Kachin State, Myanmar
Kachin State is Myanmar's northernmost province, and it is crowned by the country's highest mountain, Hkakabo Razi, whcih stands at the edge of the Himalyas and towers to a height of 5,889 meters (19,321 ft). There have been many failed attempts to climb it, but in 1996 a Japanese mountaineer finally made it to the top. A trip to Hkakabo Razi is only possible with a state-appointed guide, and it takes visitors weeks on foot, along virtually untrodden paths and through thick jungle, before they catch their first glimpse of the snow-covered foothills of the Himalayas.
Due to the poor infrastructure and difficult approach, this is a region that is less frequented by tourists, and yet it boasts some magnificent mountain landscapes and many fascinating natural phenomena, including one of the most exclusive forms of jade in the world which is particularly popular among the Chinese. The belt of rich jade deposits, which runs right through the state, was discovered as long ago as the 13th century and has been exported worldwide since the 18th century. The gigantic mines of the most famous site in Hpakan can only be viewed with a special permit. Tens of thousands come here to try their luck, in the hope of finding a large chunk of the precious stone, and a few have ever been successful.
The most visited towns here are Myitkyina and Bhamo, but more adventurous travelers may choose to take along excursion from Putao in the north, through dense forests. These remote landscapes are home to many different ethnic peoples, some of which are almost completely cut off from the outside world because of the impenetrability of the forests.
The various ethnic groups living this state are collectively referred to as Kachin, although there is no such thing as the people of Kachin. The most populous ethnic groups are the Jinghpaw, Maru, Lashi, Atsi, Lisu and Rawang, but these are linguistic rather than national distinctions. Indeed, the Lisu and the Rawang vehemently reject the idea that they form part of the Kachin. To the southwest of Kachin state is the land of the Naga, which extends as far as India. This ancient people was made up of a collection of fearsome tribes which long had a reputation for headhunting and resisted British colonial rule for many decades, and their traditional culture has remained largely intact.
The Manau festivals are one tradition that is shared by the Kachin, and are a particular social highlight. Going back to ancient Kachin animist traditions, there are ten different types of Manau festival, which are celebrated with a great deal of dancing, animal sacrifice, music and alcohol, and can last up to four days. National Day, which falls on January 10th, is a particularly great day in the Kachin calendar, when all the tribal peoples gather to celebrate together on the vast Manau Square in Myikyina in honour of their creator and most venerated patron spirit Lamu Madai.
Although there are still many followers of the Kachin traditions of animsim and nat worship, during the British colonial era most Kachin were persuaded by Western missionaries to adopt the Christian faith. Today, 44% are Baptist, 40% Roman Catholic, and just 5% animist and 3% Buddhist.