By June Franco
My solo trip to Myanmar in March has gifted me with many memories to cherish. I smile back at all the fun things I did; hiking Mount Zwe Ka Bin being one of them. Being an ardent adventure lover, I did not think twice about the hike up this 23001 feet mountain.
Mount Zwe Ka Bin is a sacred mountain located in the Karen State of Myanmar, with a pagoda on the top. The mountain is flat on the north west and hilly on the south east. It is situated pretty close to Hpa An town, the capital of Karen state.
I decided to climb around 4pm in the evening so that I could reach the top around 6pm, just in time for the sunset. The eastern side of the mountain had man-made stairs built to enhance the natural rock formations, so I chose that side to climb. On the way, I met two women – one from the US and the other from Germany. They were making plans to climb the mountain around the same time as me, so I took the golden opportunity and joined them.
We reached the base camp around a quarter to 3 and saw a bustling market with several eateries that were selling local snacks. There were groups of families enjoying themselves with children running excitedly around. I thought to myself that if children could finish this climb, so could I.
The first section of the climb was pretty easy. We took the opportunity to bond with each other as we walked. The two women told me about their lives as we discussed everything from politics to movies, the weather and how exciting it would be to reach the peak. Our conversation carried us forward and we reached the first pit stop in less than 30 minutes.
After a short break, we carried on. Contrary to the first, the next climb was far from easy. I myself who am an avid hiker found it pretty tough. The mountain rose to a steep incline and it was quite an effort to climb up. Our conversation shifted to silence as we grasped on rocks and branches to pull ourselves up. There were several checkpoints on the way and reaching one of them felt like winning a marathon. We passed through a serene jungle named Buddha Jungle (though we learned about the name only when we reached the top). The entire forest had monkeys who peered at us from the trees, scanning us for items of food. Fortunately, we weren’t carrying any food apart from bottles of water, so they did not disturb us. After two hours of scrambling through the jungle, panting and sweating, we finally reached the top.
A monastery awaited us on top, and I met several other hikers who congratulated us on our climb as we entered. We had to remove our shoes and socks before entering the monastery, but it was a good feeling to rest and refresh ourselves. After a quick survey around, all the hikers waited with bated breath for the sunset.
The sky was a clear blue and the lush green countryside extended over the hills as far as we could see. And oh what a sight it was! The sun went down slowly, colouring the darkening sky with its orange hues and lighting the horizon with the silhouette of the mountain. I was ecstatic to be gifted with such a sight after two hours of arduous climbing. It was worth all the sweat and tiredness.
The walk down was much less eventful but still enjoyable. Most of the hikers had bonded up on the mountain and we came down in one large group, laughing and chatting all the way.
Having been on numerous hikes before, I felt that I had seen it all. But the scenery that awaited us and the courtesy of the people was a view that would remain etched in my mind forever.