A warm welcome in a cold, distant village

Pindaya Travel Blog

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Fresh fish on the Kalaw 5 day market.

We get up at six thirty and one of the first things on Trudy’s mind is: I hope we are not having toast for breakfast. I’m not that keen on toast anymore either, imagine our faces when we find out that we will be having pancakes with jam or sugar today! We mustn’t saunter, because of the cold in the restaurant goes cold very quickly.

In every village in this region there’s a big market once in every five days, and we’re in luck, today it is Kalaws’ turn. Immediately after breakfast we set off. At first we walk to the central market, but nothing has changed here since yesterday. We figure this is not the market meant by Aart-Jan and we’ll probably have to march a little bit further to the edge of the village.

Mother and child having breakfast on the Kalaw 5 day market.
This way we do indeed get to the “five-day-market”. On this market virtually nothing but edibles are sold, from fresh fish to cigars via vegetables back to dried fish again, and all of it looks mighty good. The fish is being gutted at the spot and because of the cold it doesn’t smell at all. It’s a colourful scene where mothers feed there children in between transactions, while men carry there cargo from trucks to stalls. We see a military jeep with someone supposedly important in it, blocking the haulers way, telling them to give way to the bigshot in his jeep. Those men are carrying sacks of more than fifty kilograms on their backs! And they just do as they’re told. A sad situation, but what can you do? The locals don’t even seem to notice it and the women selling their goods go on chattering and having a good time as if nothing has happened. We don’t feel like leaving the market, I like being on these markets, especially because there are as good as no tourists.
Fuelling up for the trip to Pindaya.

We get back to the bus exactly on the agreed time, but everybody is already on the bus and ready to go.

We leave immediately and we are exactly on schedule, but just outside the village we have a tiny  delay. Our bus needs diesel fuel. The petrol stations are, to say the least, special in Myanmar. They’re not much more than a rack with drums of fuel standing in the sunshine, waiting for thirsty vehicles. The drums are emptied into a drum that has a hose with a nozzle attached to it, that is put into the fuel tank. Fuelling up, Burma style.

The scenery during the drive is beautiful, but I can’t help dozing off every now and then.

The entrance of The Golden Cave can be seen in the distance.
Trudy has been sleeping for quite some time when I finally give in to the Sandman.

It is 10.30 am when we see the first of Pindaya. After check-in the enthousiasts among us start the two day trek without lingering. The ones that don’t feel like walking in the mountains, stay behind and spend their time in the village. It’s very warm and pretty soon we face some steep climbs. Anne, who doesn’t feel too well today, isn’t up to the challenge and turns back. The scenery changes every time we take a turn. We walk by a little lake where a group of people are working, it looks like they are washing or rinsing some kind of fibre, but I can’t exactly tell what it is.

Quickly our group falls apart, due to the differing speeds of walking.

These people are washing "something" in a small lake in the mountains near Pindaya.
Trudy and I take our time, trying to see as much of the surroundings as possible, not constantly staring at the floor in order not to fall while stampeding up the mountain. Before lunch three short stops are planned to regroup, so why hurry?

The track surface changes from clay to rocky, not making walking any easier. We see lots of butterflies and quite some coffee and tea fields, that are mostly on the steeper slopes. We regroup for the last time before lunch near a construction site. The way of building is old fashioned, but then again; try getting heavy machinery up the mountain... I can’t tell what is being built here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s going to be another temple of some sort.

Lunch is at a fourty minute walk from here.

We see lots of butterflies on our trek in the mountains near Pindaya.
First we rest for a little while on the terrace that is partially in the sun, while the other half has nice cool shade. I opt for the latter, a tan is fine, but lobster-red is not my favourite colour. After a while we are invited in the house, shoes off of course. On the top floor of the house we sit on the floor, while our guides and carriers prepare and serve the food. Part of the meal is the best tofu I have ever tasted. The meal is followed by another short session of lazing about on the terrace, before we kick our already stiffening muscles into action again.

We meander through the mountainous landscape and at about 3.30 pm the village where we will be spending the night lies in the distance. From this point it is still a 30 minute walk to until we reach the first houses. Situated high in the mountains as it is, the settlement hasn’t been spoiled by mass tourism, yet.

From here it is still a 30 minute walk to the village in the distance where we will be spending the night in a monastery.
The locals see us as the attraction, not the other way ‘round.

It’s a little after four when we see the abbot of the monastery (currently also the only monk, because the others have temporarily gone to other monasteries in the country) teaching some, likely, holy text to a number of small children who repeat the man’s words fanatically.

A few minutes later we are sipping tea, nibbling on a slice of cake, waiting for the abbot to meet us. Four thirty, the man walks in, solemn, but with a smile on his face. He doesn’t speak any English, but one of our guides serves as an interpreter.

After the audience everybody, except Trudy and myself, goes for a walk through the village, as a group.

The abbot is also the school teacher of the village.
Trudy and I are going to have a go at taking a primitive shower in a concrete shack that houses a concrete container filled with water. We can use a plastic bowl to throw the very cold water on one another. It’s freezing, but fun in a way. Our clothes, that we stored on the concrete wall of our luxurious bathroom, are slightly warmed by the sun that is about to go down behind the mountains. Nice.

Now it is our time to go for the village tour. Just the two of us, giving us a better chance of some interaction with the inhabitants, groups are intimidating. The children are having the time of their lives when we show them their pictures we have taken. We are next to one of the last houses of the village when, all of a sudden, Trudy gets invited in. Since I am together with her I have to come in as well. The house is no more than four thick bamboo mats put upright with a roof on them.

Fantastic children in the Palaung village in the mountains.
There are no windows, just a door and a gap in the facades underneath the roof to let the smoke out. We are welcome to warm ourselves near their fire, what a joy! We cannot understand a word the woman is saying, and her husband doesn’t speak any English either. Or Burmese for that matter. These people have their own dialect that is very different to the common Burmese, called Palaung. Soon the daughters arrive, completing the family. Smiles and gestures are the only means of communication, but they suffice. We are getting nice and warm now and the man of the house offers Trudy a small plastic bag filled with tea leaves. I give the man a bill of 500 Kyat in exchange, making the man smile from ear to ear inspite of his headache. Sudddenly a knife appears in one hand of the woman, an avocado in the other. The fruit is split in half and Trudy and I are being watched closely while eating. We are careful with the spoon we are given, because we don’t want to get ill, but of course our worries are unfounded.
In this ramshackle house we had one of the warmest welcomes ever.
The friendly people won’t let us leave until we have eaten three avocados and a number of lumps of palm sugar. It is all but dark when we leave, thanking the generous people elaborately. With a plastic bag with three avocados in it in hand, we try to make our way back to the monastery over rocky and sometimes steep tracks.

We see a luring camp fire in the distance, with dark figures sitting around it. Soon we are one of these figures, warming ourselves again while waiting for the diner call. Our guides and carriers have concocted another great meal for us, after which we gather around the camp fire once again. We are having a lot of fun, poking up the fire, listening to each others jokes and stories, when the guides turn up with a large (very thin) plastic bag with a tiny frame in the opening. The bag is held upside down over the camp fire, so that it fills with hot air.

This sky bodes a very cold night in the mountains.
A piece of bamboo covered in candle wax is then fastened on the frame and lit. The bag rises up into the air slowly but steadily, crying tears of candle wax that fall burning to the ground. It takes minutes before the flame goes out, and when it does the bag has risen so high, that all what’s left of it for the human eye is a yellow pin prick in the pitch black sky.

The temperature has dropped dramatically and a little past nine pm everyone agrees that it is time to hit the sack. Before ten o’clock everyone is lying fully dressed on one of the much too thin matrasses on the floor, covered by one of the much too short blankets. When lying on my back it is either my chest, from the stomach upwards, or my feet (including my ankles) that are uncovered, so this might turn out to be a very long night.

glennisnz says:
Great story, you were so lucky to be invited into their home, and wise to be careful about what you ate there. Everywhere you turn there is another adventure it sseems, this is the way we try to travel too. great pics too.
Posted on: Sep 10, 2008
YantiSoeparno says:
Thanks for sharing, the pictures tell the story themselves :D
Posted on: Aug 31, 2008
Quest says:
what a wonderful story... you're telling so well, I can imagine myself there. Thanks for sharing.. :o)
Posted on: Aug 31, 2008
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Fresh fish on the Kalaw 5 day mark…
Fresh fish on the Kalaw 5 day mar…
Mother and child having breakfast …
Mother and child having breakfast…
Fuelling up for the trip to Pinday…
Fuelling up for the trip to Pinda…
The entrance of The Golden Cave ca…
The entrance of The Golden Cave c…
These people are washing somethin…
These people are washing "somethi…
We see lots of butterflies on our …
We see lots of butterflies on our…
From here it is still a 30 minute …
From here it is still a 30 minute…
The abbot is also the school teach…
The abbot is also the school teac…
Fantastic children in the Palaung …
Fantastic children in the Palaung…
In this ramshackle house we had on…
In this ramshackle house we had o…
This sky bodes a very cold night i…
This sky bodes a very cold night …
Warming ourselves and having fun, …
Warming ourselves and having fun,…
Waiting for the abbot to arrive.
Waiting for the abbot to arrive.
Who said abbots dont have a sense…
Who said abbots don't have a sens…
On our walk through the village we…
On our walk through the village w…
Pindaya
photo by: TrudyNRonnie