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Journey to the Northwest –road trip (Day -4)

Photo - Aung Phay Kyi Soe

Gadu breakfast
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.

We were exciting to meet the local people of the Ganan region. Drivers gathered their cars at the gate of CBT site. We ate breakfast at the nearby restaurant. 

Those who arrived first ordered fried khawbote and coffee and tea.

Normally khawbote is eaten with sugar, but here people eat it with egg and tomato curry.

After one group member took a chance and ordered Gadu fried rice, it was found to be so delicious that one by one so many of the group ordered Gadu fried rice that the shop couldn’t keep up with our demand. Then people had to get the fried rice by themselves. Unlike fried rice in Yangon, Gadu fried rice is prepared with ground nut and pickled mustard and tasted very delicious. Here members from Myanmar Tourism Promotion discussed with the locals connected to the CBT how to develop tourism around Zalon Mountain.

At 9:15 a.m., we left for Banmauk to buy some necessary items and then left for Ganan.

We were driving on the Banmauk-Pinlebu road when we saw a flagstaff with three giant spirit statues—too attractive for us not to stop and gaze for a while. The life-sized spirit statues were over 6 feet high and made of teak and said to be over 200 years old. There were four statues originally – one each for east, west, south and north but now only three were left for one had decayed and vanished over time.
There are two Gadu indigenous areas: Sattaw and Mawtaik. There are 36 Gadu villages with over 15,000 people in total in Banmauk Township. Moreover, there are 34 Gadu villages in Indaw Township, 12 villages in Pinlebu Township and two in Katha Township. The village we are now is a Gadu village named Sattaw Konyoegyi.  

‘‘This is a symbol representing nine districts of Gadu Sattaw. This was built with piles, not just a mere dug-and-placed one,’’ U Aung Win Tin, leader of Kadu village Sattaw Konyoegyi, told My Magical Myanmar.

The next group of statues of Mawtaik County is at the corner of the wood near Myauk Maw Village, in Pinlebu Township and only three of them might be left, U Aung Win Tin guessed.  
Near these spirit statues were some small limed and gilted pagodas built by the abbots who lived at the village. We left the place after about 15 minutes after we had taken enough photos.

From tar road to soil road and soil to tar                

Some parts of the road would change suddenly from being built of tar to soil. The leading car would have to radio the rest following it as a warning. In some places, the process of road-building was still going on. About a mile away to Pinkhar village the road went right through a wide creek.

 It was around 11 a.m. when we arrived at an ideal village—over 22 miles away from Banmauk—where Shani ethnicities live. Again, we were surprised by the crowd waving small flags and performing the Shani traditional dance in the act of greeting us.
The officials from Myanmar Tourism Promotion donated K200,000 and stationary to the village. Then we left the village after half an hour.               

Again, the crowds were waving us when we arrived at Naung Kan Village at noon. The group offered K200,000 to the village and stationary worth K100,000. Then we continued our tour after 15 minutes. Around 12:40 p.m., we arrived at Mamnar in Banmauk Township. Again, the group made the contribution of K200,000 and stationary worth K 100,000 for the village’s school. After 15 minutes, we were again on the road.

Around 1 p.m., the group reached a unique spot in Banmauk Township—the spot where so-called the Mu River starts. To mark the spot where the river originates, an obelisk stands bearing the letters that read ‘The beginning of the Mu River, Shwe Kyaung Village, Banmauk Township’. A stone throwing distance from the obelisk flows a brook near two piles of stone used for building roads.  

We drove into Shwe Kyaung Village after we took a lot of photos with the obelisk. At the entrance of the village hung the vinyl banner that said ‘Warmly welcome the road trip team’ under which the Ganan residents stood waving at us. We, waved back and drove to the place where we were supposed to have lunch. After driving about a mile, we reached the place and it was half past one in the afternoon.  We climbed up the hillock where the lunch was prepared. Despite being on the hillock, there were enough shade having big trees.

Ganan lunch               
The organizers arranged two bamboo tables attached with seats big enough for 26 people to sit at the table. A few meters away, I saw the residents preparing lunch for us.

Before the lunch tables, a young lady and man wearing Ganan traditional outfits sat on the bamboo bedstead. The young man poured green tea from a bamboo pot into bamboo pot and the young lady handed it to each of us.

With the amazing smell, 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 sat at the tables and caught our breath after drinking the unique tea. In the enamel plates on the bamboo tables, locals placed rice packed with leaves. Once we were sitting at the table, they brought us traditional curries which they had prepared for us.

The Ganan cuisines were very delicious and we were also served dessert. We took photos with the local people and then we visited the Ganan traditional weaving workshops.

Ganan children’ hairstyle
The Ganan children have a cute traditional hairstyle—the hair is shaved everywhere but on the fontanel. Boys wear this hairstyle until they novitiate into the Buddhist order so you can know a boy’s age – and hence whether they have been initiated into a Buddhist order or not – by looking at his hair.

You can trace the history of the village to the Bagan era. Around 536-572 AD, the king Narapati Sithu on his tour of water routes reached the place where the Mu and Mitta creeks meet (now Laiksaw village). He saw people living in Kana—the pavilion—and they became Ganan, according to the book named ‘Beauty of Gadu and Ganan,’ by award-winning author Maung Kyaw Shin.

The Ganan area with 24 villages and 23 monasteries has an area of 14 square miles and is located in Katha District and Banmauk Township, 40 miles west of Banmauk and 35 miles south from Pinlebu.

We left Shwekyaung Village at 3 p.m. and arrived at Paytar Village after 20 minutes drive. We were greeted again by the awaiting residents by the side of the road and donated K200,000 and stationary worth K100,000. At 3 p.m., we left for Nanzar village.

 It was around 4 p.m. when we arrived at Nanzar village where almost everyone came out to welcome us. Seeing the heartfelt smiles on their faces, I thought that they seem to believe that having guests at their village would make the village improve. The village, despite being in a remote place, has some two-storey brick houses like those in Yangon.

200 year-old monastery
We went to Zaytawan Monastery of Nanzar village first, which is one of the four oldest monasteries in the Ganan area. It was built in 1140 ME (Myanmar Era) and gilted on 6th Waning Day of Wagaun, 1197 ME.

It was delightful to see all the valuable pieces of heritage such as ancient Buddha statues, palm leaves used for writing, furniture and antiques which were well-preserved.

The base of most Buddha images is lotus, but the ones in the Kanan monastery had a tiger, horse and elephant. The poles of the building of monastery are gilted and annexes of the main building were adorned with beautiful wood carvings.
We admired the preserved historical heritage. In the middle of the hall of the building, there was a big ten-feet high Buddha image on four elephant statues.

Members of our group donated K200,000 and other materials to the abbot of the monastery. The abbot led us to the 56 ancient pagodas—one big pagoda and 55 smaller pagodas around it. There was some damaged parts in the middle of the pagodas – signs that someone broke them and tried to steal valuable things enshrined in the pagodas. The damage was done 60 years ago by the Ba Ka Pa insurgents—Ba Ka Pa means Burma Communist Party—according to the abbot.

 ‘‘It is said to have been built in Konbaung era by the young of this village,’’ said the abbot Ven. Nyarnathehta.
Then we left the village 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 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 Ganan 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.

Then we stopped at a house which has a weaving workshop. We left the village around 4:15 p.m. and arrived at our next stop Haw Yaw Village at 5:15 p.m. where we planned to sleep. We first saw the abbot of Haw Yaw village ancient monastery. Then left for the monastery named Kawwidaryone Haw Yaw monastery and arrived at 6 p.m. The monk arranged for us to stay at in some brick buildings. Some of us made ourselves at home at the rest-house in front of the monastery and most of the male members made tents on a hillock near the monastery to make a camp fire party.

 Kanan dinner and dance
Around 7 p.m., we went to the place where we would eat our dinner. The temperature at Haw Yaw Village was the same as at Zalon Mountain CBT. The plastic chairs placed for us were wet with frost

When we gathered at the dinner party, the big fire was ignited. When the dinner started, Ganan ladies started dancing. It was a great dinner since we had had such a long day.

After the entertainment program, the group donated K2.5 million and U Htet Yee Lin, member of Sagaing Region Tourism Development Committee, donated K1.5 million for the develop of the area and Nine One, the pop singer who took part in the trip, entertained the locals in return.

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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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