Travel Sector Updates

JOURNEY TO THE NORTHWEST: UPCOUNTRY ROAD TRIP CAR RALLY IN SAGAING REGION Day - 2

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Photo - Aung Phay Kyi Soe

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 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.

DAY-2
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.

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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 baskets.

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 till now.

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 limited period.

 
“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 K30,000.

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.

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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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