Friday, 20 September 2013

Kyaukme

In this excerpt from the book, we pick up an entry from our "Shan State" chapter. Following is the introduction to our the section on Kyaukme:
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Kyaukme is silently nestled in a natural bowl formed between the hovering Shan Hills, and is filled with lush green forests, meadows, and small farms. Although Kyaukme is translated to mean “black stone” and refers to less-than-honest merchants, the town today has some opportunities available for Buddhist practitioners. Dhamma students will immediately appreciate the many surrounding hillsides covered in monastery and pagoda spires, many of which have steep covered stairways that yogis may ascend. It is also a very quiet place where one can spend some time in peaceful practice, and locals may be keen to support your practice and share their own traditions. Unfortunately, it does have a higher rate of malaria compared with other Shan towns, and it can get hot here as well.

Kyaukme is deservedly famous for its green tea, which is grown at the small villages and farms that surround the town. The raw goods are then exported to the lowland markets and then distributed across the country. Staying at Kyaukme monasteries will afford you the opportunity to taste authentic green tea, dried tea leaves, and pickled tea salad. The traditional warehouses (known as "Pwe-Yone" in Burmese) house machines and green tea packages, and one can see how the tea is produced from its raw state. The food found in Kyaukme is a blend of Bamar, Shan, Palaung, and Chinese cooking. Most homes are simple, and those in the countryside are one-room wooden buildings with a center hearth used for food preparation, heat, and hot water.

Historically the town has long been a trading center for various peoples living throughout the Shan Hills, especially the Palaung. Their women are easily identifiable by the large hoops worn around their waist, said to protect the from wild animals. Like most other Shan towns it wasn’t spared conflict during World War II, with the British and Chinese forces driving out the Japanese in 1945. Today its growing Chinese influence can be especially seen in its market, where the Chinese quarter takes up about half the space. If you go here, make sure to see the stalls selling bamboo paper and eat some authentic Chinese fare or try some of the famous Kyaukme spicy vegetable dishes, or alternatively check out Thiri Pyit Saya for Shan noodles.

These days the town is starting to develop a reputation as an alternative trekking site to those around Kalaw and Hsipaw, with many routes going through Palaung villages and featuring overnights at monasteries as well as monastic school visits (Ko Moe Set is one tour guide who has come recommended). Some treks may lead you past a spot known locally as “Lonely Tree,” a landmark of sorts in which the tree branches seem to hark over the rest of the landscape. It was here that local monk requested that his remains be enshrined following his death, making the spot a sacred place and a good place for some meditation. Trekking will also give you an opportunity to walk through the many tea plantations that villagers in Northern Shan State depend on for their livelihood.

Kyaukme may be reached by bus fairly easily, and you may also consider private motorcycles or taxis, and even train. Once you reach Kyaukme, it’s convenient to get around town by motorboke or Tuk-Tuk, and these can also be used for exploring nearby towns as well.

The Shan Hills