Thursday, 29 August 2013

Dalla and Pyaw Bwe Gyi: Saya Thet Gyi's Center

For this Shwe Lan Ga Lay excerpt, we have included the introduction to the Dalla region, the gateway leading to the area south of Yangon across the river, and which leads eventually to Saya Thet Gy's village and meditation center further south.
“Halts are made at every village and the people swarm on board by the hundreds, and great is the haggling, noise, and confusion. It is curious to watch the manner in which this is kept up over every article purchased, until the last warning whistle drives the crowds ashore.” M.M. Shoemaker, Quaint Corners Of Ancient Empires (1899)

Getting to the sites listed below is half the fun, and as the journey takes you over Yangon River it also takes you closer to the rice fields of the low-lying regions of the Ayeyarwaddy Delta, close geographically but increasingly further in culture and tradition than Yangon. This is the river that a middle-aged Sayagyi U Ba Khin rowed across when escaping his government office to learn meditation under Saya Thet Gyi, which at the time would have been filled with ships and junks of all kind dealing in trade. B.M. Croker describes an amusing incident in The Road To Mandalay (1917) where a herd of 60 elephants are encouraged to swim the entire one mile between Rangoon and Dalla, and upon reaching the shore are promptly hoisted onto a ship at the pier one by one. Although it’s not clear if this is a true story, Dalla served as a repository for the Burmese rulers’ elephants, so it is certainly plausible. Long before this, however, Dalla was a place of great importance, and Dagon (the village that stands where Yangon is now built) was known for one thing only: its Golden Dagon (or Shwe Dagon) Pagoda. Although this was almost 1000 years ago, when Dalla was the principal town in the Delta and was located closer to what is modern day Twante. Even as late as the 16th century it was known, with Englishman Ralph Fitch noting that it “hath a faire Port into the Sea, from where goe many ship to Malacca, Mecca, and many others places,”

When looking to get out here, you can take the long and expensive way, which involves taking a vehicle from Yangon and driving far out of your way to cross the river at Hlaing Thar Yar bridge (and will take you a half day in total and cost as much as 100,000 kyat), or you can go the short and inexpensive way by ferry. To do this, go to Pansodan Boat Jetty. As you walk in the station, you’ll be directed towards the left side and into an office area, where you will be required to purchase your tickets with US dollars (or kyat if you don’t have them). The cost is $2 (or 2000 kyat) per person per way, and you might as well buy for the round trip. Make sure you bring a copy of  your passport when purchasing the ticket. The most you’ll have to wait for a ferry is a few minutes. When one pulls in it will be impossible to miss, as you’ll see a mass exodus of humanity on and off the wooden dock. Once on the boat, you can go to the upper deck, where you have a better view, and sit on one of the small plastic chairs for about 100 kyat. You’ll reach Dalla in ten minutes, but in many ways the ride feels more like 30 years or 300 miles. You’re now at the edge of the Ayeyarwaddy Delta, where the landscape has flattened out and the villages are more rural and poor. 

A Burmese man looks out on his boat across Yangon River, with Dalla stretching across the far shore