Events of Friday 5th May 2017
After another excellent breakfast at Loikaw Lodge, I was picked up by my guide and driver at 8.30 a.m. I was to see a little of Kayah State outside the capital, Loikaw. We set off on Route 5 which leads south from Loikaw right through Kayah State. We passed through the important town of Demoso and skirted Ngwe Taung lake and dam, which I was told we would visit later in the day.
We were heading for the Padaung village of Pan Pet, taking us onto a spectacular road through the mountains. This was another of the roads in Myanmar being widened and improved ("New Government - New Roads", I have been told). A small sign in Myanmar language seemed to suggest that we had to divert onto a temporary dirt road but after a short distance our driver decided to go back along the dirt road and continue along the metalled road. But a little further on, the road was completely blocked and we could see a road construction gang in the process of building the road's continuation. Our driver went ahead on foot to see if any alternative route existed but returned with the news that we would have to walk the rest of the way to the village, perhaps 15 minutes away. So I had an opportunity to examine road building techniques close-up. Most of the way, there was a narrow strip from the former dirt road available to walk on and we passed occasional motor cycles bouncing along this strip.
In due course we arrived in Pan Pet, a Padaung tribe village. The Padaung are animists and some of their women are 'long-neck' women, encasing their necks and lower legs in a substantial brass wire helix. I'm afraid it's not a tradition I'm in favour of and I was encouraged to learn that, out of a total population in Pan Pet of 80, only 12 ladies have neck rings, although one was a child who could have been no more than ten years old. My guide introduced me to one of the long-neck women who runs a shop, supplying necessities to the villagers with a sideline in souvenirs for the tourists. This lady of 47 with six children had a very intelligent gaze and seemed to find my presence most amusing so we spent most of the time laughing together. She was very competent on a simple 4-string guitar. Their neck-rings comprise a slightly larger diameter coil which rests on the shoulders with a long coil reaching under the chin, totalling 8 kilograms in weight and they are permanent. A pair of similar rings on the lower legs add a further 3 kilograms.
For some reason, the lady and my guide insisted that I 'play' the guitar (I'm afraid I don't play). I also reluctantly submitted to being decorated with a small neck ring sliced into a semicircular shape and merely tied into place and a Padaung head-dress. Needless to say, this provoked further gales of laughter.
As we started our walk back to the car, I saw an animist shrine comprising a group of Kutopoe, similar to those I'd seen the day before in Loikaw.
Re-united with our vehicle, we retraced our route. Although the road building near Pan Pet had been a purely manual operation, heavy machinery is employed where necessary and we saw Backhoes, Road Rollers, a large Motor Grader from SDLG and BOMAG machines.
Back at Ngwe Taung Dam, we had a closer look. The dam appears to be purely for irrigation purposes - a sluice halfway along the dam controls water flow to a canel which provided water to the rice-growing area. Needless to say, this area is a magnet for young boys who were joyfully diving into the lake or swimming in the canal. A couple of working elephants, each with with their mahout, passed us and delicately negotiated the steps from the dam to the road before disappearing along the bank of the canal.
We stopped for a pleasant lunch at the Marco Polo Restaurant. Although only a couple of hundred yards from the main road, it was a tranquil spot, overlooking the plain where cattle idly grazed.
As we continued back towards Loikaw, we passed a number of Catholic Churches and one Cemetery before turning off to see Umbrella Lake. This turned out to be a fairly small pool where usually a shallow 'hump' is visible, vaguely resembling an umbrella. We were particularly lucky in that two 'umbrellas', plus a 'baby umbrella', were visible on our visit. In the centre of the 'umbrella' a small orifice discharged a trickle of water so I assume geothermal activity produces this effect. The lake is surrounded by a number of Buddhist shrines but there was also an Animist shrine with a number of Kutopoe Pillars. Before we left, thunder and lightning started but we were back at the car before the rain started.
Our journey continued to Seven Steps Lake, by which time it was raining quite hard but there was a wooden shelter with a 'tin' roof from which we admired the setting with wooded hills coning down to the water. I believe the name derives from the fact that the one large lake is made up of seven sections interconnected by narrow channels.
Back in the familiar surroundings of Loikaw, we went to a business where the special Kayah Sausage is made. This prized pork sausage, flavoured with ginger and other spices, is supplied ready-cooked as a large spiral and costs 9,000 Kyat. In appearance, it reminded me of the English Cumberland Sausage .
The car finally delivered me to my hotel after a tiring but interesting day. Once safely back at the hotel, a thunderstorm hit Loikaw and this was followed by fairly heavy rain.
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Pan Pet Village trip.
Loikaw, Kayah State.
[Links to pictures added 24-May-2017]