Tag Archives: Burma

Burmese cats of Lake Inle

The Inthar Heritage House in the Inn Paw Khon village on Lake Inle is home to over 30 beautiful Burmese cats.

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The House itself was built in 2009 in the traditional local style, and using wood reclaimed from an older structure. The Burmese cats have their own section of the building, including a small island, with all sorts of little houses, climbing pedestals, sleeping nooks and toys to keep them happy. The cats are short-hair, mostly a rich brown color – corresponding to the British breed of Burmese cats, rather than the American Birman (which have longer fur, and a mostly cream colored coat). They were once cats of the royal palaces, as well as guardians for the many temples and sacred sites. The Burmese Cats breeding program here began with cats imported from UK and Australia, and their goal is to re-introduce these cats to Myanmar.

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There are many legends around the origin of Burmese or Birman cats – this one is my favourite:

The legend of the Birman cats begins in the beautiful temples of ancient Burma.  The imposing statues of Buddha are an illustration of the deep religious faith of the people, their belief in the reincarnation of souls and the profound respect and love for their Priests. It was believed that, after death, the Priests returned in the form of white cats and so each temple was home to many of these sacred cats.

A most venerable priest (Kittah) known as Mun-Ha was living in the Temple of Lao-Tsun.  

Mun-Ha had lived his entire life in contemplation of the golden image of  Tsun-Kyankse, the goddess with sapphire eyes who presided over the transmutation of souls. The Goddess made sure that the Kittahs would be reborn as a cat, after which the soul would be in Nirvana shining with a golden halo.

Mun-Ha had an oracle who dictated his decisions – the oracle was his faithful temple cat Sinh. As the holy priest prayed, Sinh sat alongside his master in contemplation of the goddess, his yellow eyes gazing into her sapphire eyes.

As the moon shone, one night, Mun-Ha entered a transcendental state which was so deep that he felt no pain when Siamese invaders murdered him. At the moment of Mun-Ha’s death, Sinh placed his placed his gentle paws on the monk’s robes and faced the golden goddess. Immediately the hairs of his white body were as golden as the light radiating from the beautiful golden goddess, her beautiful blue eyes became his very own, and his four white legs shaded downwards to a rich velvety brown; but where his feet rested gently on his dead master, the whiteness remained white, thus denoting the purity of the Priest’s soul passing into the cat. 

The Kittahs, though in a state of panic due to the invasion, obeyed Sinh’s commanding but serene look, and closed the heavy bronze doors of the temple, thus saving it from the invaders.

Sinh did not move from the place of his master’s death, and exactly seven days later, he died, carrying with him the soul of Mun-Ha, which it was his duty to present to Tsun Kyan-Kse who would reward him with Nirvana.

The next morning, when the kittahs assembled before the goddess to chose the successor to Mun-Ha,  a great wonder was observed – all the one hundred temple cats came in procession, and all had sapphire eyes, golden coats, and snowy white feet.Thus the Birman breed has its origins.

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The  Inthar Heritage House dans le village Inn Paw Khon sur le lac Inle est le foyer de plus de 30 beaux chats birmans. La maison fut construite en 2009 dans le style traditionnel local, en utilisant du bois récupéré d’une ancienne structure. Les chats birmans ont leur propre section du bâtiment, y compris une petite île, avec toutes sortes de petites maisons, niches, coins et jouets  pour les amuser. Les chats ont des poils courts, la plupart du temps une riche couleur brune – correspondant à la race britannique de chats birmans, plutôt que le Birman américain (qui ont une fourrure plus long, fréquemment de couleur crème). Ils étaient autrefois des chats des palais royaux, ainsi que les gardiens de nombreux temples et sites sacrés.  Le programme d’élevage ici a commencé avec des birmans importés du Royaume-Uni et d’Australie, et objectif est de réintroduire ces chats en Myanmar.

On raconte beaucoup de légendes autour de l’origine des chats birmans – celui-ci est mon préféré:

La légende des chats Sacré de Birmanie commence dans les magnifiques temples de l’ancienne Birmanie. Les imposantes statues de Bouddha sont une illustration de la profonde foi religieuse du peuple, leur croyance en la réincarnation des âmes et le profond respect et d’amour pour leurs prêtres. On croyait que, après la mort, les prêtres retournaient sous la forme de chats blancs et ainsi chaque temple était habité par ces chats sacrés.

Un moine vénérable (Kittah) connu sous le nom Mun-Ha vivait dans le temple de Lao-Tsun. Mun-Ha avait vécu toute sa vie dans la contemplation de la statue dorée de Tsun-Kyankse, la déesse aux yeux saphir qui présidait la transmutation des âmes. La déesse faisait en sorte que le kittahs allait renaître comme chat, après quoi l’âme passerait dans le Nirvana, avec un halo doré.

Mun-Ha avait un oracle qui dicté ses décisions – l’oracle était son fidèle chat du temple Sinh. Lors que le saint homme priait, Sinh restait assis aux côtés de son maître dans la contemplation de la déesse, ses yeux jaunes plongeaient dans les yeux de saphir de Tsun-Kyankse.

Une nuit de pleine lune, Mun-Ha est entré dans un état transcendantal si profond qu’il ne ressentait aucune douleur quand des envahisseurs siamois l’ont assassiné. Au moment de la mort de Mun-Ha, Sinh plaçait ses pattes doucement sur les robes du moine et fit face à la déesse d’or. Immédiatement, les poils de son corps blanc devenaient dorée comme la lumière rayonnante de la belle déesse, ses yeux sont devenue  d’un beau bleu, et ses quatre jambes devenaient ombragé par un riche brun velouté; mais ses pattes reposant doucement sur son maître mort sont resté blanc, désignant ainsi la pureté de l’âme du prêtre passant dans le chat.

Le kittahs, bien que dans un état de panique en raison de l’invasion, obéissaient au commandement du regard sereine de Sinh, et fermaient  les lourdes portes de bronze du temple, le sauvant ainsi des envahisseurs.

Sinh ne bougea plus du côté de son maître décédé, et exactement sept jours plus tard, il est mort, emportant avec lui l’âme de Mun-Ha, qu’il était de son devoir de présenter à Tsun Kyan-Kse qui le récompenser avec Nirvana.

Le lendemain matin, lorsque les kittahs s’assemblaient devant la déesse pour choisir le successeur de Mun-Ha, une grande merveille a été observé – tous les cent chats du temple sont venus en procession, et tous avaient les yeux saphir, une fourrure d’or, et des pieds blancs immaculés. Ainsi la race Birman a pris ses origines.

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Trekking from Kalaw to In Dein – Day 3

This morning  at the guesthouse, Mr. Hti made us crepes!  with fresh fruit and local honey.

We trade stories with other trekkers, brush our teeth in the open air “bathroom”…. then time to get on the road.

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It is foggy this morning, but the road crew is already active in front of the guest house.  2014-10-30_2041

Young women moving dirt with their hoes and bamboo baskets to fill up potholes. Some young men were in the group, but the girls were definitely more efficient workers.  (Road work by day, peanut preparation by night!)

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Village girls on their way to school, close to the wooden monastery.

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The road climbs up toward a pass – the fog is burning off to reveal more colorful landscapes.2014-10-30_21312014-10-30_2118

Two happy trekkers with Mr. Hti!

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People in Burma are mostly Buddhist, but many also practice animistic folk religion. There is a strong belief in the Nat spirits, some of whom are benevolent, some not so much.  Almost every home has a nat shrine, with flowers and fruit offering, to keep the Nats happy. Inside this roadside shrine is a bed for the resident nat, as well as food, water, flowers and a lit candle.

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A little further along, some young monks seem to have escaped their classroom..

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At the top of the pass, there is a sort of café, full of trekkers and locals. Lots of Chinese motorcycles parked in front.

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Dishwashing takes place in the open!

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We make a short stop to rehydrate – and then push on: its all downhill from here to Lake Inle!

We get our first glimpse of the lake.  The water level in the shallow lake has been going down for several years, as deforestation brings more sediment down from the surrounding hills, and climate change causes more evaporation.

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As we descend, the temperature is getting hotter. Would love to cool off like this guy…

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At last we are at lake level – almost there – seven hours after leaving the guesthouse!

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A few more minutes of walking, and we arrive at the river’s edge where our longboat is waiting to take us up the lake to our hotel.  Time for a well-deserved cool drink from a coconut. We made it!  Our trek is complete! YAY!!!

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Trekking from Kalaw to In Dein – Day 1

The challenge was to trek from Kalaw to Lake Inle – a 60 kilometer distance – over three days. The guide books and websites say this is an easy walk – 4 or 5 hours a day – through picturesque landscapes and colorful villages. Photo ops!! The descriptions were all true—except for the hours!!!

After a solid breakfast, our Burmese guide Thêt introduced us to our trek guide Mr. Hti, and the 4 of us set off in a cloud of mosquito spray. Kalaw is a former colonial hill station – with a mixed population. Roads are narrow with oxcarts, Chinese trucks, motorcycles, Japanese cars all zipping around.  Traffic drives on the right, but most cars have steering wheels on the right…  Military vehicles move fast, and have the right of way – and this woman moved over a little too much to avoid one.  Our guides helped her get her front wheel out of the ditch, and we walked on.

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Many houses from the colonial period remain… the British preferred to spend the hot summer season here in the cooler mountain region.

This colonial era house was occupied by the Japanese during WW2. Our guide Thêt detected hostile ghosts here, and refused to approach.

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Kalaw train station, on the line from Yangon to Mandaly.  Switching is done manually.

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Along the path, we see many of these water stations.  Earthenware jugs, with lids, that always contain fresh water for travelers.

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Onward! Heading east.

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Discussions and cultural exchanges with the guides along the way – life stories, experiences etc.  2014-10-29_3303

The guides consulted their cell phones regularly, and Thêt’s ring tone was Don MacClean’s song Starry, Starry Night. Coudn’t get that tune out of our heads all day….

Flaming flowers that brightly blaze, Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain

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You never know what will come around the corner ahead…..

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Always an opportunity to take a selfie with a new friend.

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Around noon, we came to a one-room school.  The children were seated in  circles on the floor eating their lunches.  No adults were around.

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The blackboard listed some English verbs: Running, walking, cutting etc.  The kids repeated  them after me and this made them laugh a lot!

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At the entrance to villages, there is often a water station under a huge banyan tree (sort of ficus). Houses are constructed of woven bamboo panels – often with no windows, and just one door.  This keeps the sun out of the interior, so the house is cooler.  Corrugated metal roof – or thatch.

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Solar panel on one pole, and TV antenna on another. This corner store has everything you need!

The village houses are made of bamboo, but the monasteries are more solidly constructed – and we saw many, many monasteries being built. People generously donate money or their time to earn merit – useful for future re-incarnations. These women were mixing concrete for bricks – the names of other donors were listed on the walls.

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As we came to the Taung Gyi Chay village, we noticed a wedding celebration in progress!  A small booth had been set up in front of the bride’s house, and friends were gathering the gifts brought by guests.

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We added a small contribution too, good luck for the new couple!

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At last we came to the lunch stop…we were already running pretty late on our schedule.   Mr. Hti prepared our lunch in the local kitchen: a clear soup and fried rice with an egg.  Also some fried tofu with a fiery dipping sauce. Myanmar beer! We were HUNGRY!2014-10-29_1710

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Mr Hti and Thêt investigate (and document) Annie’s iPhone 6 plus – rare!

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So, OK, ready to visit the Buddha grotto in Myin Ma Hti, an underground complex of tunnels and caves, chock full of statues of Buddha.

This is a holy place (as always when Buddhas are present) so no shoes allowed.  Green plastic mats are on the floor, preventing slips on the dripping surfaces. There are dozens of buddha statues in the different grotto rooms (also some bats). Our guide Thêt sits us down within a circle of Buddhas for a meditation lesson….

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It was pretty late after the grotto visit – about half an hour from sundown – and we still had quite a way to go to get to our overnight destination.  Our guides rustled up some young men with small motorcycles that were willing to give us a ride. Let me just say that straddling a moped in a trekking skirt is a challenge – there are videos of this … no further comment.

Just as the sun was setting, we arrived at the village of Lamine where we were to spend the night with a local family. 2014-10-29_3532

They served us a delicious meal on a high table between their woven-bamboo kitchen and the two-story house (also made of woven bamboo).

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The couple in their 70s had 3 sons and 5 daughters, 4 of which were still living in the village. Their granddaughter was studying to be a teacher, and was happy to try her English on us! The house had just been wired with electricity a few weeks before, so there was a small TV set with 3 Burmese channels.  2014-10-29_1769

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The “bathroom” facilities were basic, but we slept very well, and  the breakfast was wonderful!

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Trek day 2 to be continued….