Hung Shwe is armed with well worn flip-flops, a pink girl’s beenie, a slingshot, bow and arrow. If anyone can show me the hunter’s path to the summit, he could. We have barely any water, and the path will torture us uphill for approx eight hours. The abrupt change of plan as well as the fact that the path was not entered by any foreign toe before, tickles my warrior genes.

A gun shot reverberates – one wild boar less I suspect. Myanmar’s Chin State is a peaceful area, though most of its hunters roam the region with a rifle. Always in the search of a decent prey. Even the few bears which are left are no longer safe, because the Chinese are keen to get the furs and gall bladders for their occult medicine. On the way, we are crossing path with a pack of other huntsmen. As I’m gazing at the indefinable claws hanging out of their bags (the rest of the prey remains hidden), I wonder what will be my dinner. Occassionally, Hung Shwe strechtes the rubber band of his slingshot. Not without chirping a common bird sound first. Unfortunately his stones don’t hit anything. The birds seems to know the unsuccessful Hung Shwe, because the potential prey preserves unimpressed its position. The spectacle repeats itself until my hunter runs out of stones. I’m sighing – if we ever find shelter, I certainly don’t expect a festive dinner. The sun sets into its night prison. After the 8 hours of climbing, we stand on top of Mount Victoria, Chin State’s highest mountain, overlooking far away India, Bangladesh and the distant ridge we’ll probably reach in less than four more hiking hours.

Since my gear is basically not existing, I modify the phone into a flashlight as Hung Shwe again suggests taking a short cut through the bushes. We have no choice. Finally, after some more blisters and scratches we reach the little village Htang Shwe where we about to meet Hung Shwe’s relative Marty. Our elderly hosts coulnd’t be more happy to have visitors, looking around in the area, I assume visits are quite rare. Granpa lifts the pan lid – probably to prepare me mentally. Somehow, the indefinable claws and their indefinable body made it into this very house. I grab one of the four (six?) legs, nibble on its rubbery skin, while watching Hung Shwe, who shredds joyful one of the other legs including the bulging skin and the tendons. Well, I got used to wrap myself into several filthy blankets and go through rough sleep on wooden floors – daily Routine in such areas. As the sun raises we make our way back to Mindat. Partly on the gravel road, which offers a “Mount Victoria quicky” for package tourists. As the bush next the road spits us out, a chief from the department of transport in Nay Pyi Taw gives us a suspicious look. Even though he seems quite busy checking the labor of his underpaid workforce who is currently knocking rocks and cooking tar on a bonfire, he’s available for a chat. „The street must be extended to make room for the big buses,“ he explains. These days Chin state is becoming a new hot spot for tourists. We’re not ready to proceed yet, since Hung Shwe is being asked to pose for the city dweller and to explain the principle of bow and arrow.

Back in Mindat. The market lady weighs her beef jerky against two XL batteries and calls out the price, a young boy grabs Mama’s tobacco pipe and starts puffing, meanwhile I wait for Jochen at the suggested meeting toint; The nose flute concert of the 88-years old Yun Eian, a well-known icon of the Magan ethnic group. Shortly after, I find myself sitting in a food stall to enjoy some chopped birds and grain wine, while working on our rough plan for the upcoming days. I’d like to explore new areas, new villages. Protected by a corps of problem-solving ninjas on motorcycles, I cruise over rocky hills and down to valleys while passing through the sleepiest hick towns. Obviously, the modernity has overslept the past 60 years here. Children are rolling tires for joy and attend the christian led schools while their energetic parents are working hard every day on their millet, corn and rice fields.

Anyone who ventures on these trails by motorcycle is either masochistic or ready for the next motocross. Rain sets in, motivation fades. We are stranded. As we sit down the whole village comes together, except for a chicken trying to escape its destiny. More “organic” couldn’t be possible. Nevertheless, the more organic those free-range chicken are, the more it reminds me on a former kickboxing champion or a gifted marathon runner being barbecued. The pack leader distracts from the tough meal by playing Burmese pop songs on the campfire. On the way back to Mindat we face some struggle; we run out of gasoline, wheels bend, oil pumps break. However, also this is part of the adventure.

One day later I set off again. My new guide Naing Htang draws a sketch on a piece of paper, it will serve as a map. We cruise along stacked buffalo-skulls whose owners worhip the animal heads to the spirits. Following ancient traditions, the Chin prepare themselves for life after death – to enter Monu Mountain. For each sacrificed scalp a new buffalo will be waiting in the next life. Therefore, some sacrifice herds in hope to gain more later on. Real animists even dig their own grave. The size of the stone arrangement determines the size of their future house. The Chin, however, remain modest – I have not yet discovered five-story tombs with an attached pool. Not yet. While the men are worshipiing for future homes and herds, their wives tattoo their faces. The facial tattoos represents their ethnicity, only who wears a tattoo gets admission to Monu Mountain – Others tell the story that the Chin ladies wanted to scare the Burmese princes with facial tattoos. Chin women were coveted concubines back in the days. Depending on the clan, one of 17 different patterns (lines, dots, crescents, spider webs or completely black) decorates the female heads. Since 1964, the tattooing has been banned by the government, which is the reason we won’t see any tattooed girls. Naing Htang thinks it might come back in fashion, since some women are campaign for the revival of their almost thousand-year-old tradition.

Rain again. Again mud. Branches flash through the mist. Sometimes the path is visible, but mostly it isn’t. Naing Htang bravely holds the 10-centimeter wide track. At our right, the abyss is waiting. A few hunters on motorbikes slip while passing us, fall, rise, fall again. After six hours up and down, a village shows up. Naing Htang proudly announces, I’d be the first foreign visitor after the Japanese invaders. The local priest Mana Buu lets us spend the night in his house and serves everything the kitchen has on offer. The scene could hardly be more touching. After a decent meal, Mana Buu wraps me into a blanket and sings a song with his museum-ready instrument. I’ll be missing this area.

Some days passes until I continue my exploration in the area of Rakhine state. It’s advisable to hire a guide, since the language barrier is definitely an issue. Although I’m scouting for one who skips the tourist map and is keen to less frequently visited Chin villages along the Lay Mro River. “Can you do it?“ I’m asking Aung Zan (alias Mr. Fix-it). “Yes,” he replies without any doubts, scribbling a map. 30 minutes later we lose ourselves in the jungle. Two kids armed with slingshot lead us back to the right path. In the first village, an euphoric village boy seems to have been waiting for our meetup. Instantly he starts performing little dance with spear and shield. The news spread and so the village chiefs organizes drums, festive bandages and rice wine. With gentle pressure I’m being asked to join the dance, to drum and to entertain the pack. The whole village breaks out in laughter – Entertainment from visitors for locals – a new travel concept? We continue our journey, passing through picturesque bamboo houses, shaking countless hands. Strong hands. Hands that have been shaped in bamboo plantations for decades. Each dweller of the region chops, processes or ships the giant grass. The market is immense; Snacks, furniture, clothes, building materials, fuel, cosmetics. The resident Chin have built up a small monopoly along the Lay Mro river. Most fascinating are the monstrous floats made of bamboo including temporary sleeping huts and improvised kitchens gondeln past us. How clever! I’ve never seen goods carrying goods.

We follow the river upstream to Khin Chng. In contrast to their animistic neighbors, the Chin living in Rakhine, are fellow christians or buddhists. They lack of hunting instinct and rarly believe in a afterlife in Monu Mountain. Therefore, the facial tattoo cult here is explained more pragmatically; The pretty Chin-girls wanted to deter Burmese tugs or Japanese invaders by scaring them off. Here it remains uncertain, whether the extinction of the tattoo artist, the ban on the government or the Thanaka lobby is responsible for the dissapearing culture. Further up, in a village called Phalt Chen people welcome us already on the riverbank. We are the first guests from outside. Hence, a barrel of Chin wine is already waiting for us (hardly surprising, because the locals start and end every day with sipping from the huge pot). The incomparable hospitality of the Chin amazed me for weeks. I’ve been offered so many times to stay ten more days without paying anything, to eat with them and of course, to drink with them.

Enjoy the gallery of “the chin black & white portraits” or the color version “the chin color portraits”.