From Bagan we hired a taxi to drive us for 7 hours to Kalaw, a town located up at a higher altitude and cooler temperatures, only about 36C. There we found the most wonderful trekking guide. Ernest Singh is probably the loveliest man I’ve ever met. We spent 2 days and 1 night trekking. Ernest speaks perfect English, as he learned it in school, and is delighted to answer all questions and provide any information. This man is 64 years old and walks all over these beautiful mountains. The village tribes people welcomed him and us warmly. Ernest had hired a cook to carry and prepare our food, and we hired a porter.
The first day we made a stop at a Monastery for tea and a young monk read Buddhist scriptures to us in 3 languages. He was actually chanting, and I was intrigued how he could know what notes to sing, as there were none indicated, and the chanting was obviously different for each language. Apparently, the script indicates when to sing up or down a tone by tick marks on the characters.
We stopped at 3 more villages for lunch and tea and that afternoon before stopping for the evening. All along the way, Ernest was able to bring joy to the people we visited, as he had photos that another tourist had taken a few months previously. Most of these people have never seen a photo of themselves so they were absolutely thrilled. Ernest also was delighted. Each place we stopped we were so welcomed. Out came the bamboo floor mats and a table, usually about 30 inches across and about 8 inches high. You always remove your shoes before entering someone’s home, no matter how dirty it is, then sit on the floor around the little table. Chinese tea is always served, often with a snack. Many of the villages we visited were different tribes and they often wore traditional costumes.
The first day was a very long one, ending with a hike up a very steep mountain, to our home for the night, a monastery. We could not believe our good fortune. There are only 2 older monks who live there and they told us to make it our home. They even offered us a private room, sort of, for the night, along with pillows, mats and blankets. One of the monks seemed to always have a stogie hanging out of his mouth. Shocking! Dinner was served to us by candlelight right in front of the altar, so it was just the two of us and Buddha – simply magical. The meal consisted of 8 courses and was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. In the morning, before we left, we had the opportunity to sit with one of the monks and ask him questions. Like most of the people here, he just smiled non-stop while enjoying our company, I think, as much as we enjoyed his. Their jobs as Monks is to provide advice to people and set dates for festivals and of course pray and meditate, I suppose to think about the meaning of life.
All along our way kids would yell “bye bye” and “thank-you”, obviously learned from other foreigners who have passed through. They wave and yell and giggle. We could sometimes hear them yelling “bye bye” but could not see them so we’d wave and yell back anyway. The whole experience of the trek was wonderful. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of these lovely people, and I will never forget Ernest’s kind and gentle heart.