Mogok – Myanmar’s ruby in the rough

Getting to Mogok is not easy, as the name of the road leading up to this small mining town suggests. “The road of 999 bends”, as it’s colloquially known, is famous for its many sharp turns in the surrounding highlands. But exiting the 1000th turn is quite rewarding, as the small town with its glittering lights waits in the valley bellow.

The name “Mo-gok” is said to come from the Shan words for “winding valley”, though in Burmese “mo’ means “sky” and “gok” can mean “hook” – both interpretations capture the jagged nature of the valley roads.

The city itself is shielded by the Taung Mae and Kyae Ni mountains and, like many places in the nearby Shan state, is home to a range of different people – mainly Shan and Burmese, but also Palaung, Chin and Kachin. Many Nepalese (Gurakah) have settled here over generations too, and recent settlers include Chinese from the border regions.

Mogok is just 128 miles away from Mandalay, and makes for an enjoyable holiday location during the cool season. During military rule access to the town was restricted, especially for foreigners. It is still restricted, but foreign visitors can apply for a special visiting permit from the Mandalay Region government before heading off.

Like most of the middle and upper parts of Shan state, the temperature is cool (between 10 to 15C during the cool season). The mountains create a serene mist the mornings, which makes the approach to town particularly memorable.

The High Class and Taung Pyar Tan (Blue Mountain) companies run buses to Mogok from Yangon, with tickets currently costing K30,300. Buses leave from 6 in the evening, and reach the town at 6 the following morning.

There are more travel options in Mandalay, including a comfortable mini-van drive and even private cars carrying just 4 passengers. Prices for these services can range from just K15,000 (though often higher for foreigners).

The Golden Butterfly Hotel has a gorgeous view over the town, and is situated near the night markets. Mogok Hill Hotel and the Mogok Motel are also good options. Given the high degree of mining and trading here, the amenities are quite good – but like many parts of Myanmar, don’t expect the hotel rates to be super cheap for foreigners.

The Mogok Motel backs onto the town’s great lake and the infamous Mani Mingalar Gem stone market. Expect to be approached by traders carrying bags of assorted rocks, both real gems and not so genuine ones too.

Trading with local gem merchants though is a charm to see, given the quality of the rocks that are traded and the price that some pay.

Prices for gems at the market can start from K30,000 to many hundreds of thousands. The locals call the gem stones market the “Htar Pwe” (Htar Festival), “Htar” meaning the “bronze tray” upon which the gems are displayed.

Dealers may specialise in either sapphires, rubies, emeralds, jade and amethyst, or offer a range of all each – either as rough stones, cut stones or pairs of cut stones ready to be mounted in jewelry. World-wide, genuine Mogok rubies are regarded as the finest in the world, in terms of carat and size, some having fetched over $100,000 overseas.

As with most market places in Myanmar, Mani Mingalar is also the place to find wholesome local food, including many of the famous Shan dishes from the region.

The Mogok lake occupies the center of Mogok and, with its giant logo, attracts hundreds of tourists everyday seeking that ideal instagram selfie shot.

Daw Nan Kyi Mountain, Padamyar (Ruby) Pagoda, Chanthar Gyi (Rich) Pagoda, Kyauk Nagar (Stone Dragon) Pagoda, Kyauk Pya That Pagoda, Kin Chaung Waterfall and Bernard village are all popular tourist spots. All are close to the town itself, or at least just a short drive away.

In recent years Bernard village, so named after the former Chief Commissioner of Upper Burma Edward Bernard, has gained a reputation for its frosty – and even icy – temperatures in the winter. When the temperatures plummet in the early mornings, the village attracts tourists from the warmer parts of Mandalay division hoping to see the beautiful frost-laden lawns and roofs.

My mother and I visited Bernard village on our second day in Mogok. We arrived at 5 am and, despite the dim light, the market was teeming with people. It wasn’t so icy during our stay, as the mercury was some 10 degrees above zero – enough to warrant thick coats, gloves and a hat though. At the markets we bought some traditional food, and some very warming Cydonia Cathayensis wine.

The following day we ate some of our favourite Shan noodle soup, along with hot coffee for breakfast. We visited the former Navy cemetery on a full stomach, with enough energy to view tombstones of hundreds of fallen military personnel – from those who died in the late 19th Century colonial conflicts, to those who gave their lives in WWII.

Returning to the town we couldn’t resist a few photos beside the landmark town logo. The following day we headed out to the Daw Nan Kyi Mountain. Here the air was so fresh, and after midday provided us a stunning view of the surrounding peaks and valleys. This is Mogok’s true beauty.

Like many visitors, it’s easy to focus on the town’s most famous products – rubies. But taking a slow trip through the mountains to get there, then to discover the amazing food and things to do, you’ll discover the town itself is something of a gem that’s well worth the visit.

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Source : Myanmar Times

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