March 2014 At the bus stop stretch of road on the outskirts of town twenty or more long wheel base Indian 4WD trucks are gathered and overloaded about to make for the border. Amongst them minivans are crowding ready to head in the same direction and to points further south. Wherever you’re heading ; the journey starts the same way – up, up and away from Kalay winding up the sunlit narrow-highway. The road climbs quickly through the trees, we stop only for a quick prayer a few hundred feet above the plain. It’s a Christian prayer, spoken in Chin – including some reference to the ‘foreigners travelling with us’ – we’re leaving Buddhism behind as we rise up into Chin State, until six months ago a part of Myanmar that was out of bounds to tourists. Once the road levels out at the top of the first climb some view of what lies ahead lies ahead. These are not hills, these are mountains that touch 3000m in places and much of the lower land in between is not so much lower than that. There is no definite tree line but we are up beyond what could be called forest or even wood. Magnolia are in flower.
The first villages we come to set the tone. Strings of multi-coloured houses line the winding road perching above the precipice on stilts immediately reminiscent of other mountainous regions I’ve seen. Well they would be, there is a practical necessity in building to withstand the conditions at these heights and with this exposure to the elements. What’s different is the liberal scattering of churches amongst the houses. Buddhism never reached these parts, well not in any great measure, it took the missionaries to divert the Chin nation from their animist beliefs, converting them to some 57 varieties of the white man’s faith. And to his alphabet. Shalom, Jehovah, Ebeneezer, Israel, Pentecostal, Baptist, Adventist – it’s all in Roman English. Lunch (glorious roast pork fat and a great vegetable soup) is taken in a small café hanging above a 700m drop with views to match. There is a suggestion here that a small but steady stream of foreign tourists has been running through here these past view months but this is later disputed further up the road. We arrive in Falam just as the wedding of Thomas and Priscilla is about to kick off.
Falam is 5820 feet above sea level which puts it a mile closer to heaven but which in no way explains the number of Christians living here. That’s down to the American missionaries (Judson and Carson in particular I think) who rolled over the home-grown animists back in the 19th century. 15,000 people are united in their love of Jesus but divided into thirty-seven different denominations of Christian, Baptists mainly, each with its own church, maybe more than one. In so far as it matters, everyone here is a Christian – there are just a few hundred Buddhist outriders, exactly sixty-seven Gurkha Hindus (the last trace of the British Army’s one-time presence) and a rumoured, but unfound, ‘three or five’ Muslims. They say no atheists. But then they say there are no gays too – and I’m pretty sure they’re wrong about that. More Falamformation may follow. In the meantime click here if you want to read the Woof Guide to Falam. If that doesn’t work – and right now it doesn’t for some reason – use this .. https://myohmyanmar.wordpress.com/whats-your-denomination-the-woof-guide-to-falam/