Mrauk-U and Lay Mro River

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.

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