Burma – Myanmar # 16 Ancient Pagodas and Festivals

Shwe Indein Pagoda, a crumbling, jungle clad ruin, is a photographer’s delight.

(P1020741 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020741 © DY of jtdytravels)

Not even the people of the village of Indein know its real story.

(P1020725  © DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020725 © DY of jtdytravels)

This pagoda’s history is shrouded in mystery. Myanmar historical records make no mention of its construction. One theory puts its beginnings at 300 – 200 BC but there’s no archeological evidence to support that theory.   A now very rusty covered walkway was built at some time in the past to lead up to the ruins but for many Burmese people, these crumbling buildings are still unknown.

(P1020759  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020759 © DY of jtdytravels)

But the locals have recognised the importance of tourism to their local economy and are trying to make the most of the ancient site.  There’s always someone ready to part a tourist from their dollars.  These hats were really rather special.

(P1020811   ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020811 © DY of jtdytravels)

The community is working together to recover and restore the pagodas – to regain the structures from the jungle.

( P1020764  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

( P1020764 © DY of jtdytravels)

 Quite beautiful ancient carvings can now be seen and enjoyed once more .

(P1020818  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020818 © DY of jtdytravels)

However, one wonders, how far should this restoration go.  With so many pagodas in this country, perhaps the only reason that tourists will venture to such an out of the way place is the very fact that these buildings are so photogenic because they are crumbling and  jungle clad.   It would be wonderful to see, and photograph, these ruins in the early morning or late afternoon golden light.

(P1020813  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020813 © DY of jtdytravels)

But for the Pa-O people and the villagers of Indein, these pagodas, or payas in Burmese, have another importance – not just the tourist dollar.  For them these are places where their ancestors worshipped. They are sacred places and should be revered. They were built to hold relics of special monks and of the wishes of people past. It is good karma to restore them.  Restoration is a balancing act.

(P1020841 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020841 © DY of jtdytravels)

Back down in the village of Indein, more small souvenir stalls try to induce the tourists to buy.

(P1020843  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020843 © DY of jtdytravels)

The stall holders are very friendly and happy to have their photos taken.

(P1020831  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020831 © DY of jtdytravels)

Back down at the river, the locals are still going about their daily tasks.

It was time to re-board the long boats and head back along the Indein River; back to the main lake.

(P1020860  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels)

(P1020860 © DY of jtdytravels)

The Shwehintha Restaurant provided a delicious Intha style lunch for the group.

(P1020649  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020649 © DY of jtdytravels)

A more modern group of payas adorns this village.  Most such pagodas were built when Burma was a wealthy country – before it began its long history of subjugation by foreign powers and then by the military junta.  Each one of these stupas, or payas, has great meaning for the local people whose faith is such an important part of their every day life.  They really live their faith.  There are some important festivals held each year around these payas. One is the robe weaving contest held in villages and towns throughout the country on the evening of the full moon about 16th -17th November.  On that night, young women sit on the platforms of the pagodas and weave robes. The robe is to be finished flawlessly overnight and offered at dawn to the Buddha images around the pagodas.

(P1020875  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020875 © DY of jtdytravels)

Near the centre of Inle Lake is the large and quite beautiful Nga Hpe Chaung Monastery. It’s the biggest and oldest monastery in the area, built around the end of the 1850s. This wooden structure, built on stilts over the lake,  is home to a wonderful collection of ancient Bagan, Shan, Tibet and Ava-style Buddha images. Unfortunately, however, it is much more famous for some cats which an abbot trained to jump through a hoop.  It appears that tourists come to see the cats and then leave without even venturing further inside to see the real treasures of this monastery. Our group did not even stop here – the cats were not performing that day!  Some group decisions are indeed a mystery to me!

(P1020881 ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020881 © DY of jtdytravels)

The monastery has a large golden boat that is used to parade some of those famous statues around the lake on special festival days. The boat stops at each village in turn for the people to enjoy the statues and pay homage to them.  They also have leg rowing competitions on those festival days. Boats the size of ‘dragon boats’ are propelled by teams of Intha leg rowers. That would be quite a sight!

(P1020885  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020885 © DY of jtdytravels)

Next time we go to Inle Lake, we’ll go inside the monastery to enjoy its artistic treasures. And maybe we’ll visit this lake area at the time of one of their numerous and famous festivals. The Pa O people work hard but they apparently also really enjoy the fun of their festivals. One such festival is the Lu Ping or balloon flying festival held in the main town of Taunggyi about the 12th to 17th November each year.  The word Lu Ping means eliminating all evil by giving alms and offertories to Buddhist monks. But its also a time of fun when the people hold firework launching competitions. There are also hot balloons competitions during both the day and the night.  I thought they meant the hot air balloons you fly in. But not so. These are huge paper balloons.  The balloons launched during the day are usually in the form of Pagodas and animals such as elephant, dragon or ducks. The night balloons are often in the shape of rugby ball; huge elongated paper balls with small lighted multicoloured paper lanterns hung around their sides. As they rise into the night sky, the balloons are set to let off fireworks. There are several videos on ‘You Tube’ that show this festival. Just google Lu Ping Balloon Festival. It looks like fun.

(P1020902 ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020902 © DY of jtdytravels)

Back on the lake, women wearing those sensible bamboo hats, were collecting weed for compost for their veggie gardens.

( P1020907  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

( P1020907 © DY of jtdytravels)

The next stop for the group was at the cheroot ‘factory’. The main cash crop of the Pa O farmers is the leaves of the cordia trees which are used for rolling cheroots. Although not everyone smokes, it appears that Burmese men like to smoke the smaller cheroots whilst the larger ones are enjoyed by women.

Sitting on the floor rolling cheroots all day is not an occupation I would enjoy!

( P1020912 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

( P1020912 © DY of jtdytravels)

The finished products.

(P1020917  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020917 © DY of jtdytravels)

Even after working all day rolling cheroots, this young lady was still full of smiles.

(P1020997  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020997 © DY of jtdytravels)

With the day drawing to a close, it was time to head back to the hotel for our last night at delightful Inle Lake.

Jennie Thomas

All Photographs ©  DY  of jtdytravels