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‘Journey to the Northwest ’ An upcountry road trip car rally in Sagaing Region

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With an aim to promote and advertise the tourism industry and explore new destinations in Sagaing Region, a seven-night, eight-day road trip of a 12-car rally was launched on January 20 in Sagaing, upper Myanmar jointly organized by Sagaing Region Government and Myanmar Heritage Trail Tourism Rally(MHTTR). My Magical Myanmar’s senior writer Aung Phay Kyi Soe was with the rally team and covered the road trip.

Day 1 – Beginning with a bat cave
On January 20th, the 12-car rally team took their positions in Sagaing where the car rally launch event took place.  ‘Journey to the North-West Rally Sagaing/MHTTR-2018’ was launched with a speech made by Sagaing Region Chief Minister Dr Myint Naing.

  The chief minister said at the event that he believed the tourism sector was important for ensuring the improvement of the socio-economic lives of the people. It is the fifth road trip organized by MHTTR to promote tourism and it is even more interesting than the previous ones. The 40 team members include famous singer Nine One and Miss Myanmar International 2017 crown holder Sao Yoon Wadi Oo.

One of the first stops was near Zin Village where rally members visited a bat cave in an environmental conservation area.

Bat expert Daw Aye Aye Nwe, professor of Zoology Department of Monywa University, enthusiastically explained the species and nature of bats at the cave and how they live and how helpful they are. Reminding the locals and visitors of recognizing the cave as a Natural Conservation Area, she advised that people moving frequently in and out of the cave will cause the bats to move their habitat and that it was necessary neither to come close to the cave nor to renovate it. The team members enjoyed an exhibition about bats and watched them flying out of the cave to find food. Then, they prepared to make camp with tents for an overnight stay there.

Day 2 – The preserved corpse of Manle Sayadaw
At the monastery near Tagondaing Village, Indaw Township, the rally participants had a chance to pay respects to the gold gilded corpse of Manle Sayadaw.
 
“Even though it has been nearly 100 years since the death of the Sayadaw, we do not see the bones and skin on the corpse deteriorate,” said the old man U Ni who added that the plan to commemorate the 100th death anniversary of Sayadaw is underway.

Day 3 - A city of famous authors, a death-defying mountain drive and the best traditional pork curry – Kadu and Kanan Regions
Katha: The city was wearing a thick fog blanket while the sun was nowhere to be seen. It was around 6am. From the top floor of Sein Hotel I watched the street. There sit handsome colonial era buildings—still in use as government offices. And there runs the Ayeyarwady River in whose river bed—people believe—lay over 200 ships including those of the Irrawaddy Flotilla blown up in 1942. Visitors to Katha always try to pay visit to the places described in George Orwell’s famous novel ‘Burmese Days’. Moreover, Katha is a city where famous Burmese writers settled—namely Shwe U Daung and Thawdar Swe.

Zalone Mountain: It is exactly nine miles from the CBT site at the base to the mountain top. The road to the top was built by local people and is quite steep. It was quite dangerous as they are soil roads and more importantly, they were wet. Anyone who has the experience of driving up steep mountain roads like this with crumbling ledges and blind curves would know how dangerous it would be.
‘‘You need to know every turn and every slope to drive up the mountain. It doesn’t matter how good your vehicle is. The outsider wouldn’t know the sudden turns. Only those who are used to driving up the mountain will know,’’ U Sein Kyaw Oo, manager of Zalone Mountain CBT said.

Day 4 – Bamboo tea and the last traditional Kanan houses
The group woke up with the cold of the morning. This stop was the coldest of all during our trip. Mountains close to our camp were covered in fog. Drivers checked their cars carefully to make sure nothing happened during the last leg of the trip. Some were washing their cars and more surprisingly, some were showering in that cold water. Others were cleaning the trash around the huts.

After travelling into the Kanan Region we stopped and I saw the residents preparing lunch for us. A young man poured green tea from a bamboo pot and a young lady handed it to each of us. The smell was amazing and the green tea tasted different. I later learned that it was made with bamboo leaf not with tea leaf. They don’t usually drink green tea from traditional tea leaves. The bamboo green tea is said to be good for urine-related diseases.

We left the village of Nanzar to see traditional Kanan houses; there were only four traditional houses in the whole village. When we arrived at U Aung Lin’s house, one of the four houses, we saw that the host prepared food for the guests. The Kana house is circular in shape with long legs and a thatched roof and around 50 feet wide. It is now over 38 years since it was built in 1341 ME. When you are going build a Kanan traditional house, you have to choose the date for the ground breaking ceremony; then you build it step by step. They used around 40 poles of hardwood for a single house. It took about one month to have it finished with the help of other villagers.

‘‘People don’t build this kind anymore. But not me, I try to preserve it as it’s a traditional one,’’ said U Aung Lin, owner of the house.


Day 5- Villager’s first car sightings and an endangered deer species
We visited Laiksaw monastery—the oldest monastery in Kanan Region—and looked at the ancient Buddha image, palm leaf manuscripts, furniture and other materials. We drove on and as we were going through Lepadone Village, we saw two old ladies in their sixties or seventies strangely dancing beside the rally. When asked why, we were told that they were so happy to see visitors and they had never seen even a single car in three generations.

Chatthin Wildlife Sanctuary is in Kantbalu Township and about 20 miles away from Kawlin. The road was covered in dust which was blown up by the passing cars and hanging in the air like fog so the drivers had to drive very carefully not to hit oxen carts, motorbikes and cars along the way.

We arrived at the Sanctuary at around 5pm and set up camp. Chatthin Wildlife Sanctuary, which is home to brow-antlered deer and other animals, was established in 1941 and is 64,262 acres. The authorities showed us stuffed birds and other rare animals such as wild cats and barking deer, preserved deer fetus and snake, and how honey is collected at the sanctuary. In 2009, there were up to 1,561 brow-antlered deer and this number drastically dropped to 378 in 2014. But in 2017, the number rose again to 728.

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Aung Phay Kyi Soe is a Journalist who worked as Culture, Tourism, Environment and Health Reporter for five years at The Messenger, The Trade Times,DEMOCRACY Today, The Voice and Mawkun In-Depth and Investigative Magazine. He won the Best Feature Award for Climate Change Reporting supported by UN-Habitat and organized by Myanmar Journalism Institute.

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