Chasing Mirages

Tag: burma

Bagan Pilgrimage, part 2

by on Aug.28, 2011, under Posts

Note: if you are inspired to visit Bagan, check out this practical guide to aid your planning.

Please read part 1 for an intro to Bagan before viewing this gallery.

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Bagan Pilgrimage, part 1

by on Aug.27, 2011, under Posts

Note: if you are inspired to visit Bagan, check out this practical guide to aid your planning.

It’s been said millions of times – Bagan is incredible.  Let me say it again: Bagan is fucking incredible.  If you’re into Buddhism, Indiana Jones, architecture, art, history, or any combination of these, then you’ll agree with me, I guarantee it.

For much of the 2.5 days that I spent in Bagan, I was literally breathless.  Granted,  some of my oxygen shortage resulted from being on the brink of heatstroke, but most of it was attributable to pure awe.

I mentioned earlier that you should visit Inle Lake for its people, and Bagan for its history.  Here goes.

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Blood lumber: Burmese teak

by on Aug.18, 2011, under Quickies

On the 8-hour bus ride from Kalaw to Bagan, I kicked myself every time I saw a truck loaded with enormous tree trunks sail by because I never had my camera ready to capture a photo.  Thankfully, several hours into the trip, a chance arose that even my sloth-like reflexes couldn’t ruin.  A stretch of the highway several kilometers long was lined on both sides with stack after massive stack of gargantuan logs.  I’m not a botanist, but I’ll take a wild guess that these were Burmese teak.

I was witness to a tiny link in the supply chain that involves one of the most heart-breaking disasters in natural resource management history.

Teak is an amazing wood.  It is naturally termite-proof and waterproof, which makes it perfect for high-value applications such as boat decks and structures that are built to last.  In Bagan, I saw centuries-old doors, beams and sculptures made of teak that are still in perfect shape.

Teak is a resource that should be put to good use – it would be a shame not to – but it is a far greater shame to squander these precious trees by destroying their forests indiscriminately, such that they are no longer a renewable resource. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening in Myanmar.

Sadly, the country known as the “land of teak” since colonial times will be completely teak-free within 10 years if clear-cutting continues unchecked.   I wonder what will be going through the logger’s mind as he cuts down the very last teak tree in Myanmar,  surrounded by barren hillsides dotted with stumps.  My guess : “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m kinda hungry.”  Even worse, profits from exploitation of this natural resource mostly go to fund weapons purchases and line the pockets of foreign resellers, rather than to the people of Myanmar who have lived among these trees for countless generations.

So when all you richie riches are buying your teak-decked sailboats, ordering your custom-made teak furniture and building your self-designed teak mansions, please diligently investigate the source of the wood and make sure that it did not come from Myanmar/Burma and that it was harvested from a sustainably managed teak plantation.

Note: Read this book chapter by Raymond Bryant for a detailed discussion on the bloody history of teak harvesting in Burma.

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Kalaw, Myanmar – another environmental disaster

by on Aug.10, 2011, under Posts

As beautiful as it is, Kalaw is not without its environmental problems. The locals depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and sadly, farming practices here are far from sustainable.  As recently as 30 years ago, tigers could still be hunted in this area.  Now there are none left.  The remaining “Reserve Forest” has only been protected because an important water reservoir is located within it.  This tiny patch of protected forest covers less than a single mountaintop, not enough land area to support even one large predator.

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Kalaw, Myanmar

by on Aug.06, 2011, under Posts

Note: if you have been inspired to visit Kalaw, check out this more practical article to aid your planning.

Kalaw is a town about 50 km west of Inle Lake.  It’s a great area for hiking because, at an elevation of over 4,000 feet, its climate is cool year-round, and it is surrounded by green hills full of interesting vegetation and friendly villages.

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