From October 22 to November 5, 2012 we led a group of 11 on a tour of Burma that introducedour travelers not only to the standard sights one visits on most tours of Burma but we also took several diversions into hinterland areas where we were the only foreign visitors. Trips to off the beaten track areas permitted meaningful interaction with local peoples and an up close appreciation of their unique life ways. Likewise our river excursions included not only viewing the passing countryside and sunsets but also we disembarked to visit temporary villages on sand islands in the Irrawady in order to interact with residents who were engaging in a unique life style which could only be pursued during times of low water when the sand islands would emerge after the rainy season high water. Our trip also included visits to the homes of Intha friends whose home is built on stilts over Inle Lake. Burman friends also hosted us in their homes in Bagan. Thus in addition to the wealth of stupas, pagodas and monuments we visited, our tour was able to balance these attractions with the equally stimulating adventure of meeting new people and making new friends.
Our trip began where most do, in Rangoon the former capitol. After a tasty breakfast at the Lucky Seven tea shop we visited Kaba Aye or the World Peace Pagoda built in 1952 and dedicated towards the development of global peace. We then walked to the nearby Mahapasana Cave(Great Cave of Stone) which was built in 1953 and home to the Sixth Buddhist Synod held in 1954 which was attended by 2500 venerable monks who met to recite and verify the words of the Buddha in Pali. Next to see was the famous Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda, home to a famous reclining Buddha image completed in 1907 and extensively reconstructed in1973 which resulted in the image being extended to 216 feet in length. Our morning concluded with an exploration of the Ngar Htat Gyi Pagoda with its "five-storey Buddha". an image unique in the style of using Magite (armours) around the image. The image height is 45.5 feet. We enjoyed lunch at the Dhanu Phyu Daw Saw Yee Myanmar Food Center
|Our Breakfast Venue, Lucky Seven Restaurant|
|Kaba Aye - World Peace Pagoda|
|Paying Respect at Kaba Aye|
|Buddha Image at Kaba Aye|
|The Famous Reclining Buddha at Chauk Hat Gyi Pagoda|
|Chauk Hat Gyi Reclining Buddha|
|View From Chauk Hat Gyi|
|Buddha Image at Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda|
|Our Travelers at Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda|
After resting at our hotel, we headed out to explore the bustling life along the Yangon River. To this end, we went to the Nanthida Jetty to catch a cross river ferry on which we observed the frenetic loading and unloading of the ferry and on board activities during the crossing. It was interesting to learn something of the livelihood of those living on the delta side of the river. Upon our return we headed to the riverside Botahtaung Pagoda. The name of this hollow Pagoda means Pagoda of the thousand military leaders in honor of those who escorted relics of the Buddha from India over two thousand years ago. Here, members of our group took the opportunity to make an offering and to consult the image of the Nat (spirit) Ahmagyi Mya Nan Nwe, a devotee of the Botahtaung Pagoda. Our day concluded with dinner at the Golden Duck restaurant.
|Ferry at Nanthida Pier|
|Pleading for a Sale|
|Watermelon For Sale|
|Hugh and Jude Waiting for Departure|
|Flower Sellers on Pier|
|Buddha Image at Botahtaung Pagoda|
|Worshiping at Botahtaung Pagoda|
|Jack Communing With Ahmagyi Mya Nan Nwe|
|Bruce With Aye Aye Myint and Relatives|
Our next day in Rangoon began with a walk through Kandawgyi (Royal) Lake Park which provided distant views of the Shwedagon Pagoda. After this interlude in quiet surroundings we changed ambiance by enjoying a walking tour in downtown Rangoon beginning by circling the 2000 year old Sule Pagoda and then touring main and side streets to inspect the range of colonial era buildings and an active Hindu Temple. Our tour gave members of the group the opportunity to interact with merchants and others met along the way. We ended our walking tour at the Bogyoke Aung San (Scott) Market which was established in 1926. Here it was easy to satisfy ones desire for a souvenir of Burma for goods of all types were on sale. We had an excellent lunch and extraordinary views of Rangoon from the 20th floor Thripyitsaya Sky Bistro in the Sakura Tower, Rangoon's first intelligent building.
|Sermsri with Halloween Decoration, Kandawgyi Lake Park|
|Shwedagon Pagoda from Kandawgyi Lake Park|
|Our Group at Kandawgyi Lake Park|
|Colonial Era Building Ca. 1920's|
|Rangoon Side Street|
|Street Side Food Stall|
|Hugh Bargaining for Bananas|
|Worshiping at a Hindu Temple|
|Ornate Decoration at Hindu Temple|
|Holy Trinity Cathedral Church|
|Sule Pagoda from Sky Bistro in Sakura Tower|
After returning to our hotel to freshen up we headed out for the highlight of our time in Rangoon, a late afternoon and evening visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, a never to be forgotten experience. Situated on Singuttara hill and visible for miles around, the Shwedagon Pagoda rises 326 feet and is believed to be around 2500 years old and to enshrine relics of three earlier Buddhas plus eight hairs of Gautama Buddha. The most visited middle level of the Shwedagon complex covers about 14 acres and comprises a central stupa surrounded by a series of shrines, temples and pavilions. We experienced the changing vista as the sun slowly sank and the evening lights were turned on. The impressive structures were more than matched by Burmese of all ages who came to worship in chanting groups, as families with young ones in tow, teenagers and individuals who gravitate to one or another of the temples, pavilions or who are content to take a place on the main granite floor surrounding the central stupa. A highlight for us was meeting the nun Uthara Theingi Pathein of the Middle Tawya Nunnery and her young charges. Following our visit we enjoyed an evening meal of traditional Myanmar food at the Padonmar Restaurant.
|One of the Many Buddha Images at the Shwedagon|
|Shrines Abound at the Shwedagon|
|Deep in Prayer|
|Young Nuns at the Shwedagon|
|Post Rain Prayers|
|Paying Respects by Washing an Image|
|The Central Gold Plated Stupa at the Shwedagon|
|Young Nun at Shwedagon Pagoda|
|Sermsri at One of the Many Shrines|
|Reclining Buddha at the Shwedagon|
|Buddhas and More Buddhas|
|Hti or Layered Umbrellas Capping Stupas at the Shwedagon|
|Praying and Relaxing|
|Carved Figures on Wooden Entrance Structure|
|Womens Group Chanting Prayers|
|Pavilion at Shwedagon Pagoda|
|Sermsri Enjoying Interacting With Buddhist Nun|
|Uthara Theingi Pathein|
|Uthara and Her Young Charges|
|Sharing (Photo Courtesy of Hugh Crawford)|
|Sunset at Shwedagon|
|The Central Stupa at Sunset|
The next day it was time to say goodbye to our friendly and very knowledgeable guide Moe Kyaw as we were to take an early morning flight to Nyaung U. As we have been frequent visitors to Burma since 1983 with our most recent visit being in 2006 we were forced to reflect on the many visible changes since our last visit. The physical changes were obvious, traffic jams stimulated by the presence of many imported cars, new building construction more tourists with increased prices for lodging. Less visible but still palpable was the feeling that people were less afraid to speak their mind about political matters and were perhaps more hopeful about the future. The aspirations of the Burmese which had been suppressed for 50 years had by recent changes been given some room for expression.
After a short flight we were met by our next guide and friend of many years Kyaw Swe. We were to spend four days relaxing and taking in a small selection of the several thousand monuments in the Bagan Historical Park and surrounding area. Of equal importance and interest were our forays into rural off the beaten track villages where we renewed old friendships and made new acquaintances.
We started our first day with a walking visit of the Nyaung U morning market which was busy both with vendors and customers but also large numbers of insistent souvenir sellers. Changed from previous visits was the lack of antique trucks and vehicles dating from pre and post World War ll which used to transport goods and people to and from the market. Both necessity and Burmese ingenuity and mechanical skills kept these running in the absence of factory spare parts. Relaxed import regulations and duties have ushered in a new era of vehicle purchases thus displacing what used to be one of the quaint features of a visit to Burma.
|Baskets For Sale|
|Eggs Coming to Market|
|Puppets For Sale at Nyaung U Market|
After the market we proceeded to the famous Schwezigon Pagoda constructed in the 11th century. Enshrined in the pagoda is one of four replicas of the Buddha tooth from Sri Lanka.
The bell shaped pagoda is situated on three rising terraces and its shape became a model for later pagodas all over Burma. Previous lives of the Buddha are depicted on enamel plaques found around the base of the chedi. The terrace stairways which are placed at the cardinal points are faced by four shrines each with a 4 meter high standing Buddha image. Nat or spirit worship also takes place in a building within the pagoda compound and we were fortunate to be able to participate in a Nat calling by a spirit medium and to ask questions of the nat.
|The Shwezigon Pagoda|
|Young Monks at the Shwezigon|
|Satellite Temples at Shwezigon|
|Urn and Flower Decorations|
|Wood Carving in Hall of Nats|
|Nat Effigy at Swezigon Pagoda|
|Calling the Nats|
Next on our first day we inspected probably the most famous monument, the Ananda Pagoda or Pahto. Dating from the 12th century the temple was built by King Kyansitthar. The four entrances to the Pagoda each lead to a standing Buddha which represent the four Buddhas who attained enlightenment. The images are around 9.5 meters tall and are covered with gold. Only two of the images (facing north and south) are original the others being replacements for images destroyed by fires. The original images portray the dhammachakka mudra or the hand position which symbolizes the Buddh'a first sermon. All the images are made of solid teak. Another important aspect of Ananda are the 554 glazed tiles located on the base and terraces which depict scenes from the jataka (life stories of the Buddha).The pagoda is highly venerated and usually busy with locals and visitors from afar paying their respects.
|Detail of Upper Part of Ananda|
|West Facing Buddha Image in Gesture of Reassurance, Ananda Temple|
|South Facing Kessapa Buddha in Teaching Gesture, Ananda Temple|
|Sermsri Paying Respects in Ananda Temple|
After lunch at the Queen Restaurant we headed for the countryside and Taung Shaye village
to provide our travelers the opportunity to experience agriculturally based rural living. On our way we passed the local NLD offices adorned with pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi and her father Aung San.The village is built on sandy soil with houses primarily of split bamboo. Ox carts are the main mode of village transportation along tree lined sandy lanes which are bordered by split bamboo or brush fencing. The numerous trees in the village area provide respite from the heat of the sun. Recent changes include a new small school building erected by a Japanese NGO and a well the water from which must be paid for. Villagers, however, still use the traditional water source in order to save money. Young and old alike carry the water home on a shoulder pole balancing two buckets. We were treated to village hospitality along with a demonstration on how to climb a palm tree to harvest the liquid used in the making of palm wine. Villagers climb the lower part of the tree with their bare feet until reaching a ladder structure nearer the top where sap is extracted from cut flowers. Upon harvesting the sap is nonalcoholic until altered by fermentation. We returned New Bagan and a great dinner at the Green Elephant Restaurant and were joined by Kyaw Swe's delightful family. After dinner we returned to our comfortable rooms at the Kumudara Hotel which is set in proximity to many nearby monuments.
|Our Host Family|
|Tree Lined Lane of Taung Shay Village|
|Basket Seller in Taung Shay Village|
|Courtyard and Village House|
|Typical Village Housing|
|New School Donated by Japanese NGO|
|Collecting Water for Daily Use|
|Hugh Giving Water Carrying a Try|
|Hugh Taking a Break after Water Transport|
|How to Climb for Palm Sap|
After breakfast we headed south by bus along a single lane road to Salay an old religious center in Central Myanmar. The at times bumpy bus ride gave us the chance to view the changing countryside including the nearby Irrawaddy valley and the many chaungs or dry stream beds which intersected the highway. Crossing some of these very wide chaungs made one wonder what the conditions were like during the height of the rainy season. To get to Salay we had to pass through the town and river port of Chauk which is connected by a bridge to Seikpyu on the opposite side of the Irrawaddy River. We noticed many pumping oil wells and learned that the British discovered the Chauk-Lonywa oil field in 1902. Apparently Mon people traditionally would come to this area to gather asphalt to weatherproof their houses. Abundant natural gas reserves are to be found in the Chauk oil fields. On December 1, 1943 B-24 Liberators bombed the oil refinery and storage tanks at Chauk in order to deny their use to the Japanese.
|Crossing Wide Chaung on Way to Salay|
|Irrawaddy River in Distance|
|Foot Traffic Crossing the Chaung|
|Birds Eye View From Inside Our Bus|
|Hugh, John and Chris Enjoying Tea and Sweets at Salay Tea House|
|Refurbished Colonial Era Building in Salay|
|Colonial Building in Need of Restoration in Salay|
|Wooden Monastery Between Salay and Chauk|
|Entrance to Wooden Monastery|
|Villager Working on Decorations for Abbot's Funeral|
|View of Irrawadd River from Sunset Garden Restaurant|
After a rest we left for the Irrawaddy river bank where we were to meet our boat for a sunset cruise. Upon arriving we were greeted by more friendly souvenir sellers and the sight of gravel barges being unloaded by hand. Gravel recovery by hand from the river bed is one of the local occupations. Our river excursion provided views of the near shore monuments with particularly good views of the Shwezigon stupa. The setting sun provided a golden glow to all our faces and the surroundings. The increase in tourist traffic over previous years was noticeable by the number of craft milling about waiting for the sunset. We returned to dinner and puppet performance at the Si Thu Restaurant. Our friend of many years Thi Thi Win and her husband joined us for the evening and recommended we attend a temple fair which was to begin the following evening.
|Unloading Gravel Harvested from Irrawaddy River Bed|
|Walking the Plank With a Heavy Load|
|Boats Lined Up to Take Tourists on a Sunset Ride|
|Boys Playing on the River Bank|
|Loading the Truck|
|Stairway to ??|
|Washing with a Companion|
|Fetching Water for the Home|
|Shwezigon as Seen from the Irrawaddy|
|Sunset on the Irrawaddy|
|Puppet Performance at the SiThu Restaurant|
|Hugh Receiving Gift from Thi Thi Win|
We began our day with a horse cart tour of various monuments within the Bagan Archaeological Zone. On the way we passed the local NLD office which was decorated with various posters featuring Aung San Suu Kyi and her father. The first monument we visited was the Dhammayazika Pagoda. Built in 1198 by King Narapatisithu to enshrine relics of the Buddha obtained as gifts from the King of Sri Lanka. This pagoda is unusual as it is formed on a pentagonal base as opposed to the usual four sided Bagan style oriented to the cardinal directions. In the center of each side are small temples housing an image of Buddha. Four of the temples images represent the four Buddha's who have already attained enlightenment while the fifth represents the next Buddha named Metteyya. The pagoda comprises three receding terraces which feature glazed jataka tiles. We enjoyed a wonderful panoramic view of the Bagan Archaeological Zone from the upper terrace. Here we were able to gain a real appreciation for the number and variety of monuments in the zone. In recent times the Dhammayazika Pagoda reportedly had come under the patronage of Khin Nyunt a former army general and head of military intelligence. He was sacked for corruption in 2004 but released from house arrest in 2012. Apparently he donated funds to refurbish the structure which included covering upper portions with a fabric that was ultimately overlain with gold leaf. Unfortunately a poor quality glue was used and now the underlying fabric is lifting off the structure. Nonetheless the pagoda remains one of Bagan's finest structures.Our horse cart tour continued with the inspection of several more structures, some noted for their surviving murals.
|Sign at NLD Office|
|Stucco Work on Dhamnayazika Pagoda|
|Ceramic Plaques on Dhamnayazika Pagoda|
|View of Surrounding Monuments|
|View of Surrounding Monuments|
|Gold Leaf Patterns|
|Hti on the Dhamnayazika Pagoda|
|Detail on Upper Works of Dhamnayazika Pagoda|
|One of Many Nearby Monuments in the Minathu Area|
|Learning About Temple Construction and Decoration|
|Murals in Minathu Area|
|Visiting a small unnamed Pagoda to View Stucco Work|
|Example of Stucco Work|
In the afternoon, some of our travelers opted to relax at the hotel and to meander on their own through the surrounding area while others returned to Taung Shaye village for a more in depth visit. As part of our trip structure we decided to select worthy causes for the donation of funds from each of our participants. Hence before leaving for the village it was agreed by all to purchase school ,supplies to donate to the village school. Certainly the highlight of our second visit was our interaction with the students at the village school. After donating school supplies one of our travelers, Linda, assisted one of the teachers with an English lesson and then introduced the students to a fun filled learn by doing game of ring Around the Rosie. Participation started slowly but soon built to include most of the school. The favorite part of course was the "all fall down" ending. We completed our visit with a village walk through visiting people tending to their daily chores of cooking and winnowing. Our evening meal was taken at our favorite Sunset Garden Restaurant.
|Linda Donating School Supplies For Our Group|
|Passing Out New Supplies to the Students|
|A Happy Student|
|Sermsri and New Friend|
|Teaching a New Word|
|Enjoying a Picture|
|Learning Ring Around the Rosie|
|The Best Part - "All Fall Down"|
|Heading Home From School|
|Fencing Taung Shaye Style|
|Cooking a Local Specialty|
|Bringing Home the Water|
|Unloading Water in Courtyard|
|Facing Down the Herd|
|Typical Village Lane|
Our last day in Bagan began when three jeeps arrived to take us to the remote villages of
Nyauk Tha Yauk Se and Nyauk Tha Yauk Myauk Kone. The sandy road leading into the villages took us through beautiful rural scenery. On the ride in John was able to try his hand at plowing behind a pair of oxen to the amusement of all concerned. Our walk through of Myauk Kone exposed us to many activities within the village. Jack was able to try his hand at cutting grass for animal feed on a device requiring hand, foot and eye coordination lest one lose a finger in the process.while Alan gave rice powder manufacture a try. The primary economic activity in the village centered on pottery manufacture which we were able to witness first hand. Our village ramble allowed interaction with a variety of villagers as well as opportunities to photograph the idyllic scenes of village life. We were met by smiles everywhere.
|The Days Transport|
|A Balancing Act|
|Plowing a Peanut Field|
|John Giving it a Try|
|Carrying a Load|
|Mode of Transport To/From Town|
|Still LIfe at Nyauk Tha Yauk Myauk Kone Village|
|Patterns in Nature|
|Jack Trying Not to Lose a Hand While Cutting Animal Feed|
|Bruce Towers Over Village Girls|
|Ox Cart with Truck Tires|
|Alan Giving Rice Pounding a Try|
|Gathering Rice Flour|
|A Vendors Smile|
|John and Hugh Enjoying Interacting With Village Kids|
|Throwing a Pot Village Style|
|Finishing a Piece With Hammer and Anvil Technique|
|Carrying a Load Burmese Style|
We lunched in the nearby village of Nyauk Tha Yauk Se where a group of villagers prepared a tasty lunch of fried noodles. We overwhelmed by the friendly atmosphere and happy hosts. We were guests of a village self help organization who devoted themselves to aiding those in need of medical attention, especially emergency cases requiring evacuation to higher order medical facilities. We were impressed with their dedication and desire to avoid administrative overhead. As a result of our understandings the group decided to make a cash donation and Chris was selected to do the honors. It was a great ending to a fun morning
|Steve With Village NGO Representatives|
(Photo courtesy of Hugh Crawford)
|Enjoying a Village Lunch|
|Chris Doing the Honors|
|Bruce Having Fun With One of the NGO Representatives|
|Kyaw Swe and Family|
(Photo Courtesy of Hugh Crawford)
|The Irrepressible Chu Chu|
(Photo Courtesy of Hugh Crawford)
Upon returning to Nyaung U we visited the home of our guide Kyaw Swe whose charming family plied us with refreshments and fun conversation. After this welcome interlude we visited the Gukyaung Monastery Orphanage School where we met the young student novices some of whom were made orphans by the devastating Cyclone Nargis. The teaching hall is housed in a tin roofed wooden structure where Alan and Kate were happy to donate school supplies for the students. We ended the afternoon with an interesting visit to a family run laquerware factory where we were impressed with all the steps it takes to achieve a finished product.
|The Gukyoung Monastery School, Nyaung U|
|A Class at the Monastery School|
|Hugh Sharing a Picture|
|Alan and Kate Making Donation|
|Applying Finishing Touches|
After a repeat dinner at Sunset Garden some of the group headed for the temple fair which found a large audience seated on the ground facing a stage. We were really taken with the traditional Burmese orchestra located to the right of the stage. The ensemble of primarily percussion instruments is known as Hsian Wain. In this group the leading instrument is the pat waing which is a set of 21 tuned drums which hang inside an ornately decorated frame. The drums are tuned by applying a small amount of tuning paste to the center of the drums. Contrasting in sound is the double reed instrument known as hne (oboe). Also in the orchestra are the kyi waing, a high pitched set of bronze gongs (often 19 in number) also set in a gilded circular frame. Cymbals or linkwin and large two faced dobat drums along with six other drums are used to set the underlying patterns of the music.. The music produced includes much improvisation with short phrases produced by the lead drums being imitated by the hne.The gongs will usually support the lead drums but for contrast will occasionally take the lead. We were able to sit with the musicians and observe their joy in producing the infectious music.
|The Temple Fair Audience|
(Photo courtesy of Hugh Crawford)
|The Drum Player|
|Playing the Cymbals or Linkwin|
|Playing the Pat Waing|
|Playing the Gongs|
The orchestra entertained the crowd while the performers were applying make up and donning traditional costumes. The actual stage performance began with a traditional Buddhist themed presentation but was quickly followed by hip hop and rap numbers which were significantly different than the opening presentation but which reflect greater acceptance of Western influence. We found the quick transition to be both unexpected and somewhat puzzling as we were expecting primarily religious themed entertainment. It was a good example of cultural change exemplified by borrowings and integration of stylistic and performance attributes from western sources. After enjoying the performances for awhile we were invited to the house of Thi Thi Win our friend who runs a book stall in the Ananda temple. We were welcomed and fed a delicious noodle dish though we had already had a full dinner. We finished the evening with a quick visit to Thi Thi's parents where we were forced to refuse a third dinner!
|Getting Ready for the Performance|
|The Opening Scene|
The following morning we were up early for our short flight to Mandalay where we were met by our guide Maybelle who skillfully escorted us to some of the major sights but also to some of Mandalay's best restaurants. We started our visit in Amapura with a trip to Mahagandhayan Monastery one of Burma's largest teaching monasteries. One of the reasons tourists come here is to witness the procession of upwards of 1000 monks as they line up to proceed in silence to the dining hall where they receive their meal which is donated by local people.
|Still Life at Mahagandhayan Monastery|
|Monks Lining Up for Daily Meal|
|Robes on the Wash Line|
After walking through the monastery and observing the procession we traveled to Ubein Bridge which at 1.2km. in length is the worlds longest teak bridge. Named after a clerk of the Mayor of Amarapura the bridge was constructed in 1849 and spans Taungthamen Lake and is busy during the day and especially at dusk. The bridge was constructed from timber planks and posts salvaged from dismantled houses in Sagaing and Inwa. The bridge and its approaches are populated by many sellers of trinkets and is a good people watching location. After visiting the bridge we moved on to a silk weaving factory that was busy preparing wedding dresses. Here the majority of hand loomers were young women who were employed doing highly detailed designs for soon to be brides.We enjoyed lunch at the riverside Mya Nandar Restaurant.
|Ubein Teak Bridge|
|Boatman at Ubein Bridge|
|Hugh Engaging With a Souvenir Seller|
|Meticulous Hand Work|
|Colorful Thread for a Wedding Dress|
After lunch we headed for the river to meet out boat for a trip up the Irrawaddy to Mingun. Our first stop was to nose the boat up against one of the sand islands in the river so we could get off and explore the life ways of the people inhabiting these temporary strips of sandy land. There the housing was simple as were the children's toys. We were met by friendly smiles and sad stories. The first person we met was a woman whose husband had abandoned her for another leaving her with five children to support on this sliver of sand.
|Chris Walking the Plank for Our Boat Excursion|
|Typical Sand Island Homes|
|Home Made Toy|
|Kate Sharing a Photo|
|Wandering About the Rivers Edge|
|Village With Garden Plots|
|Hugh With Curious Kids|
|Island Style Privy|
|John With New Friends|
|Sand Island Kitchen|
|Doing the Washing|
|Deck Still Life|
|Chris and Pat Enjoying the Ride|
Given the time we spent on the sand island we did not climb the unfinished Mingun Paya (Pahtodawgyi) but viewed it from nearby. The structure was started in 1791 with a plan to reach a height of 500 feet ,however, an earthquake in the late 1830's severely cracked the works which were abandoned at a height of 162 feet. Slaves and prisoners of war were used construct the Chedi. After inspecting the remnants of two giant lion statues in front of the east gate of the chedi we moved to the nearby Mingun Bell. Here Jack gave a try at ringing the large 90+ ton bronze bell. The bell was cast between 1808 -1810 at the behest of King Bodawpaya who was also responsible for initiating work on the Mingun Chedi.. The bell is uncracked and is rung by striking the outer rim with a wooden mallet.
|Unfinished Mingun Chedi|
|Jack Giving the Mingun Bell a Try|
|Jack, Linda, Hugh, Jude and John Cruising With a View|
Winding our way back to the boat we passed the Mingun Home for the Aged. Home to nearly 100 elderly persons usually those without families to support them. The facility established in 1915 is supported by private donations. Overseeing the medical care of the residents was Nurse Thwe Thwe Aye blessed with incredible energy and an infectious personality. We received a briefing and tour of the facility from her, met some of the residents and responded with a donation to help with the purchase of medicines. We were happy to see that these aged had not been forgotten. Our evening meal was at the A Little Bit of Mandalay Restaurant.
|Thwe Thwe Aye the Dynamo Nurse at Mingun Home for the Aged|
The next morning we were up early for a bus trip to the small town of Kyauk Se about 48 km. south of Mandalay. Kyauk Se is home of the annual elephant dance festival, a pagoda festival to celebrate the construction of a pagoda more than 2000 years ago.. This is the only festival of its kind in Burma and draws people from all over the country. Kyauk Se was formerly the granary of the 9th century Bagan Kingdom owing to its rich and fertile land. The legendary King Anawrahta of Bagan is said to have been behind the development of canals and weirs to improve the areas irrigation.and it was his command that all subjects who benefited must come and pray at the annual festival on the full moon day of Thadingyut (October) also the end of Buddhist Lent.
|Young Nuns Collecting Food Donations in Kyauk Se|
|Fruits in the Kyauk Se Markets|
|Minature Elephants For Sale in Kyauk Se|
For months prior to the festival villagers are busy fabricating their elephants out of bamboo, cloth, paper plus large quantities of gilt foil, glitter, satin, velvet, ribbons and other ornamentation. The art of making the paper elephants is handed down with rules of proportions set to verse to make it easier to remember. The craft of making the elephants is called Sut-b'ji and before work can start prayers and offerings must be made to the appropriate nats (spirits) in order to bring good results in the competition. Each group has its own closely guarded secret way of folding the bamboo to make a secure foundation or frame upon which cloth and hand made rice paper will be applied. Several layers are used to form the skin. Soot and boiled rice water are used as an adhesive for black elephants while for the more regal white ones several layers of lime are used. Finally the ornamentation is added as well the chosen name is painted on the elephant's side.
|Cotton Candy A Favorite Treat at the Festival|
|A Serious Photographer Poised to Get the Perfect Shot|
|Pride of a Village|
|A Highly Decorated Elephant|
|Instruments Used to Accompany the Dancing Elephants|
The elephant's head is connected to the body in a way that permits its turning by the man in front. Sewn cloth tubes form the legs while the flexible trunk is made from rings of bamboo set in a long tapered roll of cloth. The hindmost person is responsible for movement of the tail and the fancy leg movements. The motion of the elephants varies from small dainty steps to large acrobatic twists and turns. Dancers practice for months on the previous years elephants so as not to soil the new creation. Some elephant teams do not enter the competition but just parade and dance through the town streets. These latter groups enjoy performing comedy skits for those watching while the serious competitors must comport themselves in a manner becoming of a noble creature. The competitors are judged on several criteria and the three top contestantsl receive trophies and will be in demand to perform all over the country at State, novitiation and charitable functions. After observing the opening ceremonies and some incredible dancing we joined the throngs as elephants made their way around the marketplace and into the crowded streets. After we returned to Mandalay we enjoyed a great Thai meal at the Tom Yam Koong Restaurant.
|A Young Spectator|
|Spectators and Elephants|
|Watching from a Temple Viewpoint|
|Parading Through Kyauk Se's Streets|
|Carrying an Elephant!|
|Elephant on a Trishaw|
|Woman Sewing Kalaga Tapestry|
Our attention then turned to several of Mandalay's famous monuments. First to be visited was the Maha Myat Muni Pagoda. This pagoda contains the most revered Buddha image in Mandalay which is also the oldest Buddha image in Burma. In contrast to most every other image this image was cast during the Buddha's lifetime. The image is in a seated position known as Bumi Phasa Mudras which symbolizes his conquest of Mara (the mind of illusion, doubt and death). After a four months journey in B.C 123 King Sanda Thuriya of Rakhine-Dharyawaddy had the image enshrined in its present location. The image is 3.83 meters high with a golden crown decorated with diamonds, rubies and sapphires. During our visit the prayer hall was filled with devotees.while men climbed the altar to apply gold leaf to the image.
|Applying Gold Leaf to the Buddha Image at the Maha Myat Muni Pagoda, Mandalay|
Second on our itinerary was a brief stop at the King Galon gold leaf factory. Composed of many steps and 5 to 7 hours of hammering the workers were able to beat 1 tical of gold into about 2000 very thin gold leaves. The finished product can usually be purchased at pagodas for application on sacred images.
|Pounding to make gold leaf|
Our next stop was the Shwenandaw or Golden Palace Monastery a fine example of a Burmese wooden monastery. Famous for its many beautiful wood carvings the building used to reside in the old Mandalay palace complex. After the death of King Mindon who died in the building King Thibaw Min had the building dismantled and then erected at its present site in 1880. The extensive carving includes a variety of motifs and mythical creatures. Unfortunately the years of exposure to harsh tropical weather have removed the thick gold which used to cover the exterior. The interior however still glitters with gold. We were left in awe at the extraordinary skill of the ancient Burmese carvers.
|Intricate Wood Carvings at Shwenandaw Monastery, Mandalay|
|Detail of Wall Panel at Shwenandaw|
The final monument we visited was the Kuthodaw Pagoda. Before entering, we were treated to a taste of former days by the presence of an antique Dennis fire truck which was parked near the pagoda entrance.The sight of old but functioning vehicles used to be a common experience in Burma. The Kuthodaw Pagoda, located at the foot of Mandalay Hill is well known as the home of the worlds largest book. The central gilded stupa is modeled after the Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung U. and was built by King Mindon. On the grounds of the pagoda King Mindon had constructed 729 kyauksa gu or stone inscription caves. Each cave contained a marble slab which was inscribed on both sides with a page of text from the Tripitaka, the entire Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism. Sadly after the annexation of Mandalay by the British in 1885 and their removal in1890 by order of Queen Victoria it was discovered that the soldiers had looted the pagoda of its hti (umbrella with precious stones) to the Italian marble tiles from its terraces. Restoration activities by Burmese monks and the Burmese royal family continued over succeeding decades.
|Antique Dennis Fire Engine|
|Flowers For Sale at Temple Entrance|
We ended our day by chasing the setting sun up the flanks of Mandalay Hill. Here, we enjoyed the sunset view and just relaxing and looking out over the countryside. Meanwhile, Jack and Linda had an interesting time conversing with several monks anxious to hone their English language skills. It was also sobering to read the plaques memorializing the Gurka soldiers who lost their lives in the fierce fighting to take Mandalay Hill from the occupying Japanese. We returned to the city and dinner at The Green Elephant Restaurant.
|Jack Giving Impromptu English Lesson|
|Mandalay Hill Sunset|
|Mandalay Hill Moon Scape|
|Plaque Commemorating Gurka Victory During World War ll|
The next morning it was up early to fly to Heho the site of a former Japanese World War ll air base to begin our excursion in the Inle Lake area. We were all looking forward to settling in for several days and having the chance to both see and experience as well as relax in this unique cultural and natural landscape.
Inle Lake, Burma's second largest, is set in a classic horst and graben geologic structure where a block of land through faulting has been depressed while adjoining areas have been uplifted forming the mountain ranges bordering the low lying Inle Lake basin. Inle Lake with a surface area of 44.9 square miles is 13 miles long and about 6.5 miles wide at its widest. The lake varies in depth from 7 to 12 feet depending on the season and amount of rain falling in the lake's drainage basin. In 1985 the Inle Lake Wetland Sanctuary was established in order to conserve and protect the natural vegetation, wetland birds and fresh water fishes as well as important upland geologic features and scenic values among other goals.
The inhabitants surrounding the lake include Shan, PaO and Intha people. The latter, who who number about 70,000 live along the lake shore and over the lake in wooden houses built on stilts. The Intha practice a form of hydroponic gardening that was introduced in the 1960's. Requiring considerable manual labor floating gardens or Kyun Myaw are made by obtaining a floating mat made of sediment and old decayed water hyacinth, weeds and reeds which are cut into long pieces then towed to a new location where they are anchored directly to the lake bed by bamboo poles. It takes years for a thick layer of floating land to form around the rim of the lake. These floating islands form the bed on which a variety of vegetables are grown.The nutrient rich lake waters permit the growing of large amounts of tomatoes while water hyacinth is harvested from the lake. Water hyacinth is used to make a variety of goods including bags, shawls, headdresses and baskets. Special robes for Buddha images called kya thingahn are made from a unique fabric made from lotus plant fibers. Other items grown around the lake include beans, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, garlic,onions,betel vine, melon, papaya and banana. Rice is primarily grown at the northern end of the lake. Inle is also famous for its woven cotton and silk fabrics.
In keeping with our desire to explore life ways and traditional culture we avoided packaged lake trips which usually feature stops at numerous work shops set up for tourists and for which boat drivers receive a commission for bringing tourist. This type of circuit did not exist on our pre 2006 visits. The number of fisherman practicing their unique and famous leg rowing method of propelling their small craft has diminished significantly. On this trip we noted a couple of leg rowers waiting near the mouth of the long canal leading to Nyaungshwe to serve as photographic subjects for a fee of course. The number of one cylinder diesel and outboard motor propelled boats has increased as residents abandon their unique leg powered propulsion technique.
On the way from Heho to Nyaungshwe we stopped at the Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery, a wooden structure which has become famous owing to the many pictures tourists have taken of young monks (who at times now seem to intentionally pose) peering out of the darkened openings created by a series of oval windows. Next door is a stucco structure whose internal walls hold many niches with recently placed Buddha images. A highlight of this stop was the opportunity to share food with groups of PaO women who had come from a nearby village to worship as this our visit coincided with the end of Buddhist Lent.
|Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery|
|Flowers in Temple Grounds|
|Decorations on Wall of Adjacent Structure|
|Some of the Many Buddhas in Niches of Temple|
|Buddha Image with Floral Offerings|
|Kate and Alan Trying PaO Food|
|Linda and Jack Join In|
|Quiet Canals by Canoe|
|Home Made Flotation|
|Alan and Kate Looking at Water Lillies|
|Heading Towards a Village|
|Leg Rowing Inle Style|
|Phwe Phwe and Bruce Enjoying the View|
|Heading Home at Sunset|
The Paung Dao Oo Monastery is the central monastery in Inle Lake and is the home of five revered Buddha images which vary in size from nine to eighteen inches. The images are believed to have been brought to the Inle Lake area by King Alaungsithu of Bagan.These images have received so much gold leaf from pilgrims over the past 100 or so years that they no longer resemble their original forms. Pilgrims may also place a small robe or thingan around the images which they then take home and place on their own altar as a sign of respect for the Buddha and his teachings.
We timed our visit to coincide with the latter stages of the famous Paung Dao Oo festival.
Every year during the festival which lasts around 18 days in September/October four of the images are transported around the lake from monastery to monastery making as many as 21 stops along its circuit. The fifth image remains at the Paung Dao Oo Monastery to act as a guardian and to welcome pilgrims. The trip between monasteries may involve stopping only at lunch time or staying the night as worshipers come from near and far to pay their respects by making offerings of food, water, fruit and flowers and men to apply yet more gold leaf on the images.
The images are carried between monasteries on a large royal barge designed after a mythical bird the Karaweik. The Karaweik barge is pulled by a series of boats linked by lines and each propelled by 70-100 leg rowers. The long line of leg rowers and the royal barges make for an impressive sight. Lining the route which has been decorated with various colorful constructions villagers with offerings wait in their small craft for the procession to pass. The individual boats are decorated and the rowers usually wear the same shan style uniform of tan pants and a white shirt. At the center of the boat one may see men dancing on a raised platform and hear music from drums, gongs or a recording coming from a loudspeaker.
After an early morning departure to a spectacular sunrise over the adjacent mountains we arrived to witness the procession moving from Nyaung Taw to In Paw Khone. On the way we had our first introduction to over water village life as we glided along "streets" of water. As the
procession had begun at 7:00am and was to cover only a short distance we arrived near the end of the procession. As the waterway leading to In Paw Kone is quite narrow, the barge was docked some distance away and the various boats pulling the barge positioned themselves around the nearby village thus presenting an excellent opportunity to be up close with the leg rowers putting on a good show of their skill. We found a place to tie up and then walked to observe the activities of the throng of devotees which included many PaO people.
|Early Morning on the Lake|
|Clouds and Mountains|
|Lake Houses on Stilts|
|A Typical Team of Leg Rowers Who Pull the Karaweik Barge|
|Little Freeboard to Spare!|
|On Board Celebratory Dancing|
|Putting Your Leg to the Task|
|Typical Inle Lake Monastery in Background|
|Karaweik Barge Carrying Four Sacred Buddha Images|
|Monks on the Way to In Paw Khone Pagoda|
|Close Up of Leg Rowing|
|Moving in Rhythm|
|Even the Very Young Learn|
|PaO Women at In Paw Kone Pagoda|
|Applying Gold Leaf While Images are at In Paw Kone Pagoda|
Leaving In Paw Khone we stopped at the Nice Restaurant for some refreshment. Here we observed an Intha man demonstrating the traditional method of fishing which is based on a conical trap which is lowered into the water and pressed into the bottom in hopes of trapping fish inside which can then be speared through an opening in the top end of the conical trap. All this activity of course while one balances on one leg and oars with the other while positioned on the very stern of an unstable dugout canoe. We then made a visit to to the Paung Dao Oo Monastery to see the fifth image which remains there and to do some shopping in the maze of shops on the ground floor under the pagoda. Our next destination was the village of Indein. Our route from the Paung Dao oo Pagoda was via the Indein Creek. The narrow sinuous creek passed through paddy fields which afforded views of agricultural activities and buffaloes bathing in the creek. Though it was the scheduled market day there was little activity owing to it being festival time. However, numerous souvenir vendors inhabited the village paths.
|Setting the Conical Fish Trap|
|A Waterborne Ballet|
|Inle Pagoda on Stilts|
|Freighter Bound for Nyaungshwe|
|Mother and Son Underway|
|Oaring a Heavy Load|
|Paung Dao Oo Pagoda|
|Flowers for Donation|
|Applying Gold Leaf to the Fifth Buddha Image Which Remains at the Pagoda|
|Orogenic Clouds Forming Over Mountains Bordering to Inle Lake|
|Typical Bridge Over Waterway|
|Buffalo Bathing in Indein Creek|
|Tourist Boats at Indein Village|
The main feature of interest are the ruins of ancient stupas which number in the hundreds many of which are overgrown with vegetation. Nyaung Oak is the name given the first group of stupas found immediately behind the village. Though in a crumbling state it is still possible to view ornate stucco carvings of mythical animals and celestial beings. A covered walkway lined by 403 tall pillars with a roof of zinc sheets leads to the Shwe Indein Pagoda. Here one finds another grouping of ancient stupas constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of these stupas are being restored or rebuilt to the extent they look like new constructions of which there are also examples.As might be expected the covered walkway is lined with vendors of all manner of crafts and souvenirs. The summit pagoda provided expansive views across iNle Lake and to the surrounding mountains.
|Old Stupas at Indein|
|New and Restored Stupas at Indein|
|Restoring a Stupa at Indein|
|Relaxing in Shwe Indein Pagoda|
|Lunch by the River|
To cap off the days trip we stopped for a visit to the home of U Lay Paul an Intha family who were friends of friends and most welcoming. This stop provided a window into the life of the lake dwelling people as we were able to meet the family, tour a typical home and be treated to tea and refreshments. On the way back to Nyaungshwe we were treated to great cloud formations as we traveled through Ywama the site of the famous floating market which unfortunately now sees more boats filled with tourists being sold a variety of souvenirs as opposed to locals shopping for fruits and vegetables as was the case some years ago. That evening we enjoyed Nepalese food at the Nyaungshwe branch of Everest Restaurant.
|Enjoying Snacks and a Chat|
|Our Gracious Hosts|
|Off to the Next Adventure|
|Chedis at Ywama Site of Famous Floating Market|
|Clouds over the Lake|
|Riding in Style|
|Doing Several Things at Once|
|Clouds Over Mountains|
|Tomatoes Fresh From the Lake|
|Dancers with Offerings|
|And More Dancers|
|Spectators and Dancers with Offerings|
|Dancing Before Arrival of Karaweik Barge|
|Rowers Arriving In Basin at Paung Dao Oo Monastery|
|Playing the Long Drum|
|Arrival of a Ceremonial Barge|
|More Dancing Devotees|
|Arrival of Ceremonial Barge|
|Arrival of Karaweik Barge|
|Karaweik Barge with Paung Dao Oo Pagoda in Background|
|Karaweik Barge at Paung Dao Oo Pier|
|Unloading the Sacred Images|
|Starting Area for Boat Races|
|In Race Mode|
|Womens Racing Team|
|Dancers Taking a Break|
|Singing For The Buddha|
We had a special ending to the days travels where we went to visit the orphanage run by the Myittamon Foundation in Nyaungshwe. Here we toured the facilities and met many of the residents. We received a very good briefing on the operation of the orphanage and as a group we decided to make a donation of school supplies and cash. It was a special ending to an exciting day of touring. In the evening we had the pleasure of being the first guests in the Intha run Sunflower restaurant where we feasted on Intha food.
|Pat Making One of Our Donations to the Myittamon Foundation Orphanage|
|Bruce Also Doing the Honors|
The following day we departed for Taunggyi a former British Hill Station where we paid our entry fee and obtained our guide for the PaO administered site of Kakku. Our guide for the day to the delight of all was Nang Nge Pay or Pay Pay who lit up everyone's day with her effervescent smile and radiant energy. Kakku was only opened for tourism in 1996. We embarked on a bus ride through rolling hills for our destination of Kakku. Here framed by giant Banyan trees sits an assemblage of over 2000 stupas on an elevated site of about 1 square kilometer which overlooks the Hopong Valley. The main stupa is about 40 meters high. A variety of styles are represented and many of the stupas have delicate stucco decorations. In a few cases parts of the original colored surfaces remain. Most of the stupas are topped by a multi tiered umbrella structure made of gilded metal known as a hti. Small brass bells hang from the Hti and provide a gentle musical backdrop to the already spiritual complex. The exact origins of kaku are unknown but legend has it that the sire dates back 2000 years. The stupas are of varying style evoking the various periods in which they were constructed. The main pagoda houses a relic of the Buddha which was attended by several guards. Also on site was a shrine with an image of the deceased Buddha a rare form of presentation.
|Hugh and Alan Conversing with Pay Pay|
|Anna Trying PaO Style|
|The Finished Product with Smiles All Around|
|Impressive Banyan Trees|
|On Our Way to Inspect the Ancient Site|
|A Forest of Stupas|
|PaO Men Visiting the Site|
|Hti or Umbrella Top to Stupas|
|Elaborate Decorations on Stupa|
|Remnant Color on Stucco Sculpture|
|Figures on Stupa|
|John, Linda, Hugh and Jack Learning About the Kakku Site|
|Candles of Devotion|
|Rare Representation of Dead Buddha|
|PaO Girls at Naung Pit Village|
|Typical House of Split Bamboo|
|Circling the Temple with Donations|
|PaO Women with Donations|
|PaO Long Drum|
|Enjoying the Fare at Taung Chune Food Center, Taunggyi|
The following morning we left for Pindaya Cave and our overnight stay in the former British Hill Station of Kalaw. On the way we happened by an ox cart park where farmers had gathered to sell their cabbages and to transfer their carts to a large truck which would transport the vegetables to markets in Mandalay and Rangoon. We proceeded on to Pindaya and the caves of the same name. Here the limestone topography has permitted the formation of many caves over a period of several million years. The north-south ridge behind Pindaya is the site of three caves, only the southernmost cave can be entered. A Buddhist pilgrimage site, this cave which extends into the ridge about 490 meters contains over 8000 Buddha images. Based on inscriptions the oldest images appear to date to the early 18th century. Most of the images date to the late 18th and early 19th centuries though images are constantly being placed by donors both from Burma and many foreign countries. Some of the images are unique to Pindaya such as the images from the late 18th century Bhisakkaguru tradition in which the image is holding a seed in the upturned right palm. Good views were had over the surrounding countryside, Pindaya Lake and a complex of stupas at the foot of the ridge.We had an enjoyable lunch at the lakeside Green Tea restaurant after which we visited a Sa paper manufacturing operation where both sheet paper with impressed flowers as well as umbrellas were sold.
|Cabbages in Queue|
|Loading for Shipment to Mandalay and Rangoon|
|Entry Structure to Pindaya Cave|
|Sermsri and Representation of Mythical Spider|
|View Looking Toward Pindaya Lake|
|Some of the Many Buddha Images Within the Cave|
|Small Buddha Images|
|So Many Images|
|Linda,Alan,Hugh, Jude and John Taking in the Cave and its Contents|
|John, Linda and Anna in a Small Meditation Cave|
|Jack Squeezing Out of the Meditation cave|
|Turning Umbrella Handles on Simple Lathe|
|Rolling Countryside Between Pindaya and Kalaw|
|Countryside on Way to Kalaw|
The following day we did a walking tour of the Kalaw Market. As it was time for the five day market the lanes were crowded with shoppers and sellers of all manner of produce and dry goods though not many persons were wearing ethnic clothing. An interesting shop we discovered along the way was run by the Rural Development Society which had a variety of tribal handicrafts for sale. After a stint of looking and shopping we headed for Hnee Pagoda home of a unique 500 year old gold-laquered Buddha image made from woven strips of bamboo. Here we were treated to tea prepared by some of the nuns and lay people in the pagoda. Afterwards some elected to rest at our lodgings while others opted for a 6 kilometer hike into a Palaung village. After a short downhill we walked along a fairly narrow valley sandwiched between surrounding mountains then began a fairly steady uphill until we arrived at the lower reaches of the village. We enjoyed the views and meeting Paluang women who were weaving by the back strap loom method. After enjoying the views and interacting with the children we hiked back to the trail head then met our transport for our return to Heho airport and thence on to Rangoon for our return trip to Bangkok the following day.
|Color in Kalaw Market|
|Balloons and Flowers|
|Picking Up Flowers|
|Bamboo Buddha Image at Hnee Pagoda|
|Hiking to Paluang Village|
|Weaving on a Back Strap Loom|
|Palaung Still Life|
|View from Palaung Village|
|Jude Enjoying Encounter with Paluang Kids|
There is no doubt that Burma is changing rapidly even in the six years between our most recent visits. There are many noticeable changes, not all for the good. However, the country still offers many fascinating sights to see and of course is home to people of irrepressible spirit and good will. It is the memories of all the special person to person contact that will keep bringing us back to this enchanting land. Some of these people are the subject of the next blog entry, BURMESE FACES.
Unless otherwise credited, all photographs on Lanna Happenings are copyright by Steve Wilke, 2012