Thursday, April 11, 2013

Trekking among the Smiling People

We were woken on Sunday morning by the sounds of chants and gongs, as the village of Kalaw came alive. The novice monks were gathering alms as we walked through the streets of this former hill station in the Shan hills. Here there is a mix of cultures and religions. There  is a mosque, a Buddhist temple and monastery, a Hindu temple, a large Catholic church as well as an Anglican and Baptist church. Kalaw was developed during the time of British colonization when workers from India and Nepal came to build the railroad and then stayed to live and mix with the Shan people who had lived here for centuries.
                                        Novice monks in Kalaw return from collecting alms

Kalaw is now the stepping off point for the many trekkers who come to visit this part of Myanmar. There are trails throughout the hills, some that pass through more remote areas going as far as tribes like the Palaung of the long-neck ladies. Our trek of 2 days was from Kalaw to Inle Lake. We were accompanied by a guide, a Shan native himself, as well as three porters from the local Danu tribe. One of these was our chef, the other two were porters who offered to carry our back packs if we were too hot .  We were hot and had sore feet, but did not ask to have our day packs carried. A question of pride! Our overnight bags were driven on to Inle lake and we carried only basic requirements for the night.
The trek took us through villages where the local children ran out to greet us. The Burmese are known as the smiling people with good reason. Our guide talked about the strong sense of community in this area.

We walked across fields being plowed by hand, and saw women and children hoeing the ground before planting. The soil is rich here.  They grow potatoes, mustard, wheat (for export because they do not eat bread) and other crops. Each villager has fields that he works and then he helps his fellow villagers work theirs. The men do the planting but the women then tend the fields while the men make bamboo baskets to take to market. As we walked we saw scenes that could be from another century., The people smiled and greeted us, as they slowly worked in the baking sun.

                                                                Pa-O woman

Our lunch the first day was taken in a small home belonging to a local man and his daughter. Our chef started chopping vegetables, garlic and shallots, and then when his fire was ready he cooked gourmet Shan food. We sat on the floor and devoured the feast. I wondered where all the food had been hidden when we were walking. Our guide told us that they had stopped at the market earlier and bought basic necessities. This was repeated at supper and again for lunch the next day. It was simple Shan food that tasted like 5 star restaurant fare. All washed down with green tea.
We spent the night in a monastery, where in a large room curtains were hung for our privacy and mats spread on the floor. The 15 novices were spread out on mats throughout the room, as were our porters and guide. The monk was off on monastery business so the novices ages 8 to 14, were on their own until a local village man came to settle them for the night. We could hear them giggling and whispering before falling asleep. Our guid tolde us that this would not be their routine if the monk were there. So « when the monk is away, the novices do play ».
The funniest part was when the resident cat caught a huge mouse. The boys were very excited, and ran around and under the Buddha image in his shrinei, chasing the cat. These boys from the mountain villages live at the monastery where they get an education. They are far from their families for very long times. This seems to be common in Myanmar. The boys were like any other children of that age, despite the rigors of their monastic life.

No comments:

Post a Comment