Hilly, sparsely populated and severely lacking in infrastructure the villages on the banks of the Lemro river ,Chin province , Myanmar could well be stuck in their own time warp.
These villages are only reachable by boat , which takes a few hours from Mrauk U, once one of the richest cities in Asia . But that was hundreds of years ago when Mrauk U , from 1354 to 1700 served as a free port trading with Europe & was likened to Venice by traders of the time.
Barring the hundreds of temples, little of the past glory of Mrauk U remains . It is however our access to the Lemro river and the Chin province , normally off limits to travellers unless with government permission.
Along the banks of the Lenro river a few members of the last generation of tattooed-face women still live. Traditionally, individual tribes would tattoo the faces of their girls in order to protect them against kidnapping by other tribes. Each tribe had its own distinctive tattoo.
Evidence of this ancient cultural practice will die out with this generation of female elders, as it has been outlawed by the Burmese government since 1960.
Getting a full-face tattoo is as painful as you can imagine, and the young girls, aged between 11 and 15 had to be held down by other villagers in order to bear the excruciating pain. The ink used for the tattoos comes from a special plant that some tribes mix with buffalo kidney, and is hammered into the skin with an instrument similar to a sturdy pine needle. Most of the girls were terrified during the process and recalled that they couldn’t open their eyes or speak for a week due to the swelling. They felt it was something they had no option but to go through.
One could argue that the few tourists that are allowed here may turn this into a spectacle.
But perhaps however this fails to recognize the Chin women in such matters. They understand that tourists value seeing their faces and traditions .Understandably they seek to extract as much from this opportunity as they can.
It would be different if this was a large scale operation organized and run by outsiders.
Reality is that this is a long way off the beaten track with any commercial transaction being one of a very personal nature.