Mogok: A town famous for its rubies but hidden from travellers

Photo - Phyo Thiha

Located in a valley surrounded by mountains, Mogok looks like an upturned bamboo hat. A variety of ethic people live in this place known as Ruby Land – a name it earned as the world’s highest quality rubies can be found there. Mogok is a town representing the diversity of Myanmar where many different national races including Shan, Lisu, Kholon Lisu, Palaung, Ta’ang, Chin, Kachin, and Bamar and different religions of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam live collectively along with Chinese and Gurkha people. It is said that the origin of Mogok is a village named Thaphanpin (fig tree). According to the history of Mogok, in the days of Moemeik sawbwa (local prince or chieftan) Tho Han Phat, three Shan hunters saw birds like crows calling in group near a fig tree when they were going out on a hunt in the forest.

Here they found a stone as red as a piece of fresh meat. They presented the ruby to the sawbwa of the area where the ruby was found. Thus, it is said that Mogok originated at the site of a fig tree. By establishing ruby mines and the gradual expansion of human settlement, it has become what we know now as the town of Mogok.  Mogok residents recently celebrated the 800th anniversary of the establishment of the town. It was Sayadaw (head monk) U Thu Mingala who led and organized the festival to mark the anniversary with an aim to seek tourism opportunities through showing that Mogok is a diverse town of people with different lifestyles and religions as well as multiple natural attractions.

The full Myanmar calendar year of 1379 is marked as the 800th anniversary of establishment of Mogok. Locals cooperated to successfully hold the festival from March 29 to 31. During the festival, hotels and guest houses in the town were totally booked out with thousands of travellers who attended the festival. The organizing committee arranged for accommodation for local and foreign guests at additional locations such as schools and monasteries. For years, the Ruby Land’s economy has relied on gems and gem-related businesses. But as the extension of mine operation permits has been temporarily suspended by the government until the enactment of a new gems law, the present gems businesses and market in Mogok are not thriving as in the past. “Currently, business in the town is not going well. Therefore, Sayadaw (U Thu Mingala), would like to have Mogok developed as a travel destination and also to highlight that Mogok is a home to people of different religions for now and the future,” said Daw Khin Ohn Myint, secretary of the committee for organizing the 800th anniversary festival. The festivities and events included music shows, sports competitions, gems-cutting competition, religious and traditional occasions and regional development activities.Mogok is a point of interest for travellers not only for observing the ruby industry but also for the unique meditation method of Mogok Vipassana practiced by the Mogok Sayadaw. When travellers are in Mogok, they could go and observe gem mines and other elements of the ruby industry as well as visit the cave where the Sayadaw practices religious meditation. Other places of interest are Taungmetaung (Black Mountain) standing at 7,500ft, Kyaynitaung (Copper Mountain), Myomyintaung (Town-seeing Mountain), Htinrutaung (Pinewood Mountain), a viewpoint over the town, Padamyar Pagoda and two other significant pagodas. In Mogok, visitors can enjoy a variety of landscapes including forestry and mountains. They can also observe the culture and traditions of ethic people of different religions and their co-existence as well as their traditional cuisines. As Shan is the majority group among the ethnic groups in the town, most of the shops in Mogok sell Shan foods namely Shan noodles, tofu nway, sansi, Shan htaminchin, khawpoak, and jumyit kyaw. Distinguished from those foods is wettha chin: preserved pork which is fried or cooked with green chili and vegetable. There are a number of gem mines around the town. A traditional practice is still applied locally before starting operations of a gem mine  a devotional offering is made to nats (spirits) concerned before the start of operation of the mine. This practice is applied with the guidance of a religious chief who knows the regional traditions around Mogok. Mogok also has a gems market (called Htapwe in the local dialect) which may be of interest to travellers on business and leisure trips. Despite being famous locally and internationally, Mogok does not receive many travellers and foreign travellers can rarely be seen there because it is a restricted area. “The number of local travellers here is small. Foreigners are restricted to come here. Fewer traveller arrivals causes a bad effect on the economy of the town and therefore, we have to rely on gems for income. I believe that if more travellers come here, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses, the gems market and other businesses will become busy and successful again,’’ said a Mogok resident who has been living in Mogok for their whole life. The route to Mogok is quite an exciting experience with many curves and steep slopes on the route. It may even induce some nerves but you will feel relaxed when you see the beauty of Mogok below. Though many foreign travellers are interested in this well-known town and there is so much potential to help Mogok develop as a travel destination, foreigners are required to have permission to travel to the Ruby Land as it is on the list of restricted areas in Myanmar. It is learnt that most foreign travellers who visited Myanmar were not happy with the practice of applying for permission. Some locals are of the opinion that Mogok has such a small number of quality hotels because of these restrictions which cause a lack of demand. If the world-renowned town of Mogok is removed from the list of areas restricted to foreign travellers, it will be helpful to all-round development of the region and create wider business opportunities as well.

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Theingi Htun is a journalist who worked for two years at Yangon Times Journal and Flower News. She also worked for two years at Democracy Today News as Senior Journalist. She wrote many articles about culture, the travel sector and lifestyle stories too. Now she is working at My Magical Myanmar as a travel writer and social media executive."


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