Posts Tagged ‘Pindaya’

Making traditional products by hand, often without the aid of electricity, is still part of many people’s daily lives in Burma / Myanmar. Different areas are known for different products and one of the experiences we most enjoyed on this journey, was visiting families who hand make products such as paper, umbrellas, material, ironware, pottery, lacquerware, embroidery and wooden products.

Pindaya is well known for the making of paper from mulberry bark, for making umbrellas and parasols and for weaving bamboo hats – all of which are used in daily life by Pindaya folk and local farmers as well as being sent to other town markets for sale. Sales to tourists are growing.

Street in Pindaya (P1100190 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

The family we visited in Pindaya are farmers who supplement their income by making paper and paper based parasols and umbrellas. Their  home and workshop is in the shade of some the very old trees at the foot of the ridge and the 8,000 Buddha cave. The small brick house is typical of this town.

Looking up the street (P1100187 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

Dirt roads are the norm; motor bikes the most common form of town transport (1 to 3 passengers); and tourists arriving on a big coach are still worth a look by the small boy from the house opposite.

The paper maker’s workshop (P1020383 © DY of jtdytravels )

The family’s workshop and small warehouse/shop was no more than a concrete platform in front of their house. Here some newly made paper is drying in the sun. The lady is wearing traditional longyi and shirt. The chairs are another hand made product (from another village probably) made of bamboo and wood. They are a very commonly used type of chair in villages. There are no department stores here.

A finished piece of wrapping paper (P1100133 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

Fine, flower-strewn paper like this is used for wrapping paper in city shops as well as for making fans, lamp shades and decorations used in homes, hotels and restaurants all over the country.

The first process in the paper making is to strip the bark from young branches of the Paper Mulberry, Morus papyrifera, a tree native to eastern Asia. It grows to 15 metres, is a rapid grower and is really rather a weed, so it’s a resource that regenerates quickly.  The bark is composed of very strong fibres and makes high-quality paper that is generally tougher than ordinary paper made from wood pulp.

Pounding the bark to pulp (P1100131 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

The bark is first soaked for a day or so and then boiled for about eight hours. Then the bark needs to be sorted for variations of hue and roughness. The most delicate and regular-hued segments are chosen for paper, while rougher and darker segments are destined for rope or thicker boards and paper such as that used for the umbrellas. Then the process of pounding the fibres to a pulp begins.

The fibres are folded as they are pounded  (P1100137 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

Mashing the boiled fibres is a long process of rhythmically pounding with two mallets. I watched in amazement as this girl pounded away, sitting on a very uncomfortable looking small wooden block. I remembered my own paper making efforts years ago – as a hobby only. I boiled the pulp in a pot on an gas stove and I mashed it in a blender! As I watched this girl pound and fold and pound again on the wooden block, I wondered if she would get RSI in those wrists from pounding with those heavy mallets. There’d be no compensation for her here!

Separating the fibres in water (P1130067 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

 When the pulp is soft enough, it’s rubbed into a small bowl of water and swished to mix.

Adding the pulp to the screen (P1130068  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

A rectangular wooden frame with a stretched cotton base is placed into a bath of water. When the pulp in the bowl is liquid enough, it’s carefully poured into the water.

The pulp is evenly spread (P1130069  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

A good swishing spreads the pulp evenly in the water across the cotton base.

Decorations are added (P1130071  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

After the pulp has settled, petals and leaves are added to decorate the paper. These were bougainvillea petals but sometimes dendrobium orchid petals are used – whatever is available locally and in season.

Lifting the frame from the water bath (P1130063  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

After a minute or two of settling, the frame is lifted from the water bath and put into the sun to dry.

The finished paper is then very carefully prised from the cotton backing.

Only human effort and renewable, local resources have been used.

This is a family that treads lightly upon the earth.

Paper umbrellas ready for market (P1100163  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

Next, the family showed us how they make paper umbrellas and parasols… the change of tasks was a welcome break for them. The umbrellas they make are used to protect from both sun and rain. For the farmers, especially, the umbrellas are lacquered to make them shower proof.

Various wooden parts of an umbrella (P1100179  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

A variety of wooden pieces are required to make an umbrella like this. The man of the house, an old friend of Sunshines, makes these  on a very simple equipment. The girls put the pieces together, add the paper covering, paint the paper, add lacquer to rain umbrellas and add decorations to shade parasols.

The simple lathe used to make handles (P1130064  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

A very simple lathe made from pieces of wood has been in use for many years in this family business. There’s no need to look for the next model on the market! Repairs are made as needed right here.

Foot power turns the lathe (P1130065 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

No electricity is used, no pollution – foot power alone pumps the rope that drives the lathe.

Piecing the wooden frame together (P1100165 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

Toes are a useful tool to hold the bits when piecing together the fine wooden spokes of the frame.

Finished rib sections (P1020397 ©  DY of jtdytravels )

Each part of these rib sections are made by hand and put together by hand – and toes.

Glueing on the first layer of paper (P1100168 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

The first layer of paper is pasted onto the spokes. The smaller spokes will slide in the slots of the larger spokes. Nothing is precision made by machine – here, it’s years of practice makes perfect. For parasols, only two layers of paper are added. For the umbrellas regularly used by farmers in the fields, or anyone wanting an umbrella to shelter them from rain, five or more layers of thicker paper are added. The paper on those umbrellas is then lacquered to make them shower proof.

A completed umbrella (P1100173 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

The final product. These come in all sizes from tiny parasols used for table decoration, to every day umbrellas used by just about everyone, to very large ones used for garden umbrellas.

A very large garden umbrella (P1020398 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

The very large garden umbrellas are much more complicated in their structure and piecing together – but still all by hand.

Bamboo pole for garden umbrellas  (P1020395 ©  DY of jtdytravels )

The poles for these larger umbrellas are made from bamboo – a hollow product that’s lightweight but strong.

Wood turned umbrella tips  (P1020396  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

The tips of the umbrellas are also turned from wood on the lathe and the tops covered by another layer of paper. Labour intensive!  The little shop sold a variety of goods made from their hand made paper. We just had time to enjoy looking at the goods they make and buy a few items before it was time to get back onto the bus. Because of the strict customs rules in Australia, I only bought a couple of small items – a fan and a book. When we arrived home, I showed them to customs officers and was given the all clear to keep them because the bark had been boiled and the paper contained no seeds. So when I go back……..

My paper fan (P1130086 © JT of jtdytravels)

I shall enjoy using my Burmese fan on a hot summer day in Canberra.

My hand made paper book (P1130088 © Jt of jtdytravels)

I also bought a small book made up of a variety of papers made by this family – a great souveneir.

The bus awaited and We still had a long way to go before we reached our destination, Inle Lake.

We’ll share some photos of that drive through some of Shan State in the next journal entry.

Jennie and David

Photography © JT and DY of jtdytravels

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There are some things we experience on our travels that somewhat mystify us and, for me, a cave high on a ridge above Pindaya was one of those.  Every nook and cranny of this cave’s cavernous spaces and of its many tiny joining tunnels are adorned with over 8,000 statues and images of Buddha – huge, large, small and tiny; wood, plaster,brick, metal and marble; painted, carved and golden.  I don’t begin to understand it, although it’s obviously a place of great importance to Buddhists from all over the world.

The road to the cave winds and twists its way up to the high ridge above Pindaya and ends at a car park still some way from the cave entrance. Luckily for us,our driver took us even a little further up to deposit us right in front of a huge spider. Was I seeing things?  Had we come to a form of Disneyland in Burma? Not really.

The Spider ! (P1100104 © JT of jtdytravels)

Although the spider is a fairly recent touristy addition to this place of pilgrimage, it actually represents an ancient legend associated with Pindaya. The story is as long as a good storyteller, like our Sunshine, wants to make it. I have read and heard about six versions, each with its own embellishments to suit the mood of the moment for the teller and time available for the reader / listener.

Pindaya and its lake far below the cave (P1100092 © JT of jtdytravels)

Essentially, the legend tells of seven fairy princesses who enjoyed coming to the lake below the cave to bathe. One night, the evening drew in before they could fly home to their kingdom. They had just time to fly up to the cave and take refuge there. While they slept, a huge spider covered the entrance to the cave with a strong web. He had his meals ready for days to come! In the morning, when they discovered their plight, the princesses did what many young maidens do in legends and stories – they screamed. And what happens then? Enter the handsome prince!

The handsome prince! (P1100105 © JT of jtdytravels)

As in all good fairy stories the world over, a handsome prince just happened to be passing by. He heard the cries of the beautiful princesses and, of course, came to their rescue. As he killed the spider with his arrow, he cried out “Pint-ku Ya”, a cry that later evolved into Pindaya. (In Burmese, Pint-ku means a spider, and “ya” means “I have him”.) And we all know what happens next! The handsome prince chose one of the princesses as his bride and, with varying adjustments, according to whoever is telling the story, they lived ‘happily ever after’. It was great to hear a Burmese fairy story and even better to hear the much longer version that Sunshine told us, one his Grandmother had often told him.

Pindaya, is actually a Shan word meaning ‘wide plains’. As we stood on the entrance platform to the cave (added in 1925) and looked down over those plains, a fine misty rain added to the beauty of the view.

A group of golden stupas and pagodas (P1100022 © JT of jtdytravels)

From here we could see the very old trees and the golden pagodas and stupas that we had passed on our way up the hill.

Part of the covered stairway (P1100025 © JT of jtdytravels)

From the pagoda site far below, a long, covered stairway of several hundred steps leads up to the caves. That’s the way devout pilgrims, or perhaps very fit tourists, walk up this steep ridge.

More steps up from the car park (P1100027 © JT of jtdytravels)

Even from the place where the spider legend is commemorated (on the cliff in front of the white car), we were still about 100 meters below the cave entrance. Another covered staircase. More steps.

The glass elevator (P1100107 © JT of jtdytravels)

OR a glass elevator! Its a recent addition – one that we were pleased to see. That is, we were pleased until some of us got in, the door shut and the elevator refused to move! The power had gone off. Mains or generator, I don’t know. Power failure is a common occurrence in Burma and especially in country areas. They often don’t have mains power anyway. With a bit of encouragement, the door of the lift opened and we got out. The power came on again, and we gingerly stepped on board again. This time it moved upwards and we arrived on a landing bridge that lead to the cave entrance.

The golden stupa (P1020343 © DY of jtdytravels)

The cave is called Pindaya Shwe U Min Pagoda.  Just inside the entrance is a 75ft high stupa, thickly covered with gold leaf.  Because it is inside the cave, it’s not possible to stand back to look at it, so the photo is straight up.

The stupa’s spire (P1020370 © DY of jtdytravels)

The stupa’s spire rose high into the great cavern at the entrance to the cave’s labyrinth.  According to village history, this cave remained hidden and forgotten for years.  Some time during the 18th century, some locals gathering firewood on the cliff sides noticed a dark opening behind the thick vines.  On clearing them away, they were astonished to see into a deep cave, its walls adorned with some Buddha images.

Buddha images with inscriptions (P1100045 © JT of jtdytravels)

After that re discovery, the place immediately became a famous pilgrimage site and additional images were donated, as early inscriptions inside the cave testify.  Even now, statues are added by Buddhists, rich and poor and from many parts of the world. Many have the names of the donor added.

Chart at cave entrance (P1100038 © JT of jtdytravels)

While we waited for others to come up in the lift, we read some charts that attempt to explain some of the Buddhist concepts of life, death and reincarnation, a major concept of their belief structure. It is believed that what and / or who we are reincarnated as depends largely on how we live our lives here and now. I do not begin to understand this belief, but one chart listed the “Causes of Ripening in Hell” – hindrances to getting to that state of Nirvana that Buddhists strive to reach. It was a little like a Buddhist version of the  Biblical “Ten Commandments”.

A myriad Buddhas (P1020367 © JT of jtdytravels)

The rest of the group arrived and it was time to climb up a few more steps into the cave that extends inwards for about 490 feet along a series of well-worn paths. Every inch is lined with 8,000 plus images of Buddha. Everywhere you looked there were images. It was fascinating but all a bit overwhelming.

Another group of images (P1100058 © JT of jtdytravels)

Some of the older statues and images in the cave have inscriptions dating to the late 18th century; the earliest one dates from 1773. There may be some images that have no inscriptions that are older, but based on the style elements, it’s believed that none of them is older than 1750.

Very ornate ears! (P1020340 © JT of jtdytravels)

The collection provides an impressive display of Buddhist art and iconography from the 1750’s to today. Many of the Buddhas show the style of Mandalay craftsmen. Others show the vastly different style of Shan artisans.

A ‘Healing’ or Bithetkaguru image   (P1100064 © JT of jtdytravels)

The images also have various poses of hands and feet, each of which has a different meaning. The one above is known as a ‘Healing’ or Bithetkaguru image. In this one, the left hand is upturned on the lap of the crossed legs. On it rests a small covered bowl, believed to symbolize a container of blessed water. The right hand hangs over the right knee with the palm turned outwards.

The thumb and forefinger of that hand hold a small round fruit Hpan Khar, (Terminalia chebula), a plant known in English as Myrobalan. According to old medicinal texts, this astringent fruit is often used in traditional medicine and is good for burns and sore eyes. It’s also believed to promote long life if taken once a week with milk. The covered pot and medicinal fruit in combination symbolizes health, longevity, regeneration of cells, flourishing and growth. The ill and elderly often pray at such images in the hope of better health and longer life.

A large smiling Buddha (P1100047 © JT of jtdytravels)

The expressions on the faces were different, too. I wondered what thoughts made this Buddha smile! He had much decorated ears too, so may be the donor of this Buddha was a thankful, happy person.

A wall of tiny Buddhas (P1100069 © JT of jtdytravels)

Maybe these tiny images were the gift of poorer people.

A female Buddha image! (P1100073 © JT of jtdytravels)

David had gone on with a small group to explore ever more dark tunnels and paths. I turned back to try to just take in what I was seeing.  At the very end of one path, I found this female Buddha image. I was pleased but astonished by my find. The golden decoration was beautiful and very intricate.

A painted, carved wooden image (P1100081 © JT of jtdytravels)

I was also surprised to see some small, painted, wooden images. They appeared to be very old.

Another painted image. (P1100083 © JT of jtdytravels)

Another small, carved, painted image appeared to be female, dressed in a longy. In the dark of the cave, these images were easy to miss and I had to take a flash photo to see the colours properly.

Another female image (P1100080 © JT of jtdytravels)

I found yet another of these small female, wooden, carved images close to the entrance of the cave. It made me wonder if these were perhaps some of the original images found by the wood gatherers long ago in the 18th century. But that is something I did not have time to find out. The cave was about to be closed for the night and we still had to face that ride down in the not so reliable lift before we walked down the steps back to the proper car park – all before it got too dark to see. In the tropics, night falls quickly and it was almost 6.00pm. It had been a long day and we were glad to get back to our hotel.

We both thought we’d seen enough Buddha images for awhile – as you, my readers, must have done also. I was somewhat relieved to learn that for the next few days, we would be immersed in real life with real people as we travelled back through the countryside and ventured out onto Inle Lake. We’ll share that with you in coming journal entries.

Jennie and David

Photography © JT and DY of jtdytravels


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Leaving Yangon behind, we looked forward to experiencing some of the Shan State countryside, a very different experience from a large, busy city. It was quite exciting to look down and see our first farms.

First view of Shan State countryside (P1020257 © DY of jtdytravels)

These small farms and ploughed fields looked good to us after the big city.

Farms and a village near Heho (P1020261 © DY of jtdytravels)

As we flew lower towards Heho, the patchwork of farms became more obvious and it was also obvious how farms are set up around small villages. There are no houses on farms. Farmers live in communities.

Monastery and Pagodas in the fields   (P1020266 © DY of jtdytravels)

A large monastery complex below reminded us just how important Buddhism is throughout the country.

Regional map of Burma / Myanmar

Now that we have landed in Heho and are waiting for our bags, it’s probably a good time to have a look at a map of this large, stretched out country and realise just what a small part of it we were actually able to visit.  The country covers an area of 677,000 square kms (261,228 square miles). At its widest point it’s 936 kms (581 miles) from east to west and at its longest, 2,051 kms (1,275 miles) from north to south. To the north, east and west there are mountain ranges that form a giant ‘horseshoe’ around the flat lands of the Chindwin, Ayeyarwaddy and Sittaung River valleys. It’s in those fertile valleys of agricultural land that most of the population is concentrated.

Our total journey of fourteen days took us first to Yangon; then a flight to Heho (near Taunggyi in the blue coloured Shan State) where we explored 47 kms north west to Pindaya (not marked) and 36 miles south to Inle Lake;  another flight took us to Mandalay (at the top of the buff coloured state) followed by an 80km cruise down the river to Bagan and back again.  That’s a very small part of a big country; there is so much more to explore. But most of this fascinating country is still not open to tourists, partly because of ethnic problems in various districts but mainly because of the state of roads and the lack of suitable tourist hotels and eating places.

So,for now, let’s enjoy what we were able to see and experience – and what we did see, we really enjoyed.

Google road map to Pindaya from Heho

When we plan a road journey in Australia, and in many other countries, we tend to check out Google maps and have some faith in the times given for the length of a journey. That is not a good idea here. The journey length to Pindaya from Heho airport is 47 kms. The time Google gives is 44 minutes! NOT SO! 120 minutes is closer to the mark… and that’s without stopping along the way to take photos of farming activities, or visit a toilet, or have a snack, or visit a market. We did none of those things as we were already late for lunch in Pindaya.

The following photos were taken from the bus as we bounced our way over a rutted, narrow dirt road. As David had the window seat, they are mostly his photos with a few of mine taken through the front window. So, settle in and enjoy the scenery, places and people we saw along the way.

A Eucalyptus plantation! (P1020274 © DY of jtdytravels)

Amazingly, one of the first things we saw, was a plantation of Eucalyptus. Is there anywhere in the world that doesn’t have the good old Australian gum tree somewhere in its landscape? A reminder of home!

Women with their hoes in the fields (P1020291  © DY of jtdytravels)

Women work together to hoe and weed the fields. It’s a real community effort, and, I would guess, a sociable way to get the work done.

We think they were heading back to their village  (P1020295  © DY of jtdytravels)

It’s likely that these women had finished their hoeing for the day and were heading on the long walk back to their village to have lunch and do jobs at home. It’s best to work in the morning in this hot humid climate.

Others rested from their work. (P1020302  © DY of jtdytravels)

Umbrellas are a very important part of a farmer’s kit here – both for shade and for rain. These are lacquered to make them shower proof. We would visit the local umbrella makers next day to watch how they are made.

Water buffalo and farmer – a good team  (P1020307  © DY of jtdytravels)

Farmers here use water buffalo and oxen to do much of the work on the farm. Each farmer and his animal become a team, good mates that rely on each other. The animals are well cared for and, we were told, farmers rarely eat beef because of this special relationship.  The farmer’s umbrella stands at the ready in the field!

The soil looks extremely rich and fertile. (P1020311  © DY of jtdytravels)

A variety of crops are grown in the area but the most productive here are cabbages and cauliflowers.

Carts and baskets are much used by farmers. (P1020304  © DY of jtdytravels)

We had arrived at harvest time for both cauliflowers and cabbages. We saw the farmers working together to harvest the crops. The bamboo baskets are filled and then transferred to a wooden wheeled cart. This one is waiting for another load.

A cart load waiting at the pick-up point (P1090980  © DY of jtdytravels)

When full,  the cart is hitched to an oxen and taken to one of the various pick up points along the road. There, the farmers await a truck which comes along to collect all of the vegetables to take the crop to market.

Loading a truck with cabbages (P1020310  © DY of jtdytravels)

Each village group of farmers who work together decide on the price they want for the crop. That’s the price they ask of the ‘middle man’ on the truck and, if he agrees, the crop is loaded onto the trucks to be taken to the markets in the bigger towns and cities. It seems to be a fair system.

Taking a breather after a hard day’s work! (P1020312  © DY of jtdytravels)

After emptying the carts, the farmer’s can take a bit of a breather. But there are lots more vegetables to pick!

Our lunch restaurant (P1090992  © JT of jtdytravels)

Finally we arrived at the delightfully rustic ‘Green Tea Restaurant’ beside the lake in the village of Pindaya.  We felt sure that cabbage and / or cauliflower would feature on the menu!  But, it seems, the locals are so sick of the sight of this two vegetables by the end of a day of harvest, that they gladly send them all off to market!  I was glad, too. They are not my favourites!  

And then the rain came tumbling down (P1100001 © JT of jtdytravels)

The food, our first delicious Shan meal, and the setting, on the verandah beside a lovely lake, were perfect – until the heavens opened and heavy rain began to fall. The verandah is not quite the place to be in rain. Fortunately, there were plenty of other tables to move to.

We hoped the farm ladies had made it home before they had a drenching. Not even good umbrellas would keep one dry in this tropical downpour. As with most such downpours in the tropics, it didn’t last long.

The view across the lake   (P1100006  © JT of jtdytravels)

As the rain lifted, we could once more see the view of golden stupas and pagodas across the other side of the lake from the restaurant. Our hotel was over there somewhere too. It was time to be reunited with our bags!

Our cottage at the rustic Inle Inn Hotel   (P1100018  © JT of jtdytravels)

We had been warned that our accommodation in Pindaya would be ‘comfortable but far from elaborate’. To us, the Inle Inn Hotel was delightful. We ‘d been travelling through a gentle time warp all day and this was more than we had expected. I’m sure the farmers didn’t have such comforts as we had. Many of them didn’t even have electricity let alone hot and cold running water, showers, and a comfy bed – and a flower garden at the door. We were astonished when we heard some of our group grumbling about the rooms. Where were we?  Why travel to such destinations if you expect the same luxuries you may have at home?

Our large, rustic bedroom (P1100017  © JT of jtdytravels)

This was our bedroom – larger than some farmer’s cottages!  It was lined with teak and traditional bamboo weavings and the decoration was a piece of local weaving hung over a hand carved railing. Real Burma.

A hand crafted marionette wall hanging  (P1100016  © JT of jtdytravels)

Marionette puppets are a favourite with Burmese people and are often used as room decorations.

The bed looked inviting for a bit of a ‘nana nap’  after a long day of travelling; and David had booked in for a massage; but we hadn’t finished our exploring just yet. The rain was clearing and time was getting away on us to fit in a visit to the famous Pindaya Caves, home to over 8,000 Buddhas. So we ventured back out to walk through the garden and back to the waiting bus.

Down the garden path  (P1100110  © JT of jtdytravels)

Frangipani line the garden path along with many plants familiar to those who live in the tropics.

Pink Crucifix Orchid; Epidendrum sp.  (P1020377 © DY of jtdytravels)

After the rain, there were drops of water to enhance the flowers like this lovely orchid.

Crown of Thorns; Euphorbia milii cultivar   (P1100121  © JT of jtdytravels)

A beautiful flower but with rather nasty spines along the stem.

Lovely red Anthurium (P1100127  © JT of jtdytravels)


Another dash of red; Hibiscus (P1100119  © JT of jtdytravels)


Satellite dishes in the garden (P1100114 © JT of jtdytravels)

And for those who could not possibly do without their fix of TV every day, there was even satellite coverage!  To me that was pretty amazing, not that we even turned our TV on. There was too much else to do!

Hand painted hotel sign (P1100128

While we waited for the bus to take us on the short trip up a steep hill to the Pindaya Caves, we noticed the hotel sign – not done with a stencil, but each one hand painted. This graphic design represented the famous boat rowers on Inle Lake  – we’d see them in reality next day. But now, we were off to the caves and I’ll write about that amazing experience in our next journal entry.

Jennie and David

Photography  © DY and JT of jtdytravels


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