Friday, 17 January 2014

Bus to Pyaw Bwe Gyi



This video shows a half minute of the one hour trip to Pyaw Bwe Gyi village. To read more about Day 2 of the Pariyatti yatra, read here! For more on current pilgrimages, see here.

"The ferry ride to Dalla consists of local passengers. We loved it: people crowd and push to get on (always with a friendly smile on their faces), pick up small plastic squat-chairs on board and sit in clusters with their family or friends. Women and babies are covered in Thanaka and on-board vendors carry their wares on their heads. It is quite a commotion to be held: squatting on the crowded ferry watching about 20 vendors call out what they’re selling and their asking price. On board you can buy fried prawn cakes, betel, watermelon, pineapple, cigarettes, personal care products, toys, key chains, and just about any other number of random bits and bobs." Western traveler

Located across the river from Yangon, the small town of Dalla has been around for almost 1,000 years, when it was first established as the principal town in the delta region (located closer to modern-day Twante). At that time, Dagon—the village that stands where the present-day, major city of Yangon now stands—was known for one thing only: its Golden Dagon (or Shwe Dagon) Pagoda. In the 16th century, the Englishman Ralph Fitch noted that Dalla “hath a faire Port into the Sea, from where goes many ship to Malacca, Mecca, and many others places.” There are many interesting places around Dalla for the yogi to appreciate. Going to Dalla takes one closer to the Delta region of the country, whose famed fertility led it to be known as the “Rice Bowl” after World War II. Opened in May 1883, the Twente Canal provided daily service between the Delta and Yangon, and later brought passengers all the way to Mandalay. The canal is 22 miles in length and connects Yangon River to the Ayeyarwaddy River and Delta area. Until only very recently, this was still the fastest way to reach the Delta, as the roads were poorly maintained, even impassable for half of the year. The Ayeyarwaddy River also extends 750 miles north to Upper Myanmar, creating hundreds of narrow channels that enrich the soil as they snake their way down towards the Andaman Sea. As one nears the sea, fishing starts to compete with rice production as the major livelihood. As Cyclone Nargis revealed in 2008, these lowlands flood easily, as most of the area lies just 10 feet above sea level.

The journey to Dalla, itself, is very interesting, as it takes you over Yangon River, closer to the rice fields of the low-lying regions of the Ayeyarwaddy Delta, close geographically but increasingly further in lifestyle from Yangon. Despite vendors now hauling new flatscreens and cellphone accessories to sell across the river, much of rural life on the other side remains traditional, with many locals engaged in farming, and the ox-cart still a widely used mode of travel. This is the river that a middle-aged Sayagyi U Ba Khin crossed to learn meditation under Saya Thet Gyi in the village of Pyaw Bwe Gyi. The boat could only carry him half way because of the low tide, so he got out, and walked through the mud for the remaining distance. The area across from Yangon River has changed little since the days of Saya Thet Gyi, and even earlier.

Dalla township includes 23 wards and runs from Yangon River in the north to the Twante Canal in the west, and Twante Township in the south. Fifty thousand people are said to use the ferries daily, and to many first-time visitors it may feel that all fifty thousand are on the same boat with them! For many locals, this is the only way to travel between Yangon and Dalla. However, like so much else in Myanmar, this, too, is now changing, as a major deal has recently been reached with a South Korean company to build a “Friendship Bridge” linking the two areas. Once this is completed, major Korean firms are expected to make parts of Dalla Township into a major industrial zone.

B.M. Croker describes an amusing incident in her novel 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 or not, Dalla served as a boarding site for the Burmese rulers’ elephants, so it is certainly plausible.