Strange feeling to be in a remote village where the hills and the winding and steep dirty roads create a barrier with the modern world.
This sense of isolation is intensified with the nightfall, where a cloak of darkness surrounds the village, with the blackness of the moonless night enters through the windows, creating a thick obstacle between us and the inhabitants of the house where we will spend the night, where the cultural and language differences do not allow us to break.
Large rooms made of wood and bamboo, simple, comfortable and above all functional, where the fire is the center of the house, being kept lit throughout all day, from the first rays of the sun until bedtime… that here is around nine o’clock. A fine and discreet smoke that burns the eyes and leaves an fragrant trace on the clothes, reminding us how different the way of life in the countryside.
Shortly after sundown, as soon as the sky darkens, the movements in the streets of the Palaung village cease, the ballads of the donkeys, the clucking of the chickens, the tweeting of the birds and the laughter of the children suddenly ceases. The families gather to the houses, wrapped in the rituals of preparation of food. Rituals where everyone, including the children, seems to know their role by heart, making the daily life resemble a silent play.
A thin layer of smoke remains in the main room of the house, a large area almost empty of furniture that is at the same time the living room and the kitchen. The few belongings wait for special days in lockers embedded in the wooden walls, almost becoming invisible in the penumbra that permanently fills the space, despite the various windows that look to the succession of woody hills.
From this first stop in a village on the outskirts of Kyaukme, a further two days’ hike through the western region of Shan State, dominated by the Palaung tribe, whose population shares the ethnic heritage with China, but along many centuries developed its own characteristics of language, clothing and gastronomy.
The Palaung, whose features are more Asian than the Bamar ethnic group (dominant in Myanmar) are easily recognizable by the way women dress, with sarongs of gaudy colors in purple, blue and green, and by the white handkerchiefs that cover carelessly the Heads, whose hair is kept shaven, following an unknown tradition.
But here also the religion acquires its own contours. Despite the domination of Buddhism that arrived in the eleventh century, there are still traces of rituals and beliefs related to animism. A small group of people gathers in one of the village houses bringing offerings, where a woman in trance communicates with the spirits … practical questions about the whereabouts of a lost cow or the crops are answered by spirits by the voice of a possessed woman, who’s tone change from female to male tone according to each spirit evoked.
In all villages that we visited always seem to be full of children running freely in the streets, waving and smiling, curious and excited by the unusual presence of strangers.
But it is not only the children who show their curiosity, as the adults cannot disguise the pride with which they pose for the photographs, hiding damage teeth under a closed-lipped smile. But are the men who, despite language differences, show more communicative, exposing the tattoos that cover the body, with symbols and inscriptions, that work as protection against all kind of bad things, a practice common among the male population and also among the Buddhist monks, both in Myanmar as in Thailand.
How to visit the Palaung villages around Kyaukme
These three days of hiking were organized by Thura, a Burmese from the Shan ethnic group, whose mother was from the Palaung tribe. He’s friendliness, the very good english and the contacts with local people allows him to travel around this region, which is probably impossible to visit without a guide who speaks the local language.
The route is done on foot and by motorcycle. The hike is easy and made with many breaks but sometimes the path can be in a less shady area.
The nights are spent in local families houses, on improvised beds on the living room floor, with blankets and blankets. The bathrooms are basic (a small hut outside the house) and the washing is made on the back of the house without much privacy or hot water.
Meals (can be vegetarian or not) are either in a family home or in local restaurants. This is a good opportunity to try the local food and have the taste of a homemade meal.
Everything is included (motorbike, gas, meals, water) and this tour costs 25€ per person, a day… that is not much more than you spend on food and accommodation when you travel in Myanmar
Thura Tours contact: http://thuratrips.page.tl/