Naga New Year Festival

Naga New Year Festival

Naga people at Naga New Year Festival

“Ah-Hay”.. “Ah-Hay”- “Ah-Hay!!”, the introduction of a Naga ethnic song from a group of Naga men woke me up while I was resisting the morning’s severe cold winter in the hilly region of Naga, as I stayed under my blanket.

Naga men and women were busy in the early morning in January last year, celebrating their new year festival. It was the first time I visited the Naga New Year Festival in Leshi in Sagaing Region.

I quickly washed my face, finished my breakfast, took my camera and walked over to the area where they celebrate the major day of the festival. Naga men wore traditional ethnic hand-woven dresses, along with typical ceremonial ornaments, including beads of claws of the bear as a strap, ivory armlets, necklaces made of tiger teeth, straps made of shells, leather shield, traditional spears, and knives.

I found that they were preparing to erect a ceremonial pole. Though this was my first visit, I realized that they would dance in groups to start the festival. Representatives from different ethnic tribes arrived in town before the ceremony to celebrate the festival.

I had the chance to talk to a man waiting to participate in a performance. He said he was from a Makuri Naga tribe.

“To arrive here, we spent five nights in the mountains,” said the man. They trekked continually up and downhills.

The annual festival is held alternately in Leshi, Lahe, and Nanyun.

The 2020 festival will be held in Lahe on 15 January.

The festival has attracted local and foreign travelers, as well as photographers, allowing them to experience the traditions and customs of the Naga ethnic people.

The special meal for the visitors is Gayal meat and traditional liquor made of rice.

For Nagas, they can receive meat and liquor for free when they visit other villages after they loudly call “Ah-Hay”.. “Ah-Hay”- “AhHay! three times.

“How about one or two times?” I asked him. He replied, “No food. No liquor.”

He also explained the meaning of Ah-Hay, which is “Let’s march to victory.”

Let’s meet in Lahe in January to hear “Ah-Hay” “Ah-Hay” “AhHay”.

Naga New Year Festival

Mohnyin Thanbuddhe

Mohnyin Thanbuddhe

Monywa vs Mohnyin Thanbuddhe

While in Monywa, I paid a visit to Mohnyin Thanbuddhe Pagoda at the entrance to the town. Beautiful multi-colors and wonderfully architectural works of the pagoda that I visited about 30 years ago for the first time have been attractive to visitors.

Thanks to proper maintenance in successive eras, the pagoda daily crowded with local and foreign guests has been magnificent and impressive in appearance with original works for about 80 years.

Monywa

Monywa, the capital of the Sagaing Region, is located on Mandalay-Kalay motor road, on the eastern bank of Chindwin River. Related to Chindwin
River called Thallawady in the past, the town was named Thalla. Monywa, 50 miles from a confluence of Chindwin and Ayeyawady rivers, 80 miles west to Mandalay and 452 miles from Yangon, is the most strategic town among towns and villages along both banks of Chindwin River.

Monywa has been facilitated with embankments to prevent flooding whenever Chindwin River overflows. It is a focal point of trade and commercial processes in the Sagaing Region. Local people trade agricultural
products produced from the Chindwin basin at Monywa. Moreover, the town is significant for distributing various textile products, wheat, edible oils, and sausage as well as Kyaukka lacquerwares to four corners of Myanmar.

Although Monywa, destroyed by fire in 1956, was rebuilt as a new city it has been meeting development in successive eras. It became the main port of Chindwin River as well as a focal point on the motor road leading to India. Besides, the city enjoys good transport facilities due to a highway and a railroad to Mandalay.

Shwezigon and Hsutaungpyae pagodas in Monywa are famous. The Buddha Pujaniya festival of Hsutaungpyae Pagoda which lasts for 10 days in Thadingyut yearly is thronged with pilgrims and visitors. Significantly, Thanbuddhe Pagoda in Monywa is attractive to local and international travelers because of its wonderful arts and crafts.

The Myanmar Encyclopaedia stated the word of Monywa derived from Montywa. In the past, a king appointed a snack vendor (called Mont The) as his queen. That was why the town was named Mont-the-ma Village which changed to Monywa later. But, the saying did not mention the name of the king and time. Monywa was a large village in the reigns of Myanmar kings. It was one of the towns under current Ahlon. After occupying Myanmar, British designated Monywa as the administrative office town of the Lower Chindwin District in 1888.

Mohnyin Thanbuddhe

Among many destinations of local and foreign tourists around Monywa, Thanbuddhe Pagoda, on the right side of Mandalay-Monywa Road at the entrance to Monywa, is a famous destination due to its magnificent arts and crafts. The pagoda, 12 kilometers southeast of Monywa, built by Mohnyin Abbot, was named Mohnyin Thanbuddhe Pagoda.

Mohnyin Abbot laid cornerstones for construction of Thanbuddhe Pagoda on 20 July 1939 dedicating to the number of Samma Sambuddha. The design of the pagoda was directed by the abbot himself to order a team led by Saya Han Gyi from Amyint for construction of the pagoda within 10 years.

The pagoda was gilt in the 1320 Myanmar era, and the consecration ceremony took place on the full moon day of Tazaungmone. From then onward, the Buddha Pujaniya festival has been held at the pagoda on
Tazaungmone every year.

The pagoda is 131 feet high, formed with the main structure comprising 124 small sections, 80 large sections, and 42 doors.

Various sizes of Buddha images totaling 582,363 were kept interior and exterior walls of the main building in a row. A total of 864 encircled pagodas can be seen at the pagoda and the prayer hall. Visitors can
pay homage to various sizes of standing and sitting Buddha images.

Mohnyin Abbot

Maung Boe Sa, the childhood name of Mohnyin Abbot U Sumana, was born on a waxing day of 1234 ME. At that time, his mother Daw Taw was 56 years old. Maung Boe Sa learned basic Pitakat literature from Ayeywa Abbot U Acara. At 13 years old, he was novitiate by Ayeywa Abbot and titled Shin Sumana. He was ordained in Waso of 1234 ME. Four years later, he went to Mandalay to pursue Pariyatti literature. While in Mandalay, he learned the Pitakat literature at U Yangon Monastery of Dekkhinayama Monastery.

The monk, aged 37 and 17 vasa took meditation at Eibyamakhaya near Myitnge for two years. Then, he returned to Monywa and learned ways
of meditation from venerable Leti Abbot. He arrived at the place that would be famous as Mohnyin Tawya, in Waso 1273 ME.

Mohnyin Tawya was located in the place of Mohnyin Monastery (the monastery of King Mohnyin) where King Mohnyin performed missionary
in the Inwa era. Before the settlement of the abbot, local people called the place as Myaynetaw due to a lack of public traveling.

Ashin Sumana found stone plaques as mentioned the ninth of 27 venues where King Mohnyin (1427-1440 AD) of Inwa City made donations. That was why Mohnyin Abbot named the place as Mohnyin Tawya. In the Second World War, thousands of displaced persons took shelter at Mohnyin Tawya.

Ashin Sumana resided at Mohnyin Tawya in line with the advice of venerable Leti Abbot for 10 years without talking and delivering sermons. Afterward, he wondered about various towns and villages to administer Desanas. Ashin Sumana was famous as Mohnyin Sayadaw who built Thanbuddhe Pagoda and religious edifices in the precinct of Mohnyin Tawya for devotees and disciples to enjoy merits.

Mohnyin Abbot Ashin Sumana wrote 36 treatises such as Visuddhi Practices Treatise, Paticcasamupadda Practices Treatise and Vipassana Exercise Treatise. These treatises are put on display at the Mohnyin Tawya Historical Museum. The government offered Agga Maha Pandita title to the abbot in 1941. The venerable abbot passed away at age 93
and 73 vasa, on 8th waning of Tawthalin, 1325 ME.

Edifices in the precinct of the pagoda

In addition to Thanbuddhe Pagoda, Tavatimsa Culamani Pagoda called Arleinngasint, two pagodas based on elephant statues, Pahtan Adipati Dhammayon, the great clock tower, the historical museum and the museum keeping the portray of Mohnyin Abbot are located in the precinct of the pagoda.

The halls namely Shwe Seikkyaik, Shwe Seikkyi, Shwe Seikpyaw, Shwe Seikaye, Shwe Seikshwin, and Shukhintha to accommodate pilgrims from
various regions of the nation were built in addition to more halls such as Myat Thiri, Myat Piti, Myat Chantha and Kyinubwe for night stays of pilgrims.

A large lake where fish and turtles are bred can be seen at 15-acre Mohnyin Tawya in addition to prayer halls, public rest houses, and hostels. Moreover, wooden buildings were decorated with beautiful sculptural works such as flowers and animals that foreigners prefer.

Two large white elephant statues are kept at the entrance to Mohnyin Tawya. Each elephant statue is 36 feet in length. A pagoda based on the seven-tier structure is kept on each elephant. These pagodas are 48 feet high from the base to its diamond orb. Visitors from the Arleinngasint Pagoda installed with a spiral stair outside the cylinder-shaped structure can enjoy aerial views of Mohnyin Tawya.

Mohnyin Abbot planted a Bo tree in the precinct of the Tawya in Waso, 1282 ME. The Bo tree died with dried leaves on the day when the abbot
passed away. The trunk of Bo tree was carved as a Dhammacakka Buddha image being kept at Bawdi Chamber for public obeisance. Stone wheels used in mixing concrete for the construction of the pagoda can be seen in the park, north of Thanbuddhe Pagoda.

Mohnyin Thanbuddhe Pagoda was built in a significantly architectural style, different from other pagodas across the nation. Foreign tourists compare Mohnyin Thanbuddhe Pagoda with Bawrawbudha Temple in Indonesia. Those paying homage to Mohnyin Thanbuddhe Pagoda will have chances to pay obeisance to the world’s highest standing Buddha image called Laykyun Sekka Buddha Image.

The Buddhist religious structure built by Mohnyin abbot with his miracle thoughts about 80 years ago has been winning hearts of pilgrims in successive eras, and it is now under maintenance of members of the Sangha from the monastery and members of the pagoda board of trustees.

Shein Ma Kar

Shein Ma Kar

Shein Ma Kar

Shein Ma Kar in Myanmar language was spelled differently in the past and the present. However it was written or spelled, people are sure to associate the word with a small town (or a big village), wildlife conservation area and a forest retreat (monastery). Shein Ma Kar situated in Sagaing Region Wetlet Township is a place of interest for local and foreign visitors alike due to its historical link to the Pyu.

How to go there

Shein Ma Kar is about two and a half-hour drive from Mandalay and can be reached via Sagaing after going on to Wetlet. I came down from Shwebo in the north and the drive was more than an hour’s drive. The two-way road was an awkward one and half lane wide with some portion being very good while some portion in extremely bad shape. The best car for this road is an off-road 4×4 car but the motorcycle is also good enough. But if you are going there by motorcycle, make sure you wear a helmet, be alert looking where you were going as well as checking the rearview mirror frequently.

A good time to visit

The best is to travel during the day time. As the region had little rain only, it is fine to come during the rainy season too. And the surrounding was more pleasant and beautiful during the raining season than the hot summertime. There’ll be more greenery.

Places to visit

There isn’t much to visit and some may say it was not worth the trouble going there for such few places only. That may be why some draw up a trip schedule to Shein Ma Kar with trips to ancient city Han Lin, pilgrimage to Sagaing pagodas and a visit to Shwe Bo. But as with many other places, it had its beauty and attractions.

Shein Ma Kar

A big village Shein Ma Kar

Shein Ma Kar is a big village. It can also be designated as a small town. The main road through the big village or small town is noticeably busy even though the time I went there was not during the peak travel season. You’ll see the usual village scenes of a Bamar village even though some parts were more like a town than a village. It can be said as a traditional Bamar style village or small town with some modern influence. There were about a thousand households in Shein Ma Kar.

Wildlife conservation area and a forest retreat with many antiquities

The wildlife conservation area and the forest retreat monastery was the main attraction to the place. Even though the wildlife conservation area was aimed for conserving deer, I didn’t see any animal, not to mention deer, for the simple reason of being just at the outskirt of the wildlife conservation area. I only saw a dog, an ordinary dog found in many villages, towns, and cities, loitering around the monastery. The wildlife conservation area was reported to be 334 acres wide and had deer, wild dogs (not the usually domesticated dog species found in villages, towns, and cities), small wild cat species, fowls and birds.

The brick-lined pathway to the forest retreat monastery was a bit of an attraction with greeneries overhanging above it. It was a short path but due to the enjoyable and pleasant walk through it, it seems shorter as time and distance went by quickly. Once past the short pathway, you’ll be in the monastery compound. There’ll be an old monastery known as a forest retreat monastery that was constructed with the donation of King Mindon in ME 1224 (AD 1862). It was in a quite dilapidated condition and not much maintenance seems to be conducted. But old Myanmar architectural forms in concrete are still around in abundance and this was invaluable. There’s also a covered walkway or a rest area that was constructed with KingMindon’s donation. The monastery itself had retained and kept old utensils used by King Mindon himself.

Once past the old monastery, you’ll reach a small pagoda and a stairway that went down to Ayeyawady River. Go down the stairway to enjoy the beautiful sight of the river. Midway down the stairway, you’ll see cave-like meditation places.

Villages along the way back to Shwebo from Shein Ma Kar also had many old and ancient pagodas. The one that I found most interesting was at Inn Be Gyi Village.

The greeneries observed along the way to Shein Ma Kar, the beauty of Ayeyawady River and the Konbaung era monastery are things that will remain etched in my memory forever. May all have a happy and safe trip.

Khakaborazi National Park

Khakaborazi National Park, Kachin State, Myanmar

Khakaborazi National Park

Khakaborazi National Park stands out as ASEAN Heritage Park by Win Naing (Kachin Myay)

Perfectly fitting in the faultless and flawless environment, Khakaborazi National Park and Phon Kan Razi Wildlife Sanctuary are situated in the northern Myanmar state of Kachin in an outlying sub-range of the Greater Himalayan mountain system.

Located at Pan Nan Din Small Town of Naungmung Township in Putao District, Khakaborazi National Park stands out at 3,000 feet at the lowest average level. The famous peak named “Khakaborazi” is believed to be Myanmar’s highest mountain and with its height of 19,296 feet the probable highest mountain in South East Asia. With an area of 1,472 square miles, the park has a glorious status entitled with ASEAN Heritage domain.

Five types of forests

The park is entirely mountainous and is characterized by

  1. year-round icy mountain grass forest
  2. blue-colored pine forest in the valley
  3. a sub-tropical temperate zone mixed forests from 7,000 to 9,000 feet
  4. various bamboo forests
  5. broad-leaved tall timber tree yielding reddish, resinous wood.

Declaring ASEAN Heritage Park

Khakaborazi was established as a natural reserve on 30 January 1996 and as a national park on 10 November 1998. The Khakaborazi National Park has been declared as ASEAN Heritage Park in 2003.

It is the last stronghold for biodiversity in Myanmar. The extraordinarily rich flora and fauna, ranging from lowland tropical to alpine species still await proper research and identification.

Conservation needed

It was agreed that common cooperation is necessary to conserve and manage ASEAN Heritage Parks for the development and implementation of regional conservation and management action plans as well as regional mechanisms complementary to and supportive of national efforts to implement conservation measures.

In the Kachin State at the northernmost region of the country raises the loftiest peak in South East Asia, the Mt. Khakaborazi, capped throughout all seasons by a glacier that feeds into the Irrawaddy. The Irrawaddy River arises by the confluence of the N’mai (Nam Gio) and Mali Rivers in Kachin State. This most celebrated of rivers in Myanmar wends its way through the heart of the country until it disperses on the delta as myriad waterways that finally empty into the sea. Therefore, conservation, protection, and preservation are needed.

In the area between Pan Nan Din Small Town and Naungmung Township, it is important to protect the endangered plants and animal species along with their natural habitat, since UNESCO has been yet to identify and categorize. The main concern is to preserve the habitats so that the future generations of wildlife and even humans can enjoy it.

Takin or Thar Min
Rare species of Takin in Putao, Kachin State, Myanmar

Wildlife

In addition to rare species such as Takin, Musk Deer, Blue Sheep, Black Barking Deer, Phet Gyi (Muntiaus putaoensis), mammal species and insects such as butterflies are present in the National Park. The register showed that it is the home for –

  • 297 different trees;
  • 13 variety of bamboos;
  • 10 different cane trees;
  • 22 medicinal herbs;
  • 106 kinds of orchids;
  • 42 different animals;
  • 370 birds;
  • 365 butterflies;
  • 43 different frogs with habitat in water and land;
  • 32 different snakes;
  • 3 different tortoise;
  • 6 different lizards; and
  • 49 bumblebees.

Many more to be registered

Myanmar still enjoys a bountiful, relatively untouched natural environment that holds mammal species, species of birds, species of reptiles and species of flora including tree species.

Rare species and plants

Rare species such as white-handed gibbon; wild goat; musk deer; and glacier mountain goats are the rare species in the area. In addition to the rare herbal trees and orchids, there is red panda; mountain red goat; takin also called cattle chamois or gnu goat; musk deer; Himalayan bear; wild goat; glacier goats; long tail monkeys; Assam monkey; Himalayan bird; rare pheasant; Himalayan owl; Putao species of orchid (Bulbophyllum); black orchid; rare tiger orchid; tonic herb; poisonous herbal tubers and bulbs; glacier herbal roots; and rare butterflies.

Briefing through video clips

Necessary briefing and explanation are offered to the local guests and foreign tourists at the Khakaborazi National Park Exhibit Hall about the rare species and wildlife. To ensure the presentation runs smoothly, several services with the audiovisual equipment have been facilitated in the hall at the venue.

Local Black Orchid and Rare Tiger Orchid

Extremely rare plants in Myanmar such as local Black Orchid and Rare Tiger Orchid are the treasure of Putao. Varieties of orchids displayed for the visitors at the Khakaborazi National Park Exhibit Hall are the rare plants originated from Putao, Naung Mung, and Ma Chan Baw. Some orchids being explored in the areas are simply registered and they are yet to be classified and named.

Plans underway to sell as finished produce

To protect and preserve the medicinal and herbal plants in Putao from extinction, all the rare curative plants and roots would be barred from selling in raw form, and that plans are underway to sell and distribute as a finished and final product.

In cooperation with the National Institute of Biological Research of the Republic of Korea and the Department of Forest of Myanmar, a research facility is now under construction beginning March 2019 and expected to be completed in October 2019. When the facility is completed, local people would have job opportunities in the line of business of locally finished products.

Administrator U Aung Moung of Khakaborazi National Park explained that the local villagers would be provided with the relevant training courses in herbal cultivation methods through modern techniques.

Easy access to Putao in a single day

Now, Putao is accessible in a single day by direct flight from Yangon-Mandalay-Putao. The flight is available from Myitkyina to Putao, and that people also can travel by car from Myitkyina to Putao.

Over the years, the incumbent government has facilitated and upgraded the roads and bridges on the motorway from Myitkyina to Putao. The journey from Myitkyina to Putao could be traveled in just 12 hours. In the past, the trip was possible only by air and cargo convoys in a difficult way consuming many days or even weeks.

Now, the visit to Putao could be realized in a single day, where the water, plants, animals, birds, fish, habitat, natural corridor to the icy mountain. The residents and increase tourism to untapped natural resources in the area.

Khakaborazi National Park, Kachin State, Myanmar

Comfortable time to visit

I was at the ASEAN Heritage Park at the end of April and the beginning of May when summertime is retreating with the welcoming of small drops of rain. It was very light rain that one can use the word “mist”. “Drizzling” usually implies a little harder rain than “sprinkling”. The normal answer is to sprinkle at first or maybe drizzles if it persists or is a bit heavier. We could refer to the weather at the park as “rain forever” in the area like the most popular song named “Sumbrabum”.

The best time to visit Putao is from February to May at the end of winter and the open season for traveling. The profuse blooming time of rhododendron in bright red with the breathtaking landscape seen from the motorway between Sumbrabum and Putao with deep valleys surrounded by mountains enveloped with the huge white clouds high above the head sending the body and soul into a heavenly paradise.

Places to visit in Putao

Putao Town is developed from the village named Putaung, and that the places to visit are Kaungmulone Pagoda, Spirit island (Nat Kyun), Hopine Shan village, Upper Shankhaung village, Mularshide Lizu village and Mula River, Nankhan Rawan village, Zewon village, Machanbaw Viewpoint, and Malikha River.

For photographers, it may be advisable exploring Namshalkut Lisu village, Pamati village, Nanbala Creek, Wasaw village, Lamawachi village, and Mudon village to take fine photos.

For adventurers and nature lovers, trekking and hiking around Putao as per the approved programs will serve to be in trekking paradise.

Mingun

Mingun Pa Hto Daw Gyi

Mingun

If King Bodawphaya of the last Konbaung dynasty had not harbored such grand ambitions, Mingun would have remained an obscure hamlet nestling quietly on the west bank of river Ayeyarwady, a few miles north of Sagaing. Moreover, with the solemn efforts of the Venerable Mingun Sayadaw Ashin Vicitta, the pre-eminent Guardian of Tipitaka (the three baskets of Buddhist Scriptures), Mingun’s reputation has all the more become indelible.

To speak of Mingun is to speak of King Bodawphaya, and to speak of King Bodawphaya is to speak of his imperial superlatives: the longest-reigning monarch (1782-1819) ruling the broadest frontiers of the last Konbaung Kingdom, the builder, and donor of both the largest pagoda and the biggest bell at Mingun. So the grandiose dreams of the King had put the small village onto the historical and cultural map of our nation.

In terms of history, Mingun’s rise to fame is quite recent when compared to its well-known environs, Sagaing and Innwa. And the contributions of the Mingun Sayadaw, who had successfully recited 7,983 pages of the Three Pitakas and received the most prestigious title of “the Guardian of Dhammas”, has made the little place a glorious milestone in the chronicles of Theravada Buddhism.

The Rural Setting

When you reach the Ma-Yan-Chan jetty at the western end of 26th street in Mandalay, you feel somewhat a throwback to the past. Standing on the earth embankment and before going down the little-steep dusty incline to the water’s edge, you will suddenly find yourself facing a rural landscape with all the raw trappings and ravages of nature. Angry and unruly during the rainy season, the broad old Ayeyarwady has eroded its either banks and flooded all the low lying adjacent area which become “kaing” cultivation land (land formed through a process of silting) for seasonal crops when floodwaters recede. Even the large islands, on which are small villages with houses on stilts, are submerged and pose problems for the riverine traffic.

Across the river in the distance are the brown, bramble-clothed hillocks of Minwun range dozing off like huge serpents under the setting sun. Apart from rainy months, the river is quite tame for most of the year, and the riot of colors in the evening twilight reflects on the cool, clear waters of the Ayeyarwady. And various are the river traffic which plies along the navigable narrow water lane: few double-decked steamers with twin back-paddles, low-canopied motorboats with old outboard engines, small sampans with sails, and timber and bamboo rafts on which are merchandize of glazed and earthen pots. Traveling upriver a few miles north, the sun-baked, red-brick solid square structure looms forlornly and majestically against the brown hills on which stands a solitary pagoda, the Shwe Myin Tin Pagoda.

Unlike Sagaing, the hills of Mingun are not close to the river, and between the bank and the backdrop of hills, there is much space – a stretch of dusty, sandy and rising mound leading to the hills. Bullock carts are still used to go along the sandy tracks, and Chaungs (forest monasteries and nunneries) are hewn out from the lower ledges of the hills and are sparse in number. In the dry season when the water level is lowest, it is difficult for the vessels to dock close to the bank, for there are sand bars under the shallow water, but there is a motor road through Sagaing which runs to Mingun on the west side of the Sagaing Hills. And once you step on the banks of Mingun you are part of the idyllic life – the quiet and easy pace of life amid the rustle of the shady foliage under the decaying grandeur of the huge Pa-Htoe-Taw-Gyi (the Great Royal Pagoda).

The Unfinished Dream

If King Bodawphaya’s dream materialized, the Great Mingun Pagoda would have had a height of about 530 feet surpassing in size, height, and thickness of the temples of Bagan. But at present, the Pagoda is 162 feet high up to the upper terrace, and the solid square base is 450 square feet. And from above this faded-red Pagoda base you could command in every direction the panoramic landscape of “Anyar” (Upper region): the placid river with its sandy islands and further across in the eastern horizon the blue rolling mountains of Shan Highlands, in the west the arid plains of Anyar with few patches of toddy palm groves scattered here and there.

In late 1790, King Bodawphaya left his capital Amarapura, which he founded, and took up his temporary royal residence on the Nan Taw Kyun island in the river-facing Min village. When he laid the foundation to construct the huge pagoda, he also changed the name of the village to Mingun. The King personally supervised the building of the Pagoda for over a decade and a half, but he left it unfinished. For there appeared a Tabaung (a sort of prophecy interpreted form the random utterances of children, actors, and madmen) that predicted the fall of the kingdom on completion of the Great Pagoda. And probably that might have rudely awakened the King from his imperial dreams.

When you reach the upper terrace of the Pagoda you will see huge yawning cracks cutting deep into the solid base, and it was the damage done by the severe earthquake of 1838, which also partly destroyed the two big Chinthes (figures of mythical lions) guarding the Pagoda. The two Chinthes were built in 1793 with a height of 95 feet and the eyes were 9 feet in width. When Hiram Cox, the British Envoy, visited Migun on 12 February 1797, the eyeballs of these two big mythical lions were not as yet set in place. Now, only the haunches of these two Chinthes are to be seen, but the huge remnants of the pagoda and the mythical lions still testify to the architectural skills of the Amarapura period.

The Big Bell

The role of the bell in the religious life of Myanmars is as old as the history of the ancient kingdoms. The little bells, gold, and silver, were hung at the Htis (spires) of the pagodas, but the King dreamt of a bigger one. The Mingun Bell was cast in 1808, eighteen years after starting the construction of the Great Pagoda. It was cast on the Nan Taw Kyun island and was transported to the present place near the pagoda, and it was believed to be the biggest in the Orient at that time. It had a height of 12 feet, and the diameter of the mouth was 16 feet weighing about 90.5 tons. First, it was suspended on a teak beam supported by brick pillars, and it also fell off in the earthquake of 1838. And now it is hung on an iron beam.

Refuge for the Second Childhood

When you go up the bank from the Mingun jetty, you will find yourself in a neat compound with dormitory-like buildings, the Mingun Buddhist Home for the Elderly. Inside, there are elderly men and women, their leathery faces deeply lined and wrinkled, spending out peacefully their twilight years, the brief span of years that one writer calls “the second childhood”. The institution was founded late 1914, and it was the pioneering effort of Daw Oo Zun who devoted her whole life to this noble task till her death in 1944.

Born in 1868, when King Mindon was on the throne, Daw Oo Zun was the only child of silk merchant parents in the capital, Ratanabon Mandalay. When she reached adolescent, her parents left her cozy little world, but not without means. And that anguish of separation made her feel a deep sense of compassion for the lonely elders who were without means and were as fragile as cobwebs, and who were like children to be cared for and protected.

Once on a visit to Yangon, she had a chance to observe the Bigandet Aged Home for the Poor on Stockade Street (now Theinbyu Street) run by French Catholic Nuns. Inspired by her four visits to the Aged Home for the Poor, the daughter of Lord Buddha shared the compassion of the daughters of the Church in setting up a home, the first at Mingun for the underprivileged elders.

A Touch of Idyll

Sagaing and Mingun share the southern and northern parts of the same range of hills, but for some reasons, Mingun retains the idyllic touch of rural life. The villagers still lead their easy pace of life under the shadows of the Mingun range, on whose highest peak of 1,373 feet stands the lone Shwe Myin Tin ancient pagoda. In winter mornings the Pagoda is mostly shrouded under the heavy mists, and it casts an irresistible lure to scale its steep cliffs. Seen from the river, Mingun is a classic pastoral portrait of Anyar rural scene, a foothill village dotted with white and gold pagodas and framed by the broad river and the hills. About two miles along the bank in the south there is the Momeik Pagoda, a donation of Prince Momeik, one of the sons of King Bodawphaya who accompanied the King during the building of the Great Pagoda. And nearly half-way to Momeik Pagoda is the Nat Shrine of Kyun Pin Maung Hna Ma (Brother and Sister Spirits of the Teak Tree) who fell victim to the falling huge teak tree, and whose Nat Festival is held yearly in the preceding week of the famous Taungpyone Nat Festival.

In the north of the Great Pagoda is the Mya Thein Tan Pagoda built by King Bagyidaw, the grandson of King Bodawphaya. This Pagoda is unique in its circular structure form, the Pagoda itself, with its round outer wall, has seven circular tiers tapering towards the sky. The whole structure represents Mount Meru and the Universe and symbolizes the concept of Myanmar cosmology as written in religious literature.

During the reign of King Mindon, Colonel Sladen, the political officer who took part in the dethronement of King Thibaw, visited and wrote about the Pagoda in the Journal of Great Asia Society. The Mya Thein Tan Pagoda is a pleasant place for the pilgrims and visitors to cool their sweat and that is why the Venerable Mingun Sayadaw had said, “The Great Mingun Pagoda lures the travelers, and Mya Thein Tan Pagoda cordially welcomes them”.

The Hermitage Exemplar

Forest monasteries and nunneries or Chaungs are one of the unique features of Minwun range, and Mingun has just over a hundred Chaungs, roughly a fourth of the number at Sagaing Hills. The Taung Paw Gyi Chaung or U Pu Gyi Taw Ya (forest Monastery on the hill or U Pu Gyi Hermitage), donated by a wealthy resident of Innwa called U Pu Gyi during the Amarapura period, was built on top of a shady hillock with long brick-stairways and a thick brick-handrail to help the pilgrims climb on to the monastery. There is also in it the Dhamma Ceti Pitaka Taik, the most ancient library in Mingun housing at one time a collection of 1,263 Parabeiks or palm leaf manuscripts, a beautiful bell of nearly two centuries old and a pond in the ravine south of the hillock dug up by the royals lend grace to the solemnity of the place. And from that top of the hillock, you could wend your way up along the forest trail through the brambles to the peak where the Shwe Myin Tin Pagoda had once offered quiet refuge to ‘the famous recluse sayadaws’. Like moonlit nights on Sagaing Hills, the moonbeams cast the whole silvery panorama in sharper focus: the tops of the hillocks, its ravines, and gullies, the river with its sandy islands, the flat plains of Mandalay receding into the distant Shan Highlands. And the total silence, fragrant with wildflowers, touches you deeply as you could feel and hear every faint rustle of the swaying bushes, or the roaring wind coming up from the ravines.

Just over 200 years ago a king had pursued his grand dreams and made part of his dreams come true. But Mingun is still a pastoral poem, and it needs a simple dream to appreciate its theme and its beauty. It is said that life is an unending dream, and after all, in this age of hustling dreams it is good for the soul to have such a simple one, isn’t it?

Myanmar Images and Memory by Yay Chan (Mandalay)

Sagaing

Sagaing

Sagaing

Sagaing, The Ancient Capital by U Thaw Kaung

The Sagaing Hills provide a picturesque backdrop to a big gradual bend of the Ayeyarwady River, a little to the south of Mandalay. Every hilltop is crowned with a white or a golden pagoda, and the wooded nooks and crannies which dot the hillsides are peaceful, quiet retreats for Buddhist monks, nuns, and hermits. The wide slowly winding river as it turns the bend reflects the lovely scenery in the mirror of its waters.

Sagaing town itself nestles close to the river and goes right up to the edge of the hills. For two brief periods, Sagaing was the capital of the whole country. After the break-up of the Bagan Kingdom, the youngest of the three Shan brothers, named A thin Khaya Sawyun founded Sagaing as his capital in 1315 A.D, and it lasted for 50 years. Again in 1760-1764 Naung-dawgyi, the eldest son of King Alaungphaya, the founder of the Konbaung Dynasty, made Sagaing his capital city for a short period of four years until he died, and his successor shifted back the capital to Innwa. Most of the capitals of Myanmar are on the east bank of the Ayeyarwady River, and only Sagaing is on the west bank (and of course Shwebo further away from the river).

Today Sagaing is a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the country who come to venerate the pagodas, or to meditate in numerous gyaungs, the shady retreats in the folds of the hills.

“The Irrawaddy touches the town of Sagaing, east, south, and west, giving it a peninsular configuration. And if one looks at the scene from the top of one of the hills, before one’s eyes is a striking panorama of indescribable grandeur, each cliff and hill, slope and peak, adorned with a rich profusion of white glistening pagodas, hundreds and hundreds of huge tamarind and other trees, luxuriant tropical vegetation springing up from the alluvial soil, constantly enriched by fresh deposits from the river, and the great river itself wending its way with primeval dignity”.

How to Get There

Sagaing is on the main tourist route and is easy to reach by plane (via Mandalay), train, steamer, taxi, private car, and bus. It is only 13 miles southwest of Mandalay.

The new, big International Airport built near Innwa is close to some of the old cities like Innwa, Amarapura, Mandalay, and Sagaing across the river.

It is a pleasant drive from Mandalay crossing the mile-long Innwa bridge which was built in 1934. Only eight years later two spans were destroyed by the British, but it was rebuilt in 1953 and completed in 1954. It is a railroad footpath bridge. There are lovely views of Sagaing from near the east side of the bridge.

The Pagodas

Kaungmhudaw

The greatest and the most renowned pagoda of Sagaing lies about six miles to the northwest of the town. It was built in 1636 by King Thalun, grandson of the great King Bayinnaung. This pagoda, therefore, belongs to the Innwa period when Innwa was the capital and not to the period when Sagaing itself was the capital of the country.

This pagoda is shaped like a gigantic dome, a huge, white, glistening hemispherical pagoda of a type not usually seen in Myanmar. The three circular terraces rise from a base circumference of 400 feet to a height of 151 feet.

There are connections with Sri Lanka, the circular domed shape is modeled on the Maha Ceti Pagoda of Sri Lanka. It enshrines a tooth relic of Buddha first given to King Bayinnaung in 1576 by the King of Colombo and originally enshrined in the Mahazedi at Bago. King Thalun brought the sacred tooth to re-enshrine in the Rajamanicula, the Pali name for the Kaunghmudaw, “the great work of merit”. There is an 8.5-foot marble inscription, still well-preserved, on the pagoda platform, which records the details of the building of the pagoda.

Soon U Ponnyashin

There is now a good road which goes up the ridge of hills next to the town. Near the top of this ridge is the Soon U Ponnyashin pagoda. There are superb views of the whole area from there with the majestic Ayeyarwady River, Sagaing Town, and Innwa across the waters, right up to the Shan hills.

Legend says that a gold betel tox of King Anawrahta of Bagan was made into seven Buddha Images by King Thihathu, founder of the Pinya Dynasty. Two of these images were handed over to U Ponnya, a high ranking minister, and he enshrined them in this pagoda in 1312 A.D.

Other noteworthy pagodas include the Oo Min Thonze (30 Caves) pagoda where 42 Buddha images can be seen, seated in a crescent-shaped colonnade on the side of the hills.

The Htupayon was built by King Narapatigyi (1443-69) of Innwa. This king constructed a temporary wooden bridge across the wide expanse of the Ayeyarwady River to Sagaing to enable his people to cross over for the hti-hoisting ceremony. There are many old inscriptions of the 15the century preserved in sheds near this pagoda.

The Hsinmyashin (Owner of Many Elephants) pagoda is also notable with over one hundred brick elephants. It was built in 1429 A.D by King Monhyin of Innwa. Its real name is Tatana Cedi, and it can be seen next to the road to Kaunghmudaw pagoda.

A few years ago a big Buddhist museum was completed and visitors to Sagaing should visit it to see the wealth of cultural heritage of the area that is well preserved there.

Near Sagaing is a village named Ywataung which is the center of silversmith craftsmen. They are well known for their engravings of beautiful figures and scenes and their silversmith skills.

Sagaing with its hills and pagodas is well worth visiting to see both the beauty of nature and human religious endeavors.

Shwe Bo

Shwe Bo

Shwebo, The First Capital of the Last Dynasty by U Thaw Kaung

Shwebo the City of Victory was founded in 1753 by U Aung Zeya, better known in Myanmar history as King Alaungphaya, “the embryonic or future Buddha”.

Shwe Bo

It is located about 64 miles northwest of Mandalay on the Mandalay-Myitkyina railway line. From the main Ayeyarwady River, the life-line of Myanmar, it is about 17 miles inland and can be reached by road from Kyaukmyaung, a riverside town.

Tourists and visitors to Shwebo can go by plane, rail or road to Mandalay, and from there it is only about a three-hour to Shwebo. It can also be reached by railway or by steamer going up the Ayeyarwady. There are now private railways which go to Myitkyina and tourists can travel on it, getting off at Shwebo after about three a half hours from Mandalay.

Old City

Before Alaungphaya became king, the original name of the town was Moke-so-bo Myo “the town of the hunter“. Shwebo has altogether five names, the three other names being Konbaung, Yadanna Theinkha, and Yangyi Aung.
Shwe Bo
Konbaung is also the name of the last dynasty of Myanmar kings, the Konbaung Dynasty began with King Alaungphaya in 1752 and ended in 1885 with the British Annexation of the country when King Thibaw the last Myanmar King was deposed. There were altogether 11 kings in this last dynasty. The name Konbaung means a ridge of land and is the name of a ridge that runs north to south near Shwebo. Some say that the real meaning of the name is Kon or “high ground”, and baung “to heap up” and comes from the old irrigation embankments of the 13th century which can still be seen in the countryside around Shwebo. This area became known as Konbaungpyi, the land of the irrigation embankments near the Mu River. The town therefore also acquired this name.

King Alaungphaya after building the Royal Capital in 1753, at Moke-so-bo, gave the city its Royal title “Yadana Theinhka” which means the “City of the precious order of Buddhist monks“. It also means the place where all the precious jewels of the secular and the religious worlds are gathered together.

A less commonly known name for Shwebo is “Yangyi Aung“, given by King Alaungphaya after the final repulse of the Mons. It means “Victory over Great Enmity“. This King renamed several cities, in this manner, including the former capital of Myanmar, which he renamed “Yangon” meaning “End of Strife” and thus changing it from its former name of “Dagon”. In King Thayawaddy’s reign (1837-1841) the name Shwebo was substituted, probably to suppress the word “mokso”, or hunter, and keep the Five Precepts (the First Precept being not to take any life, not to kill any living being). “Shwe”, meaning “Golden” is an epithet that Myanmar people like to use for anything precious, royal and dear to their hearts as in Shwe Dagon, Shwe Myodaw, and so on.

Seven royal buildings and places were constructed, all on the same auspicious day and time in 1753 by King Alaungphaya to establish the Royal Capital at Shwebo. These seven royal buildings and places were:

  1. Royal City
  2. Royal Palace
  3. Royal Moat
  4. Royal Nat or Spirit Shrine
  5. Royal Lake, i.e. the Maha Nanda Kandaw
  6. Royal Watch Tower, for keeping correct time
  7. Shwe Chet-thoe Pagoda, to mark the place where King Alaungphaya was born

Present-day visitors can still see these seven places. Within the last years, the Maha Nanda Kandaw, the Royal lake has been dredged, with many trees and flowerings shrubs planted along its banks to form a pleasant park. It is situated about one mile to the north of the Royal City.

The Royal Palace grounds were converted into jail during the British colonial times but in recent years the whole area has been cleared and the Shwebo Yadana Mingala Royal Palace is being rebuilt from 1995 according to the original plan and design as recorded in old records and parabaik folding books.Shwe Bo

The Pagodas

There are numerous pagodas around Shwebo, out of these, 27 can be identified with proper names and titles.

One of the most famous pagodas in Shwebo is the Shwe Chet-thoe Pagoda, built by King Alaungphaya at the place where he was born. It is also known as Shwe Chet-kya Pagoda. Shwe is an honorific meaning “Golden”, and Chet-thoe or Chet-kya means “a place where umbilical cord and placenta has fallen or buried”. It is about 103.5 feet in height and is one of the tallest pagodas in Shwebo. It was built at the same time as the Royal City and the Royal Palace in 1753. It took 16 months to complete the pagoda. There are two stone inscriptions on the southeast corner of the pagoda platform, but the date given on these inscriptions is 1751, two years earlier than what is recorded in the chronicles.

Historians now think that the date 1751 is too early as Alaungphaya became King of Myanmar only in 1752. Visitors to this pagoda can also see the original Bahosi bell which was on the Royal Watch Tower, another of the seven auspicious buildings and places. It can be seen by climbing the 40 steps of the Sidaw Zin tower on the southeast corner. This bell was taken off the Royal Watch Tower in 1763 when King Hsinbyushin, the third king of the Konbaung Dynasty, shifted the capital to Innwa. At the time, the Chief Queen of King Alaungphaya was still alive and she arranged for the Watch Tower Bell to be donated to this pagoda.

Near this pagoda, King Bodawphaya, one of the sons of Alaungphaya, in 1770 built a Pitaka Taik, a library or a repository for Buddhist scriptures. Palm-leaf and parabaik books were selected and placed there by U Wimala, a monk, on royal orders. Unfortunately, this library was destroyed by fire in 1888.Shwe Bo

Zabu Simee Pagoda

This pagoda was built by King Alaungphaya’s father-in-law U Hpo Mya and his wife Mai Palaung. They were the parents of his Chief Queen Khin Yun San. The title of the pagoda means “The oil lamp of Jampudipa”.

Shwe Tansar Pagoda

This pagoda dates back to the Bagan Period and is one of the oldest pagodas in Shwebo. The main chronicles give two different Kings of the Bagan Dynasty as the original donor, viz, King Alaungsithu (1112-1167 A.D) and King Narapatisithu (1173-1210 A.D)

A famous Buddha image called Shwe Tansar made of fragrant wood about 45 inches in height can be seen in the square-shaped base temple. The main pagoda which is named after this Bagan Period Buddha image is 63 feet in height. This Buddha image is so famous that Kings of Myanmar have taken it to different capitals, to Innwa, Hanthawaddi, Taungoo and again to Innwa, Sagaing and finally brought back to Shwebo by King Alaungphaya.

Shwe Theindaw Pagoda

This pagoda also dates back to the Bagan Period and marks the place where the Thein or Sinn, Ordination Hall of venerated monks, used to be. It is about 48 feet in height. According to the inscriptions on the two bells donated by King Badon which can still be seen in this pagoda, the original donor who built this pagoda was King Narapatisithu.

Visitors should not miss seeing the four Chinthe mythical lion statues guarding the four corners of this pagoda. Unlike other Chinthe statues usually made of brick and mortar, these four Chinthe figures were carved out of pure white, smooth Sagyin Marble.

This pagoda is unusual also in that it is enclosed, not by a single wall, but by three wall enclosures. The outer two walls are in ruins, but the innermost stone wall is still well preserved.

Mya Theindan Pagoda

Like many of the pagodas in Shwebo, this pagoda was also built by King Alaungphaya. For those who study Myanmar literature, this pagoda has close associations with the first Myanmar novelist James Hla Gyaw. He repaired this pagoda in 1918 and was able to donate a new ornamental finial Hti (or tiered umbrella) the next year, a few months before he died. James Hla Gyaw was born in Shwegyin near Taungoo in 1866. His parents, who were Buddhists, passed away when he was young and his aunt Daw Hmyin and her husband Sitke U Nyo who were also Buddhists originally brought him up. When his foster parents were converted to Christianity, he was also baptized. James Hla Gyaw settled in Shwebo from December 1912, and he became a Buddhist again soon after. He is famous in Myanmar literature as the author of Maung Yin Maung, Ma Me Ma, the first Myanmar novel published in 1904. It was an adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. James Hla Gyaw’s ashes were placed in an Ayoe-o-gu in the wall enclosure of the pagoda he repaired.

The Victory Land

As Shwebo was the first capital of the last dynasty of Myanmar kings, there is a belief that the land in this place is a land of victory. Even after the capital was shifted to other places, the Kings, their royal officials and high ranking army commanders used to come back to tread the “earth of victory land” at Shwebo, in a ceremonial way.
Shwe Bo
During colonial times this belief was discouraged, but still, the people continued to believe that before any important undertaking the victory land at Shwebo should be treading. After Independence, the people of Shwebo, under the guidance of Webu Sayadaw, built a Victory Land Pagoda and established a Victory Land Enclosure, and also a monastery called Aung-mye Kyaungdaik or Victory Land Monastery. Visitors nowadays usually take back a handful of Victory earth to keep in their houses.

Shwebo is also famous for the thanakha, the fragrant face cream (paste) or powder made from the bark of the thanakha tree.

Although King Alaungphaya who gave prominence to Shwebo died on one of his campaigns in 1760, his body was brought back to the royal city where he was born, and from where he started his task to reunifying the whole country. A pyatthat was built over his bones and ashes after the cremation ceremony and this building can still be seen today.

With the rebuilding of the Shwebo Yadana Mingala Royal Palace at Shwebo, and the restoration of many old pagodas, lakes and parks, this first capital of the last dynasty of Myanmar kings will soon become an interesting place for visitors from far and wide.

Monywa

Monywa

Monywa

Monywa and Places of Interest Nearby by U Thaw Kaung

Would you like to visit a typical unspoiled Myanmar town not far from the tourist track?

If you do, you should go to Monywa, a thriving, picturesque town on the Chindwin River, only a three hours drive from Mandalay. Monywa is only 84 miles northwest from Mandalay, across the Ayeyarwady River and lies on the plain between this river and her main tributary, the Chindwin.

The roads are good, and along the way, you can stop at the old capitals of Amarapura and Sagaing, also at a number of interesting villages like Ywa Htaung.

You can easily go from Mandalay, by bus taxi or train.

Brief History

The name Monywa comes from “Mon” meaning “cake or snack food” and “Ywa” which is in Myanmar word for the village. There is a legend that says that in the old days a Myanmar king fell in love with a seller of cakes from this town and made her his queen. The original name some say is Mon-thema-ywa or “Village of the women cake seller“.

There has been a big village at Monywa from the Bagan Period. The classical name for Monywa is Thalawadi. The chronicles mention that Monywa was one of the places where King Alaungphaya encamped for the night on his campaign to Manipur in 1758.

During the Myanmar king’s time, Monywa remained just a big village as the administrative center for the region was at Ahlon. It was only a year after the Annexation of 1886 that Monywa became the Headquarters of the Lower Chindwin District.

In the last few years with the legalizing of the border trade with India, Monywa has grown into a bustling trading center, second only to Mandalay in Upper Myanmar region.

Thanboddhay Pagoda

If you are traveling to Monywa by car you should stop about 12 miles before you reach the town to visit this most unusual Buddhist temple complex on 37 acres of land which is part of the Mohnyin Forest Monastery retreat. The building of the pagoda was started on 20 June 1939 and completed on 2 March 1952. It was the brainchild of the famous Mohnyin Sayadaw whose lifelike effigy can be seen nearby.

Some visitors say that this pagoda reminds them of Borobodur, as it is similar in architectural design. Unlike Borobodur this is the modern place of worship, well maintained, and with interesting samples of modern Buddhist art. There are many different Buddha images, rows and rows in ascending tiers in niches along the walls, the total number is 582,257 an amazing figure!

Unlike most of the pagodas in Myanmar, the entrance is not guarded by Chinthes, the mythical lion, but by statues of a pair of magnificent white elephants which are sacred and auspicious in Buddhist symbolism.

Thanboddhay is the only pagoda with this unique shape in the whole country. The square temple base (each side about 166 feet) which worshippers can enter is topped by receding terraces, with myriads of small stupas (864 in number) surrounding the central golden pagoda, 132 feet in height.

Tourists can study and take photos of the 20 tagundaing, huge decorated pillars, and also big masonry fruits in the shape of bunches of bananas and coconuts, watermelon, mangos, jackfruits, papaya and so on. These fruits are also objects of veneration for the local farmers.

If you can go at the beginning of the Myanmar month of Tazaungmone (usually around November), you can see the annual pagoda festival, which goes on for several days when the villagers from all around come to enjoy the music and dancing, and buy from the various stalls set up by sellers from all over the country.

Bodhi Tahtaung and Po Khaung Taung

From Thanboddhay Pagoda you can go by car about five miles along a good branch road to Po Khaung Taung, a small range of hills in the Monywa area. There you will see more unusual sights not found in other parts of Myanmar.

First, you should stop for a while in the fast-growing forest of one thousand Bodhi trees (Ficus religiosa), this Bo or Pipal tree is sacred to all Buddhists because Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment while meditating under this tree.

A much venerated Sayadaw, now popularly known as the Bodhi Tahtaung Sayadaw who can make your wishes come true, first started planting this forest grove about two decades ago. Each tree has a large Buddha image underneath, and many Buddhist pilgrims come to pay obeisance there. It is a pleasant, peaceful place, filled with the song of birds, in a protected environment where nature and men in perfect harmony.

Just beyond Bodhi Tahtaung, a short stroll towards the east will bring you to the Po Khaung Taung, a range of hills where you can see one of the largest reclining Buddha images in the world. Measuring 300 feet in length it is even bigger than the colossal Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha image in Bago which has a length of 180 feet only. The head is 60 feet in height. It was only built in 1991 and up to now, there is still no roof or shelter to protect it.

This huge image has a hollow cave-like structure inside and you can walk from the head to the feet. You will then see inside 9,000 one foot high metal images of the Buddha and his disciples in various postures. There is also the representation of some of the important events in the life of the Buddha.

If you are interested in Buddha footprints you can study the 108 auspicious symbols which are depicted on the soles of this huge image.

Aung Sakkya Pagoda

Near the reclining Buddha image, also on Po Khaung Taung range is the Aung Sakkya Pagoda, 442 feet in height (including the base of 217 feet). This pagoda is a landmark for the area around Monywa as it can be seen from afar. It is surrounded by 1.060 smaller satellite pagodas that shelter over a thousand sacred images of the Buddha.

Monywa Town

In Monywa town, there are busy markets, popular restaurants, a university, a Technical High School, and an Institute of Economics, the second after the one in Yangon.

As the town is on the eastern bank of the Chindwin, you can travel by boat across the river to Po Win Taung caves, with over 400,000 ancient Buddha images and statues and murals dating from the 14th to the 16th century. Tame monkeys abound and can be fed by visitors.

The first bridge across the Chindwin River was constructed at Chaung U near Monywa. This rail and road bridge links up with the long Western Highway from Monywa to Pathein in the Ayeyarwady Delta.

Other Places of Interest

Monywa can also be the base for visiting Kyaukka, a town about ten miles to the east, second only to Bagan as a center for the Myanmar lacquerware cottage industry.

The Ledi Kyaung Monastery is also well worth visiting. Built by the famous Ledi Sayadaw, a renowned Pali scholar, there are now 806 stone slab inscriptions which preserve some of the Sayadaw’s writings.

A few hours drive will also bring you to Twin Taung hill, an extinct volcano whose crater now forms a beautiful lake. The surrounding area has lush vegetation, and there are lovely views of the area from the rim of this crater lake.

Visitors are welcome to travel to Monywa and environs, see the interesting places and scenic views, and take back memorable experiences of typical Myanmar warmth and hospitality.

Indawgyi Lake

Indawgyi Lake Kachin Myanmar

Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary

Magnificent Indawgyi Lake aspiring to be inscribed as Geopark byThan Htun (Myanmar Geosciences Society)

The wetlands of Indawgyi are globally important for conservation: the lake it is resting and feeding ducks, geese, and pelicans; the floating vegetation with jacanas balancing over leaves; lakeshore reeds providing shelter for the purple swamphens and crakes; and flooded grasslands with feeding cranes and storks.

One of the most residents is the rare Sarus Crane with its prominent red head sticking out from grasslands and paddy fields. Indawgyi Lake basin is surrounded by forested hills, home of amazing birds such as the Rufous-necked and Great Hornbill, with Gibbons calling and shy colored Leopards searching for prey.

Indawgyi Wildlife Sanctuary is famous for its birds, especially the reed, seasonally flooded grassland, the floating vegetation which are responsible for high biodiversity including bird’s species. Every October more than 20,000 water birds start arriving from their summer breeding grounds in China and Siberia. Most birds come to stay over winter, but others only stop to rest and feed, preparing for a much longer journey to Australia.

In the Indawgyi Lake area, 10 endangered species can be observed. Of these species, greylag geese, Oriental darter, and purple swamphen are prominent during the month of January. A tour of the lake by motor canoe allows one to view a large array of wetland species. It appears that the lake and surrounding wetlands provide an important winter feeding habitat.

Accessibility

Kachin State is served by the three airports Bhamo Airport, Myitkyina Airport, and Putao Airport. There is a railroad between Myitkyina and Mandalay via Sagaing. The train will take 21–30 hours from Mandalay to Myitkyina. Indawgyi Lake can be reached by train from Myitkyina via Hopin and it will take about 5 hours for 107 miles. Again, from Hopin to Lonton Village at Indawgyi Lake by private taxi or by motorbike and it will take 2 hours for 27 miles. The daily train and bus services are available from Yangon or Mandalay to Indawgyi Lake via Hopin the nearest town. Lonton has been upgraded as a new township of Mohnyin District recently.

Indawgyi Lake Kachin Myanmar

Hopin Railway Station

Accommodations

The licensed accommodation at Indawgyi Lake can only be found in Lonton village, on the west bank of Indawgyi Lake. Indaw Mahar guest house has a fairly basic facility with simple rooms and a shared bathroom, There are also homestay system and a military-owned guest house in Lonton.

Shwe Myitzu Pagoda

The most famous and beautiful landmark at Indawgyi Lake is Shwe Myitzu Pagoda which is shining in the middle of the lake. The annual Pagoda festival held the end of February and earlyMarch. It is the end of the dry season and the water level is low enough to walk along the wooded trail from the mainland to the Pagoda in the lake.

Shwe Taung (Golden Mountain)

Shwe Taung is situated at the north bank of Indawgyi Lake and has a pagoda and monastery on top of the hill and provide with panoramic views of the lake. It will take about 30-minute walk to the hilltop and some local generous people will offer you refreshment on the way.

Lwemun Village

Lwemun Village is located on the western bank of the lake and the most picturesque village. There are two monasteries, a nat (spirit) shrine and a shrine which tells the story of Indawgyi Lake. The story is that there was a village right below the current Lwemun before Indawgyi Lake appeared. A widow had dreamt that the area would be filled with water soon and so she left the village for the hill with some animals. The other villagers didn’t believe her, but then the village was flooded and the lake had appeared. One of the monasteries at the southern end of the village has a nat shrine for celebrating the widow’s dream. Her footprint seems to be there as well, but it can only be seen during the dry season.

Hepa Village

The lakefront of the village on the southeast of Indawgyi Lake has a scenic beauty. Further to the east, there is a main north-south road and after a short walk or ride some lovely scenery of rolling fields can be seen.

Namde Village

Namde Village is most notable as the turn-off point to Shwe Myitzu Pagoda and there is a house for two elephants. The elephants (male and female) are kept in the second house south of the turn-off to Shwe Myitzu Pagoda.

Nammilaung Village

Nammilaung Village is famous for its interesting architecture with high wooden fences around all the houses. Nammilaung also has a cane Buddha image, which was a collaborative effort by local people. On the fourth street south of the cane Buddha complex there is another house for elephants.

Indawgyi Environmental Education Centre

Indawgyi Environmental Education Centre was established by Inn Chit Thu and Fauna & Flora International with support from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and Hla Day. Indawgyi Lake occupied various natural, cultural, biodiversity, wildlife, and geological and archaeological heritages and those are internationally significant values for a UNESCO Global Geopark in Myanmar.Indawgyi Lake Kachin Myanmar

Bird watching: Indawgyi Lake is a major stop for migratory birds and attracts thousands of birds especially during winter months from December to March on the East Asia-Australian Flyway. During that period thousands of birds on the lake and flying in flocks over it are a wonder to behold.
Inn Chit Thu Ecotourism: is an organization based at the lake that is supported by Flora and Fauna International that provides a range of services, goods, and opportunities for visitors. They have been working at the lake since 2013.

Kayaking: Kayaks are available for hire at Inn Chit Thu and Indawgyi Motel. The lake is too wide to cover by kayak in a single day, but the southern half and the western shore, including Shwe Myitzu Pagoda, can conveniently be visited by kayak.

Cycling: Bicycles are available at Inn Chit Thu for hire and allows to explore the villages along the western and southern shores of the lake.

Trekking: Single-day treks are available for the mountains around the lake through Inn Chit Thu or Face of Indawgyi. Due to security reason trekking in the mountains on the west side of the lake is not allowed at the present.

Recreational fishing: Basic recreational fishing trips can also be done at Indawgyi Lake.

Boat tour: You can hire a boat and go around the lake at a reasonable price.

Festival: Every year during the ten days before the full moon in March people from all over Kachin state celebrate Shwe Myitzu Pagoda festival. During the festival, there are boat races, concerts and various recreation in the area. The water level is low and you can walk over dry land to the pagoda.

Souvenir: Kachin bags, tissue holders, and handmade jewelry at the ecotourism spot. A local weaver is situated about 30 minutes by boat from Lonton where homemade Kachin woven fabric is available.

Indawgyi Lake in Kachin State occupied international significance sites of landscape, biodiversity, biosphere, wetland ecology, geology and mineral deposits, archaeology, traditional culture, ecotourism and geotourism, those are the basic requirements and characteristics for Geopark. Therefore, Geopark Development Committee of Myanmar Geosciences Society congratulate and welcome magnificent Indawgyi Lake of beautiful Kachin State as Aspiring National Geopark as well as UNESCO Global Geopark and decided to collaborate with Forest Department, local authorities, Inn Chit Thu, Flora Fauna International and local people. Indawgyi Lake is more than a lake.

Putao

Putao Myanmar

Putao

Putao: Encouraging development tasks in the outlying region of Myanmar by Nanda Win

Putao in Kachin State is a landscape painted with a mountainous backdrop and home to several rare animals with its preserved natural habitats living harmoniously with several ethnic minorities in the region. Putao spreads across a total of 10610 square km and consists of 5 townships: Putao, Machyanbaw, Naungmoon, Hkawng Lamphu, Sumpra Burn.

As Putao is part of the Himalayas, the area is mountainous with nice flat land rare to find. Standing at an elevation of 1329 feet above sea level, the Putao Valley is 12 miles wide and 20 miles long with the mountainous surroundings, home to the famous confluence of the May Kha and Malikha in Kachin State. Putao is bordered by China in the East, Myikyina District in the South, India to its east and China in the North. Naung Mon Township is also home to the highest peak, Mt Hkakabo Razi in Myanmar at 19296 feet (5,881 m).Putao Myanmar

Popular tourist attractions

Putao is filled with natural scenery that includes ice-capped mountains, 7 storied waterfalls, historic pagodas, and rivers. There is Mt. Phonkan Razi, Mt. Hkakabo Razi and Gamlang Razi that is a stronghold for biodiversity in Myanmar, extraordinarily rich flora and fauna and colorful rare species of animals.

Mt. Hkakabo Razi is 164 miles away from Putao with no direct route. Hence, visitors often take the 12-day trek amongst the mountains, cliffs, caves, tunnels in extreme weather to arrive at the famous mountain. The challenge, however, doesn’t deter adventurers from around the world including residents in Myanmar to attempt the hike and sometimes, the peak.

Mt. Phonkan Razi and Gamlang Razi are located 65 miles from Putao. Transportation to the area used to be almost impossible. However, as new roads start to be built connecting villages, these also serve as a path for travelers who wish to enjoy nature and beauty unspoiled by man. Additionally, Kaung Mu Lone pagoda, located 14 miles from Putao is also another attraction that is a must visit and is open all four seasons.Putao Myanmar

Facilitation of transportation

Putao District is located 218 miles from Myitkyina and can be accessible by car (12 hours) or flight (40 minutes). It took travelers up to 20-25 days for this journey. However, ever since the construction of the Myikyina-Putao highway consisting of concrete roads and bridges, of 218 miles, the journey can now be made in less than a day. There are plans to expand and upgrade the road as well in 2020.

Furthermore, Hkawng Lamphu township, that is 132 miles from Putao used to only be accessible by a 9-day trek. However, since the construction of the Machyanbaw -Ma Gwa Za- Hkawng Lamphu road, the village can now be reached from the San Lot Chat peak via a 2 night 3-day trek. There are additional plans to construct more bridges and roads to ease access and improve transportation to and from the villages for trade and communication development.

Access to energy

The improvement of roads and the flights have drastically increased movement to and from Myitkyina and Putao. In 2018, due to lack of sources for energy, Putao only received 19 hours of electricity every day while other towns received as little as 3 hours. However, with the completion of the Upper Nam Htuan Hydropower project, 10 wards in Putao, as well as 4 in Machyanbaw, are now supplied with 24-hour electricity with other towns receiving at least 5 hours of electricity per day. These developments have greatly opened a wave of new opportunities for residents and increased the number of small businesses significantly.Putao Myanmar

Biodiversity

The area is home to a variety of ecosystems such as the mountain ecosystem, forest ecosystem, grassland ecosystem, and inland wetland ecosystem. These systems house a plethora of wildlife and fauna that are sources of food, fresh water, and even medicine. These also provide a potential practical field for study for geologists, biologists, and botanists. Lastly, the waters, mountains, and animals serve as a great attraction for nature lovers for hikes, bird watching, rafting and other adventures in the area. However, it is important to preserve these by preventing hunting, mining, and forest fires.

Because of the nature of Putao’s location, it has been a very difficult area to reach and experience. However, from the constant and strenuous effort from the government starting 2015, the developments have greatly improved the everyday lives of the residents as well as introduced the beauty of the area to the rest of the world.