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 commenced on January 20 in Sagaing, upcountry in 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 is covering the road trip.
The rally team got up in the following morning and
was busy with folding the tents, washing faces, and brushing teeth. We gained
fresh experience spending overnight in the area where we have not been.
At 7am, a breakfast prepared by villagers of Zin
Village was ready at the same place we had dinner last night.
The breakfast was
local food: kaukhnyin ngachaikpaung (purplish black variety of steamed glutinous
rice); kaukhnyin kyitauk (sticky rice cooked in a green bamboo tube); bayarkyaw (fritter made of split yellow peas); pekyaw
(fried glutinous rice dough with peas); tohukyaw ( fried bean curd); and ngachaukhtaungkyaw (fried pounded dried fish) to go with tea.
The locals looked very happy to serve and host the
visitors who came to their region and arranged for them believing that if the
Bat Cave becomes a tourist destination, it will helpful to development of their
region. I asked them when they had prepared the breakfast and one of the local
villagers replied they had been preparing it since 5am. The Sagaing Region
Chief Minister would like the Bat Cave area to become an ecotourism site.
The rally participants heartily had the breakfast
and then had souvenir photos taken in the vicinity of Bat Cave and group photos
by a lake holding the vinyl banner “Journey to the North-West” Rally
Sagaing/MHTTR 2018” in front of the cars.
“We will try to make this area become an ecotourism
site not being harmful to natural world of the region. This car rally will draw
the attention of the people to come and study our natural forests and
mountains,” said U Khin Maung Win, director of Sagaing Region Forest
Department, regarding the regional tourism development plan.
At 9:30am, the motorcade left the Bat Cave along
Shwebo-Myitkyina Highway Road for Tagondaing Buddhist Monastery in Indaw
Township, Katha District. The road is an easy-to-drive paved one, and the rally
cars stopped for about 30 minutes at a bridge across Meza River on the road. According
to a local official, Meza Village where Letwethondra Amat,minister who was
exiled to Meza jungle in the days of King Hsinphyushin of Kongbaung Dynasty
Era, is located some 15 miles west of the bridge. After about three hours drive, there was a
junction with an earth road and taking the road for about 20 minutes, the team
arrived at Tagondaing Village receiving warm hospitality from the villagers
with some desserts and tea.
At Tagondaing Monastery, U Vilasetkha, presiding Buddhist
monk, took the team on a tour of the monastery showing them his collection of
antiques: colonial-era-designed lanterns, a camera, currency notes, newspapers,
British military-type binoculars, and Yadanabon era artist Saya Kha’s work, and
others. He also showed them a 100-year-old woodcut boat made from one timber
log. The boat is 57 feet in length and 5.5 feet in width and drew much
attention of the visitors. At about 1pm, the cars headed for Manle Monastery
located two miles away from the village. It took about seven hours to reach
Manle Monastery from the start point, Sagaing.
On arrival at the Manle Monastery where the rally
stopped for lunch, we were greeted by locals with a huge welcoming event of
music and dance. Local girls showed their traditional style of making bamboo
The rally team ate lunch heartily which contained
main dishes of pork, steamed fish, chicken with ash-pumpkin in kalatharchet style (hot chicken prepared
with readily available ingredients) and some side dishes of fried vegetables.
The chicken dish was a favorite among the rally mates.
The lunch was followed by a monastery presentation
of an 83-year-old man who witnessed Second Manle Sayadaw who resided at the monastery
during the colonial era. Despite being in old age, his thorough presentation
about the historical heritage kept at the monastery was interesting. He did not
hesitate to reply to questions raised by the rally participants. Among the contents
of the presentation were some important items of Yadanabon Palace brought by
the then Chief Minister U Kaung when King Thibaw in Yandanabon era was taken by
the British colonists; Agga Maha Pandita Buddhist title conferred by
Governor-General of India to Manle Sayadaw in the era of King George V of
England; original works by the then royal artist Saya Chon; and a bronze bell
cast at the same year King Thibaw was born; and notes written on tender
palm-leaves of 63 thesis books compiled by the Sayadaw. It was a nice
presentation, and we really appreciated that the locals have preserved them
The old presenter said, ”We have kept them in an unbroken
line of ancestry for over 200 years. There were no bomb shells or machine gun
bullets falling on this place in the Second World War days.”
At the monastery, the rally participants had a
chance to pay respects to the gold gilded corpse of Manle Sayadaw. It was lucky
for us since the building which houses the Sayadaw’s corpse is open for a
“Even though it has been nearly 100 years since the
death of the Sayadaw, we do not see the bond and skin in the corpse are stick
together,” said the old man U Ni who added that the plan to commemorate the 100th
death anniversary of Sayadaw is underway.
If you like to visit the area where Manle Monastery
has the heritage items to study, you have to go first to Mandalay where busses
going daily to Indaw in Sagaing are available at the fare of K8000 per head.
The access by train is also available for K1200-2000 per head. Indaw has some
guesthouses available for K5,000 to K25,000 per room. The other way to get to
Manle Monastery from Mandalay is via Katha: traveling first to Katha by car and
then taking motorbikes or taxis to the monastery.
Afterwards, the rally cars proceeded to a village in
Katha Township called Metlaungchaung Village to study handiwork businesses. Located
eight miles away from Katha, on arrival at the village in the afternoon, the
rally team was welcomed by locals who performed traditional dances.
Most of villagers of Metlaungchaung are of Shan
ethnicity and their main income comes from making bamboo baskets. According to
U Kyaw Swa Min, the villagers are worried about deforestation of bamboo around
their village and are trying to plant bamboo. There is a plan to establish the
village as a CBT site to attract travellers when foreigners are allowed to
travel there since it is an easy-to-reach place.
U Win Tin a.k.a U Chetry, a rally driver who also
runs some ecotourism sites in Myanmar, gave his remark on the village saying
that it is in a suitable location for a CBT site.
At 5:45pm, the rally cars got to Katha for an
overnight stop at Sein Hotel. Hotel room rates in Katha range from K25,000 to
According to the stats from Sagaing Region Hotels
and Tourism Department in Monywa, Katha has four hotels with a total of 95
rooms. The towns of Katha and Banmauk are currently on the list of restricted
areas for foreign travellers. Katha is in the extreme north of Sagaing Region at
the altitude of 2,950 feet above the sea leve. At this time of the year, the
weather is 28°C at the warmest and 12°C
at the coldest. Katha received 2,778 local travellers and 144 foreigners in 2016.