I had the opportunity to visit a small village outside Meiktila and to meet my friend’s Mum and family. We stayed at the monastery where he was a monastery boy and became a novice monk.
The village has a population of fewer than 500. It’s a very simple place; there is no tarred road, there is no litter, there is no mains electricity. Water is collected during the rainy season in ponds and then drawn by hand for daily use. It’s all about farming and pottery. This is the dry zone so they can only grow one rice crop each year but they have other crops too; thanaka, tamarind and maize amongst them. Their basic pots are turned on hand powered wheels and fired, not in kilns but in temporary fire-mounds built outside the houses. Fuel is gathered – ever further away – in the ‘forest’ round about. There are plenty of cattle and goats and chickens about, and only very few motorcycles or other vehicles.
Needless to say the monastery is the biggest building in town and the senior monk continues to hold sway over village life (but that’s part of another story for another day). It’s difficult to have any idea as to how a place like this, a place that has not much changed in hundreds of years will endure as change now goes on all around it.
Plastic threatens the pottery business of course; the villagers hope and imagine, without good reason, that a plastics factory will be built nearby to replace the jobs they will lose. Modernised high yield agriculture will do for the mediaeval methods that are now in use. Electricity will come. So will the car; not five minutes away by motorbike I saw again the empty Yangon – Nay Pyi Daw – Mandalay ASEAN Highway which prompted me to imagine the village set for ever as it is now, a brown-signed tourist spot, an opportunity to see the way things used to be. (So much better than building a fake like the ‘Catalan village’ that I used to visit on the France / Spain border as a kid.)
When you pass through the dry zone by bus or train the hot, flat countryside, at a distance, looks uniform for mile after mile. Slowing down and spending time on foot there the view changes. There is so much variety here. At every turn there is some new view. There is so much that is stunningly beautiful. I was awed.
Such a poor place. But so rich.
Here are a few photos that cannot possibly convey the reality of this place, but which I hope are worth a look.