Trekking in Shan State – Part 5 – the End

As we waited for our bus in Namhsan, the local monks did their daily tour of the town to collect donations of rice from the townspeople. First, one boy walks through the town ringing a sort of bell, to announce that the monks are coming:

Then the monks walk silently down the road and people come out to add rice to the monks’ food bowls for their daily meal.

The bus did eventually arrive, and it was certainly interesting. It was one of the typical buses in Burma, clearly built over 40 years ago and yet somehow still running. There were a few things that were askew, such as this speedometer:

This is the view from my ‘seat’ on top of a bunch of concrete-hard bags full of compacted tea leaves:

I suppose Scott enjoyed the wonderful lack of leg room even more than the rest of us:

Turning around, this is what was behind me: the entire bus was loaded nearly to the ceiling with tea and then a tarp was placed over the bags so that we could sit somewhere, as there were only two seats that could be used.

The first hour or so was terrifically uncomfortable for me, as I kept slipping off my seat of tea bags and the road was nice and bumpy so I had to keep my head down to avoid getting a concussion on the ceiling. After a while, however, I realised that I could wiggle my way a couple feet backward and I was up on the tarp. There was only maybe 2 feet of space between the tarp and ceiling, but it turned out to be quite comfortable lying there for the remaining hours of the trip.

Here’s our bus, stopped for a midday snack:

We arrived safely back in Hsipaw that evening, and slept soundly in our guesthouse before continuing on to new adventures the next day.

Trekking in Shan State – Part 4

In the afternooon on February 10th, we arrived at our destination for that day: Man nawk. We checked out the village monastery, where there is one home for monks and another for nuns. The nuns made us a massive and delicious meal!

Here’s a 30 second exposure of a stupa overlooking the monastery grounds at night:

That night the moon was really, really red. I saw it and immediately grabbed my camera, took around 40 shots, of which maybe 5 turned out ok. This is a cropped frame, but not enlarged:

We slept that night in Man nawk with warm blankets protecting us from the frigid temperatures outside, and woke up on February 11th feeling terrific.

Part of the monastery in the morning:

We passed by the home of the nuns on our way out of town, and some of them came to the windows to wave goodbye, like this one:

This was the final leg of our actual walking expedition from Hsipaw to Namhsan, and it wasn’t the easiest day by any means. If anything, it was harder as the sun was ridiculously intense and there was even less shade than on previous days. The hill climbs were really steep and I found it extremely challenging. We stopped in a bit of shade by these waterfalls for about 5 minutes at one point:

We made it to Namhsan, a very small mountain town that apparently serves as the local capital. After a nice freezing cold shower and some good food, the four of us went to bed in the only guesthouse in town. The walls between rooms, while visible, offered no resistance to the sound waves emanating from the room next to ours. Throughout the entire night, we were serenaded by the monstrous snoring of some sort of beast from the netherworld. It was by far the worst snoring I have ever heard, and I have heard some CRAZY loud snoring. In the morning the snorer woke up and walked past my room, the door of which was open as Scott was out for a minute. He looked in with a scowl on his face and let out a massive fart. I was glad we only stayed there one night.

That morning, we walked a short distance in town to wait for our 630am bus, which of course arrived around 9 or so. Turns out that February 12th was Burma’s Union Day, so there were flags EVERYWHERE.

While waiting, we ate, joked around, etc. Luke, who’s around my height (a little over 6 foot), decided to climb onto Scott’s shoulders. Adding a 6 ft man to the shoulders of an estimated 6’9″ man produced a monster that seemed to frighten some of the local children a wee bit:

Next post: Riding a bus loaded with tea leaves.

Trekking in Shan State – Part 3

After the crazy festivities of the previous night, we were up bright and early February 10th to head out of Konhai and continue onward on our third leg of the journey. This is part of the village monastery:

And a view of the village as seen from the monastery:

Our walk in Shan State took us along, up, and down mountain roads and paths and through small Palaung villages where the locals would come out to stare and often try and feed us. Here’s a typical climbing turn around the side of a mountain:

And of course we encountered many Palaung villagers along the path, including a number of people with their animals:

In each village where we stopped for more than a few minutes, we were very lucky to quickly become acquainted with the one person who could speak a bit of broken English. In Om Tet, it was a monk who had spent time in Mandalay and had learned some English there. He was considerably shorter than Scott:

One generalisation that can be made honestly about Burma (and this applies not only to Burman areas, but also to minority areas and non-SPDC areas) is that almost everyone loves having their photo taken (at least, if us foreigners were the photographers). Old and young alike never said no to a photo when I asked, and many told me I don’t need to ask – I can just take pictures! I sometimes did this, and never had a bad reaction. Here’s one wonderful older woman heading to work on the hillside outside her village. She saw the camera and started modelling for me!

Cows and Burmese ponies are used to carry loads in many parts of Burma. Here in the mountains of northern Shan State, they seem to use cows more frequently.

This friendly lady was happy to stop for a photo with her heavy load, which was probably semi-compacted tea leaves:

We always catch the eye of small children who haven’t seen white-skinned people before, or are too young to remember.

And there were many instances where we could see that storied wisdom that comes with age, in the calm smile of an older man or woman who greeted us.

We saw men compacting tea leaves to be taken to the big cities too! They gather them and remove sticks and such, then one man jumps up and down barefoot on the leaves in the bag while the other puts handfuls of leaves into the bag every so often.

Some children were more photogenic than others, but they were all fun to interact with.

Sitting in small tea shops in tiny villages with only a few houses became a common theme on our trek, as the intensity of the sun was really tough and hydration was very important. We drank a LOT of tea! This is the view out of one such tea shop:

On rare occasions, a truck would trundle past us on a road that seems only barely navigable by a motorbike, let alone a loaded truck. And of course there were people all over the place, not concerned about the potential for the truck to roll off the road and down the mountainside.

In one village, while we sat across the path drinking tea, boys were playing make believe. The kid with the mask was my favourite, and in this photo is actually somewhat camouflaged it seems! Beer is very popular in Burma, and the pile of empties in the firewood area behind the boys attests to this.

That night I took some long exposure night shots and then we went to sleep, tired out from our long walk – those photos in the next post!

Trekking in Shan State – Part 2

On February 9th we woke up, freezing cold, in a Palaung village. The Palaung are an ethnic group, many members of which live in Shan State. We ate a big breakfast and quickly left the village to get in a longer day of walking than the previous day. As we left, this little child stared intently at us. Seems to be a ninja in training or something :-)

At one point as we walked up and up and up and up the steep hills/mountains, we came across a massive saw at the side of the road. Scott, a carpenter, assessed it as being ridiculously sharp.

A couple of valley views from hillsides:

In another village, one of the women brought out a ruler to measure Scott, who’s around 6’9″ or so. Apparently this happens to him on a regular basis.

We had tea with some locals, most of whom could not speak English but this guy was pretty photogenic:

In the evening, there was a big festival in the village. There was dancing, and a massive tug-of-war game. Here’s one man doing a traditional dance:

I handed my headlamp to a kid and told him to wave it around in circles for a bit, which they found highly amusing:

The tug-of-war was repeated a number of times, always men against women. The men won most of the time, but sometimes the women managed to win with a bit more organisation and less alcohol. Hundreds of people showed up from all the surrounding villages, it was really a huge deal. Women preparing to pull:

This shows the men ready to pull, and the big wooden ‘pyramid’ that was at the centre of the rope. To win, one side had to pull the pyramid past a line on the ground. A Buddhist monk would start the match by climbing up and ringing a bell, then both sides would pull as hard as possible to win.

Long exposures turned out quite interesting:

Many older Palaung women still wear the traditional dress of their villages:

Another long exposure showing a few spectators crouching on the left near me, and the men pulling to the right in the background:

This monk was standing alone in the distance in the dark, so I took a 30-second exposure to get the light as it appears here. He didn’t move much, and the camera sitting on the grass managed pretty well.

Some stupas at the village monastery:

We headed to bed after a fun-filled night at the festival, and soon we were up again and on our way. More on that in the next post.