Shan hills. One of the best places to visit is Kalaw, an elevated town used by the British as a hill station during the hot summers, and now a useful base for treks to hill ranges and tribal areas around it.
The south western part of Shan state is home to the famous Karen Hills. They are also known as the Kayah-Karen Mountains, since the southern part of the range extends into the state of Kayin. The highest peak in Karen Hills is Nattaung, located on the border between Kayin and Shan states and is 2623 meters above sea level.
Other mountains of the Shan range include Loi Pangnao, Doi Inthanon and Mong Ling Shan, all over 2500 meters above sea level.
The Arakan Range
The Arakan Range is also known as the Rakhine Mountains and lies in western Myanmar between the Rakhine coast and the Irrawady River valley. The mountains are a cluster that forms an arc across Myanmar and the Indian states of Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland, and Manipur in the north. The vast, 950-km long range includes the Chin Hills, Naga Hills and the Patkai range, and go all the way till Cape Negrais in the south. They dip in the Bay of Bengal and emerge further down as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Mount Victoria, also known as Nat Ma Taung, is the highest mountain in the Chin Hill range, falling in Chin State. It is the third highest mountain of the country with a height of 3053 meters above sea level, and a favorite for hill trekkers, with its 720 square kilometer National Park, amazing flora and fauna, and a prime bird watchers’ zone. The starting point of the hike to Mount Victoria is the small town of Mindat.
The Pegu Yoma
The Pegu Yoma is also known as the Bago Mountains. These low hills lie in Central Myanmar between the Irrawady River and the Sittuang River, and two rivers, namely the Pegu River and the Sittuang River, originating in these hills. The hills extend from Mount Popa and continue till the Singguttara Hill in the south. Mount Popa, a favorite picturesque sight for tourists, is actually a volcano nearly 5000 feet above sea level. A Buddhist monastery has been built on top of the volcanic plug.
The highest mountain- Hkakabo Razi
The highest mountain in Myanmar is the Hkakabo Razi in Kachin state, and an extension of the Eastern Himalayas. At 5881 meters, it is South East Asia’s highest mountain peak, higher than the peaks of Australia and Europe. The Hkakabo Razi peak is surrounded by the mountainous 3812 square kilometer Hkakabo Razi National Park, and is a significant watershed area of the Ayeyarwaddy River. The National Park offers rain forests that are snow covered and have the most untouched wilderness.
The eternally snow clad peak was first scaled in 1996 successfully by a Japanese mountain climber. This can be partly attributed to foreigners not being allowed into the area prior to this time. The mountain offers rough trekking terrain with its glaciers and crevasses, gorges and streams. Lack of proper bridges, and other facilities put in place for trekkers and mountain climbers, besides being an avalanche-prone mountain range, are some of the challenges of exploring Hkakabo Razi. This explains why the number of mountain climbers trying to scale this peak is far lesser than the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, in the Himalayas. The monsoons are the only time of the year when anyone can venture on this expedition. Even today, Hkakabo Razi one of the most unclimbed, mysterious mountain peaks. Just two months ago, for the first time, two members of an all-Myanmar team from the Yangon Hiking and Mountaineering Association, successfully scaled the Hkakabo Razi peak, in early September.
Trekking, Mountaineering, Hill Climbing in Myanmar
The hills and mountains may be less explored, and fairly recently opened to foreign tourists, but it is only a matter of time for the numbers to roll into thousands. Travel agents and tour operators offer highland trips, mountain climbing expeditions, treks and peak climbing tours. Some of the well established tour operators include Silver Hills Travels, Myanmar Travel and Tours, Shantitravel, KST International Travels & Tours, to name just a few.
Myanmar- A taste of Hills and Heaven
Myanmar, as of now, is famous more for its pagodas that are as much architectural marvels as havens of peace and tranquility. Frequented by locals and foreigners alike, they remain unparalleled in the serene aura that pervades every visitor. The country, with its lakes, rivers and other water bodies, calm and serene environs, is the ideal beginning of a spiritual journey, a path of self discovery that rejuvenates the mind and body, far removed from the humdrum of city life that only adds to the ageing process. This is closest to a taste of heaven on earth. The hills beckon with their untouched beauty, unexplored, uncharted paths, giving explorers an opportunity to find new routes, and tread on trails that no one has stepped on, before.