As you may remember from the previous post, I spent eight days motoring down the Chindwin River in a fishing boat retrofitted to host a small group of photographers. The Chindwin is a tributary of the Irrawaddy River that runs through small farming villages in the Northwestern part of Myanmar. My last post focused on the extraordinary atmospheric scenes one could capture in the morning. This post is more about what stayed with me from the brief visits we made to some of the villages along the shore.
From dawn to dusk, the river plays a crucial role in people’s lives. In addition to the large rafts transporting goods and boats of all sizes transporting people from one village to the next, the river and its shores are full of activities. We see fishermen sitting quietly in their boats or throwing nets, women and older children carrying buckets of water back to the village, people washing their clothes and themselves, and children enjoying the water playfully. Most of them sport the traditional thanaka, a yellowish paste of ground bark, on their cheeks.
Another critical player in the daily life of the locals is the oxcart. Oxcarts are ubiquitous in rural Myanmar. These carts are the primary means of land transportation in most of these villages and are used to carry passengers, bundles of hay, bamboo canes… They are also used to plow the land and prepare the fields for planting and are often handled by relatively young boys or young women.
These small communities are quite isolated, and farming is the main activity for most locals. As we visited villages, we saw people in the fields, planting or harvesting depending on the crop or simply gardening. Children, initially surprised at the view of foreigners in their villages, quickly warmed up to us, particularly since one member of our small group, the charismatic Sheilah, excelled at teaching them English children’s songs. as in “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hand…” (These songs were new to me, but I resisted trying to teach them Frère Jacques, mostly because I cannot sing.) We saw children everywhere, but we also spent time visiting their schools. While visiting a school in the village of Nan Yin, we asked if the children could sing their favorite song for us. Without missing a beat, they enthusiastically sang Myanmar’s national anthem (though I bet next time someone asks, the children will perform an extraordinary rendition of “If you’re happy and you know it”)
Of course, one cannot write about Myanmar without mentioning monks and pagodas, as they are probably the most common sights in the country (well, closely followed by oxcarts!) Every village has its pagodas, and all villagers are proud of them. The most special ones on this trip were probably those we visited in a village called Kani toward the end. These are magnificent pagodas from the 16th century. We also visited the 28 pagodas of Masate, which make for a stunning sight from the river. As for monks, none were more charming than the young novices in the village of Kazat. Our nautical journey ended in Monywa, a known town for the Hpo Win Taung caves. Although it is a beautiful site with multiple caves and over 2,600 Buddha statues, I will never forget it for its hungry and angry monkeys.
So long, Chindwin,