Taunggyi, The High Mountain In Shan State

Taunggyi is located 17 miles/27 kilometres or a one-hour’s bus drive from Nyaung Shwe and 1.800 ft/550 metres above the Inlay Lake. Taunggyi is the name of both, the ‘Taunggyi’ or ‘High Mountain’ and the Southern Shan State’s administrative capital Taunggyi. The top of the pine-clad ‘High Mountain’ – about 6.000 feet/about 1.800 metres high – offers a beautiful scenic vista of the picturesque Inlay Lake and its surroundings.

The town Taunggyi was during the British colonial era seat of the Shan parliament with its 36 Sawbaws and founded by the highly respected British officer Sir James George Scott. James Scott was an expert on Burma and its history and author of the famous book ‘The Burman – His Live and Notion’, which he wrote under his nome de plume U Shway Yoe.

Geographically, Taunggyi was in Yawnghwe State and like e.g. Maymyo/Pyin Oo Lwin and Kalaw a hill station. It was built in 1896 to replace Fort Steadman. Once a year there was a Durbar in Taunggyi when the British Officers and the Sawbaws met to discuss Governmental affairs followed by an evening of social gathering. It was a place of respite for the British and other foreigners who came here to take a break from the heat of other regions of the country.

Taunggyi is a busy and enterprising town with but a few traces of its colonial past left. It is quite prosperous but does otherwise not draw much attention. For tourists Taunggyi itself has not much to offer and is therefore like Nyaung Shwe more a starting point for excursions to the lake and the attractions in its surroundings than a place to stay for longer. Its points of interest are but a few, namely the Taunggyi market, the Taunggyi museum and the ‘Wish Granting Pagoda’.

The Five-day-market in Taunggyi is quite an impressive affair. It is very native as here the pageantry of the various Shan Plateau hill tribes is colourfully dressed in their traditional costumes coming together to chat, exchange latest news and sell their agriculture produce and other goods.

The Taunggyi museum (Shan State Museum) is housed in a rather modest and small building but its exhibits are very interesting. For those who are interested in ethnology this is the place to come to. Displayed are,among other, the traditional costumes, tools, weapons, music instruments, etc. of quite a large number of tribes and sub tribes such as the Ahka, Tai, Kachin, Lisu, Latha, Yanglai, Palaung and Danu.

Located on top of a hill some 3 kilometres/1.9 miles south of Taunggyi is the ‘Wish Granting Pagoda’. This pagoda is heavily frequented by both Buddhists and superstitious people.

These people do believe – and deeply so – that to visit this pagoda will result in what the pagoda’s name promises: that their wishes will be fulfilled, in other words, their dreams will come true. Well, it is worth a try but, of course, I cannot give any guarantee as to the outcome. However, what is sure is that the views on Taunggyi are very good from here.

Taunggyi also has some cheroot making factories.

If one cannot visit the Inlay Lake during the Thadingyut Festival of Lights at the end of October, the time of the Tazaungdine Festival of Lights that takes place four weeks later is the best time to come to Taunggyi. The four weeks between these two Festivals of Lights are called ‘Kathein’ and is the period during which Buddhists donate new robes – the ‘Kathein Thingan’ (those who can afford it donate the ‘Padonmar Kathein Thingan’, the robes made from Lotus fibre yarn from the weavers in Chaing Kham), slippers, umbrellas, hand fans, water filters, etc.

The time of ‘Full Moon of Tazaungdine’ is the time when during Tazaungdine the ‘Lu Ping Festival’ that is originated by the Pa-O is held. This festival is marked by daytime and night-time hot-air-balloon contests. The balloons in which to build their creators put a lot of time and money are huge (some metres high, wide and in diameter) and are for the daytime competition mostly made in the shape of religious buildings such as pagodas or animals both real and mythical such as Hintha birds, dragons, horses and elephants. These hot-air balloons are very impressive, to be sure, but even more so the with hundreds of candles brightly illuminated balloons of the night-time contests, which are mostly made in the shape of globes.

Combined with the groups of actresses and actors that perform the folksy form of theatre, the ‘Anyein Pwe’ that is concerned with episodes of the everyday life, the groups of musicians and dancers that present dance theatre, called ‘Yein Pwe’, the many vendors that sell toys, balloons, snacks and beverages and the happy and gay overall atmosphere the Lu Pin festival truly is an event that is very unlikely to be forgotten.

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