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

Burma – Myanmar # 15 Inle Lake; Community at Indein

While I had a quiet day at the Inle Princess Resort, David went off again in the long tail boats to explore more of Inle Lake and its villages. They left the resort quietly and sedately with the help of one of the Intha leg rowers.

But it was not long before the noisy motor was cranked into life and they sped off across the lake.

(P1020645  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020645 © DY of jtdytravels)

Their destination, on the other side of the lake, was the village of Indein.

On the way they went by a couple of other villages built partly on the land and partly over the water.

The sun shone and it was obviously washing day for this family.

(P1020650  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020650 © DY of jtdytravels)

This restaurant is clear evidence of the growth of tourism in the area. It also shows that those providing for the tourists are learning what is important to visitors.  The sign above the door reads:

“Sterilized tube well water is used for cleaning and cooking. No MSG is used”.

(P1020652  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020652 © DY of jtdytravels)

This family has one of those tube wells for their water.

They don’t need to wash themselves and their clothes in the river.

(P1020688  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020688 © DY of jtdytravels)

But the majority of people do not have tube wells

and many people still use the river to wash both their clothes and themselves.

(P1020653  ©  Dy of jtdytravels)

(P1020653 © Dy of jtdytravels)

One enterprising lady met the group’s boats with bamboo cone hats for sale.

They are light and certainly good for shade against the hot sun.

(P1020677  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020677 © DY of jtdytravels)

The boats were well equipped with blue umbrellas for shade.

To get to Indein, the boats travelled up a narrow river.

(P1020682  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020682 © DY of jtdytravels)

Finally the group arrived at their destination.

Judging by the various coloured chairs, a couple of groups had arrived in the village.

For now, the noisy motors were quiet while the visitors explored Indein.

(P1020810 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020810 © DY of jtdytravels)

A small market at the dockside sold such local necessities as longyis and shirts.

(P1020696  ©   DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020696 © DY of jtdytravels)

Another necessary item that almost every Burmese needs is a bamboo woven basket.

(P1020700  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020700 © DY of jtdytravels)

Inevitably,even at a fairly quiet tourist destination, there are stalls selling souvenirs –

like bangles and beads and necklaces.

(P1020711  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020711 © DY of jtdytravels)

While wandering through the stalls, David was surprised to see a small army of women walking towards him with hoes and bamboo baskets over their shoulders. These were women of the Pa-O ethnic group;  the second most numerous tribe in the region who mainly live in the hilly areas in and around Taunggyi.  These women wear dark plain coloured lungyis with long sleeveless shirts and cropped long-sleeved black jackets. They also wear distinctive brightly coloured turbans, often in a red check weave. They are mostly farmers who come down from their villages on market days to sell their produce.  But this was not a market day and these women had come into the village of Indein on a very different mission!

It soon became apparent that this was another incidence of community activity.  The Pa-Os are very religious, and although previously animist, most are now Buddhist.  They were coming together to clean up the approaches to Indein’s ancient Shwe Inn Tain Pagoda, the site our group had come to this village to see. (Photos of that in the next episode.)

Men were already hard at work repairing the road –  in what seemed a time consuming way. But lots of hands make light work!  There’s no earth moving machinery here; not even a wheelbarrow.  A bamboo cane ‘stretcher’ was used to carry the soil.  What was amazing was what a short distance the soil was moved!

(P1020729  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020729 © DY of jtdytravels)

A group of boys stood in the shade waiting for their instructions to also begin work.

They wore the traditional Shan bags over their shoulders.

(P1020808  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020808 © DY of jtdytravels)

While Mums and Dads worked, little ones found simple games to play.

No fancy toys or video games here!

(P1020803  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020803 © DY of jtdytravels)

The women who had just arrived waited for their instructions.

 It was a well ordered, planned community activity.

(P1020773  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020773 © DY of jtdytravels)

Faces in the crowd always fascinate David.  This girl wears her traditional Pa-O ethnic check cloth headwear and her face is painted with a mixture made from the bark of the tamarind tree. This is not only traditionally for beauty but also to save the skin from the sun.

(P1020717  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020717 © DY of jtdytravels)

And it wasn’t only the young ones who had come to help.

All ages were represented.

Down on the river there were other activities to watch.

Children are the same everywhere –

 give them some water and they’ll make their own fun!

When everyone in our group had had plenty of time to enjoy watching the village activities, they began the walk up to the ancient Shwe Inn Tain Pagoda (or Shwe Indein) Pagoda.  We’ll go there in the next episode.

Jennie Thomas

All photography in this episode ©  DY of jtdytravels