LEG ROWERS AND WATER GARDENS OF INLE LAKE, KALAW, TAUNGGYI

SHAN STATE

SHAN STATE is the home to about half the population of Myanmar. Ethnic groups that live here include the Shan, Burmese, Chinese, Wa, Kachin, Paluang, Lahu, Akha, Pa-O, Kachin, Palaung, Danu, Wa, Lahu, Kaw, Maingtha, Paduang, Taungyo, Yin, Gon, Kayah, Lishau, and Intha. For a long time much of Shan State was off limits to tourists because of opium production and fighting connected with ethnic insurgencies in the area. Open areas include Kalaw, Inle Lake, the Shan plateau, the Shan Hill, Inle Lake, Taunggyi, Pindaya and the roads that connect these places.

The road from Thailand through Eastern Shan State opened up with the retirement of the notorious drug baron Khun Sa in 1995. Check the Lonely Planet books and website and their Thorn Tree online bulletin board and the Embassy of Myanmar and the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar for the latest information.

Shan State is divided into Northern Shan State, Southern Shan State and Eastern Shan State. Districts of Shan State include Taunggyi, Loilem, Lashio, Muse, Kyaukme, Kunlong, Laukkai, Kengtung Mongsan, Monhpyak and Tachileik. Shan State is formed with 54 townships and 193 wards and village-tracts. The capital of Shan State is Taunggyi.

The region is dominated by Shan plateau, which is between 3,000 and 4,000 feet above sea level and has a climate that is comfortable year round and less hot than the lowlands. The mountain ranges threading through the area are generally between 5,000 and 7,000 feet high. The valleys are filled with wet and dryland rice fields, irrigation canals, ponds, trees, water buffalo, lotus flowers, small pagodas, and footpaths.

Thazi (on the main rail line between Yangon and Mandalay) is a hot, ugly town. Travelers bound for Inle Lake, Loikow and Pagan sometimes get off the train here to catch buses to their ultimate destinations. There is nothing to see in Thazi and it is good idea to get off the train and immediately try to find a bus to somewhere else. There are better places to spend the night. The people at the tourist office near the train station are helpful. They sometimes can provide you with information at where you can find working elephants.

KALAW

KALAW (70 kilometers west of Taungyi, about halfway along the Thazi-Taungyi between Thazi and Inle Lake) is a medium-size town in the Shan highlands. A former British hill station, it contains several government agencies and ethnic groups brought here by the British, including Indians, Burmans and Nepali Gurkhas that live among the local Shan. Many travelers on their way to Inle Lake get off the Yangon-Mandalay train in Thazi and stop at Kalaw for one- or two-day hill tribe treks to Pa-O, Danu, Taungyo, and Palaung villages.

Kalaw stands high on the western edge of the Shan Plateau. It was a popular hill station in the British days and it is still a peaceful and quiet place. At an altitude of 1320 meters it is also pleasantly cool and a good place for hiking amid gnarled pines. bamboo groves and rugged mountain scenery. There are lots of guest houses and Kalaw has a nice climate. Hiking trails lead to beautiful mountains, mountain-top temples, pine forests, bamboo groves, rices terraces with water buffalo and villages. Many older local people were educated at missionary schools. Traveling by car it's about two hours west of Nyaungshwe on the western edge of the Shan hills.

Nee Paya (Bamboo strip lacquer Buddha Image) lies in Pinmagon Monastery in Pinmagon Village. It is estimated to have been made in First Inwa Period over 500 years ago. The donors were hard to ascertain and there were no records. The statue is eight feet four inches high. It is noted for its longevity, its prevention of fire. and its wish-granting powers. Occasionally radiation seems to come from the pagoda at the front of image. The image is now lacquered and gilded.

Places of interest around Kalaw include Thein Taung Pagoda, Aung Chan Tha Pagoda, Su Taung Pyae Pagoda and the King Church. A colorful market takes place every five days. Climb the stairs to a temple and enjoy good views of the village. Walk up the hill—a pleasant 1.5 hour trip—for an even better panorama. Also taste strawberry lassi, feed birds, visit a coffee, tea or cheroot tobacco plantations or see elephants at work. It takes two hours (short way) or four hours through the hills to the village of the Palaung tribe. At first a steep track leads down into a narrow valley where the Palaung cultivate cheroot tobacco, tea, damsons and mangoes. Other places of interest include Shwe U Min Cave and the umbrella cottage industry

Visiting Kalaw: Amanda Jones wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “From Bagan, I took a chaotically delayed flight to Heho, in the center of the country, and was driven an hour and a half east to Kalaw, a town in the pine-covered hills. Kalaw, established by British colonialists in the early 1900s as a retreat from the lowland heat, is slightly shabby, and the only reason to visit is to trek and visit with what is left of Burma's hill tribes. [Source: Amanda Jones, Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2013]

“The surrounding valleys are beautiful, bucolic and untouched, with villages clinging to hillsides and mountains as far as the eye can see. Mr. Moe, my new guide, and I hiked up one such valley to reach the Pein Ne Pin village inhabited by the Gold Palaung tribe. I spent a happy afternoon with Palaung women in their bamboo house while they served roasted homegrown tea. I sat on the floor of the monastery and drank more tea with a lone monk, then watched Buddhist nuns cook over an open flame.

“Hiking down, we encountered a set of tranquil white stupas beside the trail, the bells on the silver crowns tinkling in the breeze. Perhaps this was the original purpose of these Buddhist shrines, to walk around them in peace and with presence.

Pinadaya Caves (north of Kalaw, 60 kilometers from Heho) contains thousands of Buddha images which have been placed in the caves over the centuries. Located in a limestone ridge overlooking a lake, the cave has many chambers, some of which contain small Buddha images which are reached by crawling on your hands and knees.

Buddha images in various size and shape have been installed in the caves since the 11th century. The winding galleries and nooks and corners have been regarded as ideal places for of insight meditation since ancient tines. Huge monastery compounds with numerous pagodas and temples in different stages of dilapidation are much respected by such ethnic groups as the Shans, Danus and Paos living in the environs of Pindaya.

The town of Pindaya is a small quiet place perched on the bank of the placid Botoloke Lake. Surrounded by mountains, it has only a couple of guest houses. It can be reached by taking a road north from Aungban off the main Thazi-Taungyi Road. Northwest of Pindaya are the Padah-Lin Caves, the country's most important Neolithic excavation site. In one of the caves is an early wall painting with a human hand, a huge fish and part of an elephant.

The ancient caves are about one mile southwest of the town. and can be reached by taking a horse-cart, motoring there by jeep or just walking. Save some energy for the 200 step climb up to the covered stairway leading to the cave entrance and for exploring the huge meandering maze of caves. Bt one count there are 8,094 Buddha images made from various materials such as teak wood, marble, alabaster, brick cement and lacquer.

At the entrance to the main cave there is a 50-foot-high pagoda. This pagoda is called Shwe U-min Hpaya or the Golden Cave pagoda. The tazaung or prayer hall was built by the famous hermit U Khanti who also built many of the religious edifices on Mandalay Hill. The entire length of the cave is 490 feet. The numerous stalactites and stalagmites in these limestone caves. from fanciful shapes and have given rise to such names as the "Fairy Princess Loom". "Posts for tying horses and elephants" and so on.

INLE LAKE

INLE LAKE (three hours from Thazi and 20 miles from Taunggyi) is one of Myanmar's most unique and scenic spots. Famous it's floating villages, colorful markets and leg rowers, this 22-kilometer-long, 10-kilometer-wide body of water is sandwiched between gentle green mountain ranges and located at a pleasant and cool elevation of about 1,000 meters. Most visitors stay in the town of Yaungshwe on the eastern side of the lake, where many hotels and guest houses are located.

Inle Lake doesn't have a clearly defined shore. The level of the lake rises and falls in accordance with the wet and dry seasons. Depending on the season, Yaungshwe and other towns are some distance away the shore, which is fringed by high grasses and swamp vegetation. Less fish are being caught in Inle Lake every year. Part of the problem is overfishing. Part of the problem is also an overabundance of silt and water hyacinths, both of which are taking their toll on the fish population by robbing the lake of oxygen.

Inle is located in the heart of Shan State which shares borders with Thailand and Laos. More than 30 hill tribes are living in the mountains. Much of the area is unspoiled, and there are many picturesque places that travelers can visit and have all to themselves. Lake Inle is surrounded by the “Blue Mountains” of the Shan Plateau. The lake is 22 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide. It is home to people of the Intha ethnic group, many of whom live in villages built on wooden stilts in the middle of the lake. The Intha are also famous for their distinctive leg-rowing technique.

Inle Lake’s floating market, which rotates from village to village on a five-day cycle, provides the opportunity to observe people from the many different ethnic groups in Shan State. Also, Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, on the western end of the lake, is a famous pilgrimage site visited by people from throughout Myanmar. The pagoda holds a festival every year around September or October, which draws many local and foreign visitors.

There are nearly 20 villages around the lake, some of which are farming communities while others are known for papermaking, weaving, silver making or pottery making. The most famous products of Inle Lake are the highly valued monks’ robes woven from lotus fibers. Weavers must adhere to the Buddha’s teachings, including keeping the Five Precepts, while making the robes. This unique fabric is found nowhere else in the world, and is said to have been invented about 100 years ago by a woman living at Inle Lake as a gift to her revered abbot. Visitors are welcome to watch the weaving process, and can buy products like lotus fibre shawls and robes.

A floating hotel called Golden Island Cottage has been built on the lake by the local Pao O people, who live in the nearby mountains, and is reachable only by boat. Guests stay in bamboo bungalows connected to a central pier by sturdy piers. Each cottage has a veranda which can be used to watch lake life. Guests are welcomed with music from a drum and cymbal band. . The Pao people had been fighting with the government. The hotel was part of the truce agreement. Much of the money earned by the hotel goes to fund village schools, roads and clinics.

INTHA AND LEG ROWERS OF INLE LAKE

The Intha: Most of the 100,000 or so inhabitants of the Lake Inle are Intha ("Sons of the Lake"). Considered a distinct ethic group, they live in "floating" villages on the perimeter of the lake, and in some cases the middle of the lake. Intha villages don't really float. The houses are supported on mud dug up from the bottom of the lake and teak pilings that can last hundreds of years. So that Intha children don't drown they are taught to swim before they can walk with water wings made of gourds.

The Intha grow crops on "floating gardens" that really do float. Used to grow cabbage, cucumber, beans and other vegetables, these gardens are constructed between 200-foot-long strips of matted grass anchored in place by bamboo poles thrust into the lake bottom. Fertile muck is scooped up from the bottom of the lake, placed onto boats and applied to the matted grass which is then planted with crops.

With a constant source of moisture the "floating farms" are very productive. Some farmers make a living by slicing off sections of floating land and selling it to customers. The gardens are generally long and narrow so they can be easily serviced by boat. Gourds and grapes are sometime grown on stilted arbors. See Minorities

Intha Leg Rowers : Most Intha men are leg-rowing fisherman who use light, unstable boats that capsize easily to get around the lake. At the back of these shell-like boats are foot-wide platforms where the rowers stands on one foot.

Leg rowers row with the handle of oar placed in their armpit and the shaft of the wedged between their shin bone and foot. The boat is propelled forward with a backward swing of the leg against the oar, which is then pulled out the water with the foot and brought forward in a circular sweeping motion and then placed in the water again for another backward stroke. The skill is learned and mastered during childhood. Nowhere else in the world do people row a boat in this way.

Their boats are shallow shells that resemble surfboards more than boats and they are light but very unstable. During regattas fifty-man crews standing in long rows battle one another on boats that are specially counter balanced to account for left and right footed rowers. The equivalent of a coxain keeps them in a cadence. It is an awesome sight to see 100 synchronized legs sweeping in and out in a broad circle. The rowers usually represent their home village and crowds spur their teams forward with shouts of "Myan!, Myan!" which means "Faster!, Faster!" More than pride is at stake, large sums of money are also wagered.

Intha fishermen use nets inside conical bamboo "traps" which are just as unique as their rowing style. To catch fish in the shallow lake the fisherman thrust their traps in to the water with the pointy end up. When the open side of trap hits the bottom of the lake the fisherman releases the net which drops to the bottom, and hopefully entangles fish caught in the trap. The fisherman repeats this action in a different locations across the lake. Usually only one or two small fish—mostly carps, catfish and eels—are caught at a time.

Intha women are known for their weaving skills. The silk sarongs they make are highly regarded. If a woman works from sunup to sundown she can produce two yards of material a day. Both Intha women and men perform the farming chores.

Intha Hydroponic Agriculture: Peter Leah wrote: “In Myanmar a large scale traditional hydroponics system can be located and is still being used today at Lake Inle. The principle is very simple. Rather than growing on land and needing a labour-intensive watering system in place to get a decent yield, they float man made islands of matted organic material across a fresh water lake. Anchored into place, the islands are sturdy enough for crops to root successfully, and then the roots simply keep growing into the lake below, thus having access to as much fresh water as they require without the need for the farmers to continually keep them hydrated. [Source: Peter Leah, Myanmar's Inle Lake Shows Bridge to Ancient Hydroponic Farming Systems, January 23, 2013]

“The process for creating the floating fields can take up to as much as 10 years until the requisite amount of growth and submerged, matted organic matter has formed. They try to speed up the process by dredging the silt from the lake floor and add this to the newly formed islands, as this is thought to aid with the fertility of the plant life, and the nutrients in the soil.

“Once the islands have matured, they are sliced into long, thin strips, and moved into position in the lake. Once in place, the islands can remain suitably fertile for growing purposes for up to 15 years, at which point the islands are rotated, and newly formed islands are put into place. The old islands are formed purely of organic matter, so will bio-degrade naturally and re-enter the life-cycle of the lake system. As the islands rise and fall with the water level, this approach to growing is completely resistant to flooding.

“Vegetable crops have successfully grown in this way for many generations, and Lake Inle is particularly famous in that part of Asia for the tomato crops that tend to ripen around December time each year, providing both a sustainable food system and potential income for those in the local area. The lake is also full of fish, the most common being a breed of carp that combined with floating gardens has helped sustain the communities around the lake for many centuries.”

VISITING INLE LAKE

Amanda Jones wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “From Kalaw it's a three-hour drive to Inle Lake, lodged between two mountain ranges. Once at the lowland lakeside township, Mr. Moe and I took a longboat with my luggage and headed out on the vast lake to Villa Inle, a lovely hotel built on the water's edge with five-star, free-standing bungalow rooms that overlook floating gardens of fiery water lilies. [Source: Amanda Jones, Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2013]

“There's only one way to get about at Inle and that is by an open-air, narrow longboat with chairs — and noisy diesel motors. Inle is where I most felt the crush that tourist demand is creating. Hillsides have been bulldozed to make way for hotels and luxury housing, and touts have begun to hound foreigners with, "Buy this today cheap special price." Of all the places, Inle is the one to visit before Westernization ruins it.

“Right now, though, it is spectacularly lovely. The fishermen still wear baggy pants and row with their legs as they toss nets. Villagers still sell vegetables from wooden boats, gliding between the over-the-water stilt houses. Women still sit all day weaving sumptuously patterned fabrics from silk and cobweb-like fibers ripped from the stems of lotus flowers. Men still hunch over pure silver, hammering out patterns to create jewelry and temple offering bowls.

“At one end of the lake are the not-to-be-missed Indein ruins, the lower part of which is still in its original, untouched condition, with trees and roots fusing, Angkor Wat-style, with ornately carved pagodas. Above, however, the authorities have begun to "remodel" the pagodas, meaning they are covering them with fresh cement and a coat of gold paint. Archaeologically compromised? Most certainly. Another reason to get here before more of the country's gracious history is "remodeled."

Yaungshwe (10 kilometers off the main road between Thazi and Taunggyi) is the main tourist center for Inle Lake. It is a pleasant place, with several friendly guest houses and a handful of restaurants where travelers congregate for drinks and Chinese food.Most budget travelers are dropped off by bus on the Thazi-Taunggyi highway. From there they catch a ride with a taxi, pick-up truck or hotel minivan into town.

There are not a whole lot of tourist attractions in Yaungshwe. The Shan State Cultural Museum is housed in a former Shan Palace. The countryside around the lake is lovely and good for walking and bicycle riding (bikes an be rented for a round $1 a day). You can see farmers riding water buffalos to their fields, temples and lots of friendly people. Treks can be arranged to temples, caves and hill tribe villages in the mountains around the town. Yaungshwe hosts a weekly market. Other towns in the Inle Lake area have markets on other days.

Myanmar Tourism Services Inle Office: No.316, Nyaung Pin Gyi Road, Nyaung Pin Thar Quarter, Taunggyi Township, Shan State, Union of Myanmar., Tel: (+95 81) 221 58, 205165, Fax: (+95 81) 221 58

Transportation to Inle Lake Area: The most convenient way is to fly from Yangon to Heho, which is the nearest airport to the lake. There are daily flights to Heho which take about one hour. The flight from Mandalay to Heho takes only 20 minutes. Traveling by car along the uphill and winding road over the Shan Plateau from Heho to Inle Lake takes a couple hours but is interesting and scenic.

There is also a regular train service via Thazi Junction to Heho and Shwenyaung, the nearest station to the Lake. The main Yangon-Mandalay train stops in Thazi. There are buses, taxis and minibuses from Thazi to the Inle Lake area. One can also travel by highway buses from Yangon to Taunggyi, then pass Shwe Nyaung and reach Nyaung Shwe.Many travelers head to Yaungshwe. They are dropped off by bus on the Thazi-Taunggyi highway. From there they catch a ride with a taxi, pick-up truck or hotel minivan into town.

Mine Thauk Market like the other main markets around Inle Lake is open every five days. It is a large and bustling market where one can find a real local atmosphere with a variety of produce from the lake area. Other places of interest near the market in the lake are Paya Pauk Pagoda. Zakah Village and Nga Phe Chaung monastery. Accessible by ferry boats in Inle.

Nyaung Shwe (on Shwe Nyaung – Nyaung Shwe road) contains the main port to Inle Lake and is the main transfer port to Inle Lake by ferry boats. There are many interesting places in Nyaung Shwe, including Yadana Man Aung Su Taung Pyay Pagoda. It lies on the route of the royal barge. In 1274, there was a big earthquake that felled the pagoda. It was renovated to a height of 70 cubits and 160 cubits in girth. In the tazaungs there is Yadana Man Aung image with genuine relics, consecrated with a great deal of gold. The Nyaung Shwe Cultural Museum has displays related to ethnic groups in the area.

Aythaya Winery (40 minutes by car from Inle Lake, along the paved road that leads to Taunggyi and Kekku Pagoda) offers tours of the vineyards and wine tasting program. Also onsite at the winery is Winegarden Restaurant, which offers culinary specialties from the region as well as European meals.

INLE LAKE BOAT TRIPS AND THE PLACES THEY VISIT

Lake Inle Boat Trips: Most visitors tour the lake as part of day-long trip that begins in Yaungshwe and costs about $20 person ($5 for the government boat fee and $10 for the boat, shared among six or seven passengers). The motorized boats begin the 15-mile roundtrip journey by traveling out to the lake through channel cut through the reeds from Yaungshwe. In the middle of the lake you can watch leg-rowers try to catch fish with their traps (most of their efforts seem unsuccessful).

The boat travels to the "floating village" of Ywama, where visitors are swamped by souvenir saleswoman in boats selling crafts at outrageous prices (sometimes this is referred to as a floating market), and taken to a cheroot factory, a silk-weaving center to watch women make silk shirts, longis and cloth with hand looms. After lunch the visitors walk to Phaung-daw-Oo Pagoda, where pilgrims place pieces of gold leaf on sacred rocks and pray at a shrine with five Buddha images.

On the way back to Yaungshwe the boat stops at a beautiful Buddhist monastery constructed of teak. The main attraction of the monastery is its jumping cats, which are goaded by friendly monks into jumping through hoops. Visitors are welcome to sleep at the temple. After the monastery, boat passes by some floating gardens. Don't try to get out of the boat and walk on them. I tried it and fell through the bamboo frame. Swimming in the lake is alright. The water is clear and comfortable but it is difficult to climb back in the boat.

Phaungdawoo Pagoda (in Inle Lake) is a dazzling, magical place. One of the famous shrines in Myanmar among foreign tourists, this pagoda houses five small Buddha images, which are much revered by the lake-dwellers.Once a year—in late September or early October— there is a pagoda festival during which four of the five Buddha images are rowed around the in a colorful barge to 14 villages on the Lake. The barge is towed by the boats of leg -rowers and hundreds of boats follow the procession. The large crowds of people gather on the lake-shores to celebrate the occasion. It is really a splendid sight.. The festival lasts for 18 days. There are dance shows, fun-fairs, and boat race made of teams of leg rowers. Entrance Fee - US$5 The best time to visit Inle Lake is between September and March of every year.

Ngaphechaung Monastery and Its Jumping Cats (25 minutes boat ride from Yaungshwe) is situated in Inle Lake on the way to Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda. The monastery is an attractive wooden structure built on stilts and huge pieces of teak wood over the lake at the end of the 1850s. Aside from its collection of Buddhas the monastery may be of interest to visit because its monks have taught a few of the many cats living with them to jump through hoops and perform other tricks. Sometimes the cats jumping through flaming cane circles. The monastery is also known for a collection of old Myanmar's Buddha images from different areas. Nga Phe Chaug is the biggest and oldest monastery on the Inle Lake.

Alodaw Pauk Pagoda (in Nampan Village, Nyaung Shwe Township southern Shan State) was built by Thiri Dhamma Thawka, a famous king, and originally known as Innphaya Pagoda. According to legend when King Alaungsithu visited the place he saw the Alodaw Pauk Pagoda and made a vow on a jeweled bowl turned into the bowl with Buddhist relics. King Alaungsithu rebuilt the pagoda enshrining the jewelled bowl, a stone obtained from the clouds, a stone obtained from the ivories, a pearl worth a hundred thousand, and all sorts of jewellery, four gold statues and seven silver statues. It was named Yadana Pagoda or Down-turned Bowl Pagoda.

Shwe Indein Pagoda (on the western bank of Inle Lake, 45 minutes boat ride from Yaungshwe) is a whitewashed stupa on the summit of a hill with a famous Buddha image enshrined in it. Indein is one of the small villages of Inle Lake located on. Below the stupa around the hill are cluster of hundreds of ancient stupas. Most are ruins overgrown with bushes. The pagoda and stupas are said to date to the the 8th century. The pagoda hill is quiet and calm and at the end of the Indein creek, which connects with Inle Lake just after the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda.

The beautiful pagodas are overgrown with plants and are largely deserted, as most local pilgrims are content with visiting Phaung Daw Oo. Reaching Indein requires a boat trip along the spectacular Indein Creek, which is connected to the lake.The creek is narrow with many twist and turns. Since the both sides are paddy fields you can see the farmers ploughing with water buffaloes. At the lunch time while groups of farmers are having lunch the water buffaloes enjoy themselves with a dip in the creek. At many places in the creek the farmers dam up the water with bamboo barriers to irrigate the paddy fields. Indein water is not only useful for irrigation it is also used for bathing and washing cloths. It is common place to see novice monks, buffalo boys and village girls wash and swim in the creek. Trekking enthusiasts can climb up Mt. Shwe U Daung. 3000 feet above sea level in 90 about minutes.

Ywama Village (on Inle Lake, 15 minutes boat ride from Yaungshwe) is the largest village on the Inle Lake. The streets of the village are like webs of canal. There are some beautiful teak houses built on large wooden poles driven into the lake bed. The main activity is the floating market in the largest canal northwest of a hotel. The floating market is and attraction is kind of touristy. You can visit the goldsmith workshops and observe the sculpture and umbrella industries.

TAUNGGYI

TAUNGGYI (456 kilometers north of Yangon and about 210 kilometers southeast of Mandalay, 40 kilometers east of Heho) is the capital of the Shan State. Situated on a high plateau surrounded by mountains, this 4,712-foot-high city was once known as the Administrative City of British Colonial rule in Shan State. Its current name means "huge mountain." The steep mountain on the eastern side of Taunggyi is the biggest mountain in the area. Treks can be organized there as well as to hill tribe villages, hawnanas (palatial residence for Shan chiefs), and Myaseintaung and Lwan Zedi (two mountains with pagodas with Buddha images).

Sights in Taunggyi itself include Myona Market, where hill tribes from the surrounding mountains come every five days to buy and sell their goods; and the Cultural Museum, which contains cultural objects, musical instruments, traditional costumes, household and farm implements, paintings, sculptures and crafts produces by the numerous ethnic groups residing in the Shan State. There are two pagodas—Shwe Phone Pwint and Myasein Taung—on the hill top with panoramic view of the city Taunggyi. It usually rains in Taunggyi from June to November and average annual rainfall is 32.68 inches.

To reach Taunggyi you can first fly to Heho, about 40 kilometers to the West. Taunggyi can be reached by road. rail or air from all parts of the country. The distance between Yangon and Taunggyi is 456 miles and can be reached by road directly. The road to Taunggyi is full of bends and zigzags,

Taunggyi is a fairly large town, There are cinemas, shops, stores, restaurants, churches, the Taunggyi Degree College and a golf course. There are pines, cherry and eucalyptus trees growing all over the town and the whole area is green and pleasant. The busiest part of Taunggyi is the Myoma Market, which used to be a once-every-five-day market but is now a daily market constantly crowded with people. Although less so than it used to be it is a gathering point of different ethnic groups residing in the Taunggyi area.

The Taunggyi hot air balloon festival is a fairly big event. In Taunggyi. the people celebrate the Tazaungdine festival with Kahtein (offering of monk robes) as well as the releasing fire-balloons into the sky. Balloons in the shape of elephants, oxen, horses, water-buffalos, birds, pigs, fish, owls and parrots are released. The Taunggyi festival is one of biggest festivals in southern Shan State. Many different ethnic groups are present.

Kekku Pagoda (south of Taunggyi) is thought to have been built in the 16th century but was only recently uncovered after being hidden for centuries in the wooded hills. The pagoda consists of about one square kilometer of land crammed with more than 2000 stupas. Kekku Pagoda can be reached any time of year by the paved road from Taunggyi. During the dry season it can also be reached by travelling on rougher but more adventurous roads directly over the mountains from Inle Lake.

Hopong (10 kilometers from Taunggyi) is situated in the southern part of Shan State east of Thanlwin River. It is the home of Wa (Lwela) people. Manganese is found in Hopong.

ANCIENT CITY OF KUKKU

ANCIENT CITY OF KUKKU (26 miles from Taunggyi) an ancient city of pagodas from 11th century that lies among the plains and mountains among the Pao tribal villages. There are over 2,000 stupas. Most are in ruins. Their designs are different from those at Pagan. In the past there were more than four hundred thousand stupas. At present about four hundred stupas can be seen in Kukku. Some sitting Stupas are decorated with fine glass mosaic and some have fine plaster carvings. This place is now being developed into one of the top tourist attractions in Shan State.

Even though Kukku is not far from Taunggyi it take about 3 hours drive by car to reach. Kakku is in the territory of Pa-Oh people. The stupas are packed relatively close together in ranks in an area covering perhaps a square kilometer. The main stupa is around 40 meters high. Their design is fairly uniform. Originally each one must have been topped by a gilded metal hti. the multi tiered umbrella-like feature. which is typical of Myanmar Pagodas. Many of them are tilted or fallen. External rendering of mortar and stucco has crumbled away on others. exposing the brick core while trees have established themselves in a few, threatening to split them apart. But so much of the originals still exist that this site must be free of the destructive force of earthquakes, which have periodically ravaged many of the Myanmar's other monuments.

External decoration on many of the stupas is simple. almost sparse, but others have elaborate decoration. Traditional motifs include intricate arabesques and floral patterns. Even more fascinating are the many figures, carved in stucco and apparently originally brightly painted, which adorn corners or niches in the base, many of which still contain old Buddha images, angels, musicians and dancers. The remoteness of the site and reluctance of the local people allow visitors has helped to preserve its sculptures and artistic treasures to a degree.

According to legend the first stupas were created by King Alaungsithu, the 12th century King of Pagan. The decorative sculptures and figures are 17th or 18th century but some of the structures are clearly much older. Researchers say Kakku was built about 400 years ago. The Kakku pagoda festival is usually held during March, the full moon day of Tabaung. Kekku has been the center of the worship for the Pa-O people. During the festival the Pa-O people come to pay homage to the pagoda in their best costumes. Some people from nearby villages come to the festival with decorated bullocks.

LOIKAW

LOIKAW (five hours from Kalaw) is a medium-size town located on a lake in the Kayah State. Most visitors used come here to see the long-necked women of the Paduang tribe, a branch of the Karen tribe with only 7,000 members, most of whom have traditionally lived in villages within a 100 mile radius of Loikow. Now most people who check out long-necked women do so in Thailand.

Long-necked women visited by tourists were based in Sompron village (about three miles south of the center of town), where ten or so long-necked women and girls lived in small huts set up for them by a travel agency. The woman come out when visitors called on them. They didn't speak any English so visitors often played games or did some other or activity to keep them amused.

The visit to Sompron was a little strange and awkward. I did it in 1996. After allowing you take some pictures, the women speak up and say the only English words they know, "Five dollars please." Some people have compared the experience to a zoo trip. About three miles north of town three long-neck women live in a small village; and about ten miles down the road there is another village near Cabusera with four long-neck women and an Italian who speaks English and doesn't mind answering questions. Ask for directions to these places from the guest houses in Loikow.

Loikow also has a couple of picturesque temples located on precipitous rock outcrops as well as three or four guest houses and a couple of Chinese restaurants. Short treks can be arranged to Paduang, Lahu, Lisu, Pao and other hill tribe villages near Loikow. For information about trekking ask for Joseph at the Pearl Guest House. An experienced guide who worked for many years in Thailand, Joseph can organize treks from one to 20 days and is highly recommended by many trekkers. Loikow can be reached a rough partly-paved road from Kalaw.

Loikaw is the capital of Kayah state. It just one hour's flight from Yangon, but is difficult to reach by road. The most famous religious landmark of Loikaw is the Thiri-Mingalar Taung-kwe Pagoda Hill, scenically set on a hill overlooking the city. It is a good place to watch pilgrims and enjoy the marvelous view.

Thiri Mingala Hill (Taunggwe) (south of Loikaw) is a 387-foot-high hill nine peaks and nine pagodas on each peak. The nine peaks are 1) Pyilone Chantha, 2) Shwe Yattaung, 3) Shweyin-aye, 4) Kyauk Thamban, 5) Aung-dawmu, 6) lower Kyaikhtiyo, 7) upper Kyaikhtiyo, 8) Sutaungpyi and 9 Shwe-Pyi-Aye. Pyilone Chantha Pagoda was built in 1933 to be 36 feet high and 27 feet in girth. Shwe Yattaung Pagoda was built in 1895 to be 20 feet high and 15 feet in girth. Shwe Yin-aye Pagoda was built in 1913 to be seven feet high and five feet and six inches in girth. Kyauk Tbamban Pagoda was built in 1914 to be four feet and six inches high and three feet in girth. Aungdawmu Pagoda was built in to be eleven feet and six inches high and ten feet nine inches in girth. Sutaungpyi Pagoda was built in 1929 to be eleven feet six inches high and nine feet six inches in girth. Lower Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda was built in 1933 to be five feet and ten inches high and five feet ten inches in girth. Upper Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda was built in 1934 to be five feet and six inches high and five feet in girth. Shwe Pyi-aye Pagoda was built in 1950 to be seven feet high and six feet and ten inches in girth. There is a prophecy that one day the nine pagodas would be unified into one omniscient pagoda in the propagation and perpetuation of the Buddhist faith. The name of the sacred hill was changed to Thiri-mangalar Hill in 1970.

Htee-pwint-kan (Demosoe Township) means Umbrella pond. It was just a small pond around a hundred feet in circumference in the middle of paddy fields but it has an interesting story attached to it. The Kayahs believe that it was dug by the crocodile with the help of a white buffalo. According to Kayah legend: "Once upon a time in a dense forest a big white rabbit and a big crocodile lived together as friends. One day the rabbit told the crocodile that a severe drought would befall the following summer which would cause extreme hardship. The rabbit then persuaded the crocodile to leave the forest to more salubrious pastures where water was plentiful. Believing in the rabbit they both traveled till they reached the top of a hillock when the rabbit ran away, leaving the poor crocodile to his dire fate. Luckily a white buffalo passed by and saw the predicament of the distraught crocodile, who requested the former to take him to where water was available. The buffalo replied that water was very far away. Then the crocodile suggested that the buffalo dig the earth with his strong hoofs, urinate on the earth to soften it and repeat the process again and again until the pit was deep enough for the crocodile to wallow inside. The buffalo obliged, and the crocodile wallowed until as luck would have it water spurted from the subterranean lake, bringing relief to the amphibian. The thankful crocodile offered to help the buffalo so that he may not suffer for want of water. Thus we now see that buffaloes never feel the scarcity of water as the crocodiles kept the promise made once upon a time. "

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Myanmar Travel Information, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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