Myanmar’s elusive gift from god

Ever since I was a little girl I had dreamed of going to Myanmar’s famed ruby mines of Mogok. My father was a gems dealer and I would spend hours watching him cut and polish the raw stones until they sparkled. Yet however much I nagged, he always refused to teach me the trade.

“Gems are a dangerous business,” he would warn. “Once you know their secrets you will never escape them.”

So when I — all grown up and a journalist — got a chance to visit the secretive mines hidden in the valley north of Mandalay, I jumped at it. But getting to know the secrets of the mines that produce more than 80 percent of the world’s rubies proved challenging at best.

“No strangers allowed,” warned the red signs beside the narrow door. Barring our way, a guard stared at us with narrowed eyes, deaf to our pleas to enter.

This was third time that day we had been turned away from the mines. Our team — I, a photographer and video journalist — had already spent hours driving down winding roads and traipsing around the valley, trying to interview actual miners about what they do, to no avail.

Myanmar’s rubies are famous for their unique ‘pigeon-blood’ colour and can fetch millions at auction. Burmese believe they can protect you from misfortune and ill health.

But for decades this mist-shrouded valley had been closed off by Myanmar’s military government, which exploited its huge treasure trove of gems to keep the generals in power and enrich their friends. The ruby industry was deemed so corrupt that the US barred imports in a bid to starve the junta of funds.

That has been slowly changing since democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won power last year. Washington lifted the sanctions in October and US buyers are now hungry for Burmese rubies. Foreigners can visit the town of Mogok — with official permission — and the government has restricted mining permits in a bid to enforce higher environmental standards.

Source: The times of India

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