National Geographic : 1963 Feb
Burma, Gentle Neighbor of India and Red China of bamboo scaffolding. At its base, hundreds of men and women were at work. Long brigades of people passed bricks and pans of sand toward the construction. The only machinery in sight was a small concrete mixer and a windlass hoisting brick and mor tar to men working high in the cloak of scaf folding. Everything else was done by hand -a massive pyramid of masonry being erect ed by human muscle in a manner that has been followed in Burma for centuries. On my recent visit, when I reached Pegu, I found the 300-foot-high pagoda finished. Its entire surface gleamed with gold leaf. The pagoda was not altogether new. An other stood here for centuries, until an earth quake toppled it in 1930, leaving only its lower section standing. Before erecting the new spire atop it, workmen cut deep grooves in the old mass of brick and inserted iron bars and railroad rails, to help the structure with stand future tremors. Another shrine at Pegu, known as the Shwethalyaung, long lay forgotten. Then, in 1881, railroad builders found that a jungle covered mound concealed a colossal reclining Buddha. Now completely restored, it smiles enigmatically at visitors, one of the true won ders of Burma (page 159). On my way back to Rangoon, I passed a Buddhist monastery near several large rubber plantations. Groups of men worked on a tow ering gilt-paper bamboo structure atop a four-wheeled carriage. "A cremation," said my companion. We stopped and learned that an elderly pongyi, or monk, had died and was to be cremated next day. Part of the courtyard was covered with matting, and a pavilion had been set up for an orchestra. In Burma, cremation is Gleaming new library of the International Institute of Advanced Buddhistic Studies fosters Burma's re ligious culture. Ford Foun dation funds helped to build the library, designed by American architect Benja min Polk, of Calcutta, India. Library's reflecting pool mirrors strollers. Monks in henna-hued robes look down from the terrace. an occasion for rejoicing, particularly a pongyi-byan, the "return to the great glory," when a monk passes to the realm of the gods. I returned next day just as the coffin was loaded into the gleaming carriage. Fifty men clutched the ropes and hauled it to the pyre 200 yards away. In noisy byplay, the pullers would haul the carriage forward a few yards, then others would drag it back, as if to delay the dead monk's departure. Men, women, and children walked in the procession, many carrying sticks of sandalwood on their heads to add to the pyre. Brass Coils Stretch Women's Necks So vivid are the echoes of Kipling's musical "paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Manda lay," that I felt it almost heresy to visit up country Burma other than by boat. Yetbesides the route up the muddy Irrawaddy, Burma's Mississippi, there are also a road and a rail way (map, page 160). Or one can fly, for the extensive routes of the Union of Burma Air ways lace the whole country. I chose a piecemeal trip, flying first north to Loi-kaw, capital of Kayah State. The plane passed over river-threaded rice plains and forests, then climbed above sharp mountain ridges. Some hilltops stood denuded by tribal folk who cut away forests to grow crops. Kayah State is no larger than Connecticut, but it has eight main ethnic groups. Most spectacular are the Padaung, whose "giraffe necked" women ornament themselves with high collars of coiled brass. These tribes dwell in the hills and seldom come to town. To visit them, I rode into the hills with a jeep driver who knew the tribal languages. At the Padaung village of Saungdu, women KODACHROME(BELOW) AND HS EKTACHROMEBY W. ROBERTMOORE(C) N.G.S.