Right up in the north of Myanmar, jostling against India and Bangladesh, Chin is the least developed state in the country. It's also one of the most mountainous, with peaks over 3,000 metres high. It's cold up there; most houses have wood fires, and in the rainy season, clouds cover the hills and mudslides sometimes block the roads.
Besides trekking to Mount Victoria (Nat Ma Taung), the country's third highest mountain, Chin State has much more to interest the traveller. The Chin people are a fascinating Christian minority - something which can have an impact on travel plans, as they 'keep Sunday special'. Even local transport doesn't run on Sundays, so it's best to do some market shopping on Saturday in order not to go hungry!
Though the Chin tribes mainly converted to Christianity, they've retained many of their original customs and even some of their animist religious beliefs. The Mizo Chin still believe the beautiful Rih Lake on the Indian border is a gateway to the other world, though they've reinterpreted the spirit world as a Christian paradise.
The Chin are particularly well known for the custom of tattooing women's faces. Different explanations are given for this custom; some say it was intended to make women ugly and save them from being abducted, while other say that on the contrary, the tattoos were meant to make them more beautiful. Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. But the Myanmar government campaigned against facial tattoos, and so there are fewer tattooed women around these days. However, Chin women are still big pipe smokers, puffing away whenever they get the chance. (Some of the women also play nose-flutes.)
In Chin villages, skulls of wild bulls or deer are sometimes mounted above the doors. 'Remark stones' record facts such as how many pigs and cows someone sacrificed, or how many fields they owned. Cemeteries have huge, roughly circular slabs instead of crosses, and many villages still have a sacrifice post where pigs and cows meet ceremonial ends.
The Chin national day, February 20th, is celebrated in Mindyat and Haka with dancing and music. But the big festival for many Chin is Khua Do, celebrated in October, which marks their new year. Pig-killing is a job for the men, while the women's task is hosting a feast in the cemetery for those who died in the last year. Only once the dead have been fed can the village feast begin.
Khua Do also sees a beehive brought into the village. It's a kind of oracle; the bees predict how good the harvest will be, and foretells deaths in the village over the next year.
The Munn Chin, perhaps, have the oddest festival, Lun Yu. Sacrifices and a huge feast, with dancing and the imbibing of large amounts of rice wine, are not unusual, but the competitive pulling of big stones by local men is a quite strange way to enjoy yourself.
However, Chin oldsters have a complaint that's the same the world over. "Young people nowadays just don't know how to do things properly. They can't sing, they can't dance, and they don't have half as much as we used to."