Plant Hunter’s Paradise, that was the name give to Natma Taung and its environs by the famous British naturalist Frank Kingdon-Ward when he went there for a Botanical Survey and Collection Expedition way back in the 1930s.
The mountain was known during the British colonial times as Mt. Victoria, named in honour of Queen Victoria as it is the highest peak in the Southern Chin mountain chain at over 10500 feet in elevation. But in the local Chin language it is called Khaung Nu Thom or Mother Earth Mountain and the rest of the country calls it Natma Taung. Natma Taung National Park was established in 1994 and straddles 3 townships in southern Chin Hills; Mindat, Matupi and Kanpetlet.
The total area covered by the park is 279 sq miles.
The lora and fauna diversity of the area is amazing and the government had designated the area as a National Park with 8 objectives in mind:
According to available data the Natma Taung is covered with 4 types of vegetation: hill evergreen forests, moist upper deciduous forests, hill savannah and above 9000 feet by pine forests. Mammal species like bears, wild boars, mountain goats, serows and gibbons are observed in the park. In the past there were tigers in the area but almost no tiger sightings are reported now. The park is also home to many species of reptiles and butterflies. Birders can also enjoy sightings of more than 159 bird species too. Nuthatch bird species are seen only in and around the park, especially the White-browed Nuthatch that has made Natma Taung National Park its native habitat. Another rare bird species to be seen here is the Blyth’s Tragopan.
- To conserve the watershed areas of Lemro and Myittha rivers, Saw, Maw, Salin, Chi, Yaw and Mone Chaungs(streams)
- To conserve the scenic beauty of the natural forest
- To conserve the mountain eco-system and prevent illegal poaching of wildlife.
- To preserve the 5 native bird species found only in this area and also other Myanmar and migratory bird habitats.
- To preserve the rare Myanmar orchid species found in the area.
- To educate local people to stop shifting cultivation methods and start planting perennial plants and trees.
- To promote the Park into an ecotourism destination.
- Promotion of white water rafting and other water-based adventures during the monsoon season.
Hiking is possible inside the park. The most popular is to climb to the summit of Natma Taung. Serious hikers may attempt this from either Kanpetlet or Mindat on foot. But for those “been there, done that” group the Kanpetlet-Mindat road skirts the base of the mountain and they can start from there. It is just about 5 miles from the peak and at most 30-40 minutes climb to reach the top. There are also other options like 3 to 4 nights hiking inside the park and visit other Chin villages nearby. One place of distinction however is the rest house near Aye Sakan village where Frank Kingdon-Ward was supposed to have stayed during his botanical survey trips.
Apart from the opportunities for hiking and nature studies inside the park there is also an opportunity to observe the centuries old local Chin customs and traditions, especially the tattoo women. There are many theories and speculations on this custom of tattooing of the faces by the Chin women folks. Some say it is to make identification easy in case of being captured by attacking rival clans (this practice had ceased now) while others say it is to distinguish one clan from another. Others say it is to disfigure them to prevent unwanted kidnappings while others say it is a mark of beauty. But whatever the reasons are it is still a custom in many Chin clans for the women folks to tattoo their faces in various designs.
Chin National Day is observed annually in February and it is a good occasion to see the various Chin clans in their native costumes dance and demonstrate their ancient rituals at the time.
Natma Taung National Park is easily accessible by car from Bagan via either Chauk-Sinbyugyun- Saw-Kanpetlet route or Bagan-Myitche-Kyauktu-Mindat route. There are adequate accommodations at Kanpetlet and Mindat and guide services are also available.