Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
A long lake high in the hills, Fed by mountain torrents of monsoon rain Which run dry in the cool summer. They bring no silt to darken the water Filtered through limestone like clear rice-wine Making you heady in the blue air, Blue against blue skies and blue hills. I see you go from house to house, Homes like cranes wading in the shallows , Visiting the infirm and the ill In a boat rowed by the boatman with his leg, One of the famous leg-rower breed. May good health and fortune encircle you Like the gulls which wheel and glide above you. May these lake waters and the gold-encrusted Buddha images of Hpaung-daw-u Images which you revere Keep you safe and secure. "On Inle Lake" - Win Pe.
As the hot season-
Revolts against the cold
In the pattern of contrast-
The firmament becomes cloudy
And it is hot again.
It is summer.
Leaves on trees turn yellow,
To fall-to show new leaves-
Stems twist or break, yet
Sprouts on tama trees
Are now soft greens like parrot eggs.
While in summer trees thirst
In foothills thazin flowers
Are climbing thabye trees
Mixing with the wafting air.
At sunset crow-pheasants are cooing,
And from afar come the cuckoo's notes.
Now and again, thunder is beating
Through heaven's expanses
Like lambara and deindi drums.
Oh, I think
Of the pouring of water
On the Bodhi tree
And of the absent companion
In the Golden Palace of Victory,
And I am mournful.
-U Kyaw (A famous Burmese poet.)
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
After Mandalay, I took a bus to Kalaw, another painful bus journey. I arrived at 2:45 a.m. and walked the road to a guesthouse. Kalaw was a refreshing change from the other cities, with cool breezes and milder temperatures. Bagan and Mandalay were 115 degrees, days reminiscent of Phoenix. I wanted to escape and head somewhere cooler, particularly since most places did not run their generators in the afternoon when the heat was its worst, meaning no fans or cool rooms to hide in. Kalaw is up in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains. Beautiful gardens and flowers spread around town and the streets were a warm invitation for a pleasant stroll. It is a town I think my mother would have liked to see, or walk among the park with me, through the flowers and trees, or stroll the streets and look out to small farms and yards so full of color, so many flowers all in bloom. I was surprised to see such beauty and such order. It was a contrast to the other cities I had seen in the country. Kalaw had a military base, so it was a bit cleaner, with the presence of the soldiers, and the money the military brought with them.
I walked around the streets and hills and small shops, thinking of all the towns I had walked before in my life. I have walked many.
I left Kalaw after proper rest and relaxation and one morning headed out with a local guide and three other trekkers, one Dutch, one Swiss, and one Italian. We began a three day trek over the mountains of Myanmar to Inle Lake. The first day we covered ten miles, climbing from the valley in to the mountains and across high plains and through thick forests. We stopped at three small villages along the way, the smallest consisting of only ten families, and the largest of twenty. We visited a school where young school kids 1st-6th grade all nestled together in one room with no other light than the open windows.
At the second village we stopped for lunch at a medicine man’s house. We ate chapatti and rice and sampled herbal medicines while the medicine man sat in a hazy corner smoking his cigar. He was 84 at the time, perhaps 85 now, and tattooed heavily on his legs demonstrating his years as a village martial arts teacher.
In the third village we stopped for dinner eating a handsome meal of traditional dishes and locally grown vegetables. We filled our bellies on pumpkin, eggplant, fish, rice, and more, and were treated to peanut brittle for desert. We showered from a small bucket outside, cold water pouring down from a hand held bowl used to scoop water from the bucket. This village was high up in green mountains serenading down to rolling hills of fertile farms. At night we sat out discussing politics and cultures and food and watched the dancing lightning brightly flash over the mountains. It was a beautiful end to a beautiful day.
In the morning we rose early for a light breakfast and resumed our trek after parting farewells to the village chief who housed us for the night. On that second day, we hiked 16 miles, again stopping in several villages along the way. Shortly before lunch, the clouds turned and our refreshing breeze gave way to a torrential rain. We rushed for shelter in the village nearby where we lunched as the rain fell heave and hard on the roof above. We ate and rested with the pounding booms of thunder clapping and cracking outside, and we lay on the wood floor and tried to nap the rain away, but had to soon leave and brave the weather.
Fortunately, the rain lightened to a drizzle. The red clay of the mountains turned to thick and sludging mud either slipping and sliding under our feet or clinging obstinately to our soles in a cantaloupe of clumps that dragged and weighed. We hiked up and down, holding to branches for balance and jumped streams colored in Indian Chai thick with milk and sugar that blocked our trail. The sky cleared and opened, revealing layers of clouds, clear and close. We walked over mountains, passing a village to a small monastery of ten young novice monks. We pumped water from a suburban size cement reservoir to a smaller cement tank and scooped water over our bodies in the camp evening air to bathe and clean ourselves.
We ate on the porch of the monastery, eating our fill of vegetables, meat, soup, and rice washed down by tea, and at night we lay on our mats on the monastery floor for sleep until awakened by the chanting of the monks at 4:00 a.m. After a pleasant breakfast and a short discourse and blessing from the Abbot monk, we set off for the third and final day, 12 miles to Inle Lake. I still wear the small amulet bracelet placed on my wrist by the Abbot monk, a pleasant reminder of a life I once dared to live. The weather was warm, but bearable, and the hike casual. We finished off alongside a river presenting one of the entrances to the lake. As lunch was readying, I helped myself to a swim in the wonderfully and perfectly cold water of the river, with the sun a strong and friendly position above. The hike was over. It was wonderful, and among my favorite things in my many month journey.
There high in the mountains of Myanmar I saw such glorious things. The fertile soil, the blend of green and deep clay red, the rolling hills, the jutting mountains, the friendly faces of hill tribes who worked in fields or passed us on trails after a hard day’s work. One day we passed a whole family walking home from the fields, all dressed in traditional clothes, dirty and sweaty. The men, a grandfather and three young fathers smoked their cigars carrying planting and plowing tools, as the women dragged and carried children and nursing babies. Our guide talked with them and explained to us they were happy that day, because of the rain, a blessing from the gods who answered prayers.
We came across so many hill tribe people, people who never left their small mountain village isolated in the wilderness of Myanmar. One woman came and danced a little dance for us, chanting something as she swayed her body and moved her arms rhythmically up and down. We gave our empty plastic water bottles to those we passed, valuable objects to them that could be used for many purposes. Our guide explained to us to never throw bottles away because they were considered expensive items for many of the hill tribe people and would be welcome gifts as we trekked through their lands.
I wish I could explain the beauty I saw in those three days. I wish either myself or pictures could show the color of the hills and how the mountains stood, or the shape and forms of clouds, or the friendly faces of the people we passed, or the laugh of children who knew only one English word, “B’bye.” I wish how I could describe some small part of how I felt, the joy, the thrill, the fun of late night conversations with new friends from around the world, seeing new sites and trekking across a very distant, mysterious, and amazing country. I hope someday those of you who may someday read this, though the numbers will be small, will have the chance to see such things yourselves. You will count yourself the fortunate few."Forest Flowers" Budding branches sway daintily in the winds Blooming forth into abundance. Red-dappled white flowers of nan-tha And blooms of sandalwood Sweetly scent the foothills. Summertime ends But it is not yet the season of rains. From the ground below Rises katta's overwhelming perfume While from above Jasmine's small swinging branches Send down their fragrance. Climbing the forest trees Khabaung flowers sway in the wind Like rain-soaked silver strands. Later in the rains their stems too Will all be a silver hue. And in the valley Surprisingly charming too Are the strange flowers Called by the villagers Crocodile flowers. -U Kyaw.