A Gemmologist in Burma

Over the last few months, I visited the colourful country of Myanmar, once known to be Burma. A country filled with so much history from the plains of ancient Bagan to the beautiful hills of Kalaw and the vast expanse of  the Inle Lake, each leg of my journey brought a new understanding of the local culture, food and the countries warm people.
Landing at Yangon airport
Myanmar which is known to be a gemstone mining hub for Spinels, Sapphires and many other precious gems was another reason why I could not miss this opportunity. Along the way, I spotted many gemstones and various other interesting finds. Through this blog post, I will share some of the sights, sounds and flavours that absolutely took my breath away.
My first Burmese breakfast was a delicious combination of a chickpea and rice pancake, a sweet rice cake, vegetable samosa and a delicious cake.
My visit to the Shwedagon pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is known to be one of the world’s most expensive pagodas. Built over 2600 years ago, the Shwedagon was built to enshrine the sacred hair relics of Gautama Buddha. This pagoda, located at the heart of the city, dominates Yangon’s skyline and can be seen from miles away. You’ll be able to spot its anywhere with its gold radiating glow. At the top of the pagoda rests a 76-carat diamond along with 4531 diamonds, 2317 rubies and sapphires and various other precious gems. 
Walking through the pagoda I saw a diverse selection of prayer points, each held up by pillars. Many of which were decorated with Jade, that stood strong through the test of time. Jade being both an auspicious gemstone in South East Asia is also a tough gem and has an interlocking internal structure making it extremely long lasting. When cut in thin slices or with holes through its centre, its structure prevents it from breaking easily. 
Jade pillers around the pagoda
We visited many markets around the country and one thing that instantly took me back to Jaipur was the streets filled with gemstone dealers selling all sorts of colourful gems. The only difference here in Myanmar was their obsession with the “Lahphet yay” or Tea (that I could not get myself to stop drinking) which fuels their day.
Dealers sitting around plastic tables, drinking tea and checking parcels filled with gems

A glass of my favourite Laphet yay tea. A mixture of fermented tea and condensed milk, creating a strong yet sweet harmonious flavour

A collection of gems being sold in the market. Spinels, Sapphires, Rubies, and Jade were only some of the gems stocked here.
I visited the ancient plains of Bagan and watched the sun rise over the pagodas that covered the ground
During the trip, I also trekked up the hills in Kalaw and stayed in a village with a very hospitable local family for a night, after which I trekked back down to the delightfully cool Inle Lake.
On my journey, I met an enterprising old lady who was weaving shawls, bags, and turbans and must have been over 80 years. She was so kind and made us some warm herbed tea, which she served with a village snack that was so basic yet delicious.
The enterprising lady preparing our herbed tea

Sprouted lentils roasted in salt
A snapshot from the trek to the village in the hills
During my trek, I saw a tree with its sap oozing out forming droplets that looked like icicles. These very same icicles caught the sunlight in the right angles giving the illusion of clear  quartz crystal. 
The village we passed made a type of cigarette locally called ‘cheerut’. The whole process from start to finish used items that were grown locally. From the corn leaves used to make the filter to the glue made from sap used to stick it all together, the entire cigarette was completely organic and biodegradable. 
Star anise spiced cheerut
Lady making the cheerut

Another local tradition is the application of a sunscreen like paste, extracted from the bark of a tree called ‘Thanakha’. This yellow natural remedy is said to give a natural glow and protect the skin from the harsh sun that shines so bright all over the country. 
A local shopkeeper prepping me for my day with some Thanakha

Some common gems mined in Myanmar

What took me by surprise was the village of Inle. The entire village was on stilts, even the vegetables were grown on the water, everything was done on boats that moved around the inlets of the lake, transporting people.

Moving along the river, with vegetables growing along the side

Fishing in Inle Lake

The amber that I found being sold in the markets was absolutely stunning. The blocks were as big as my arm and had insects completely enclosed within. From leaves to bees and even some smaller beetles, the amber blocks had a variety of inclusions. They were also available in beads as perfectly matched necklaces.

Amber blocks and beads
My trail for gemstones led me to the perfect trade hub, where a friend of mine introduced me to such warm gemstone dealers, who brought a selection of gems for a couple of us to see. They had everything, Aquamarines, Spinels, Sapphires, and even some Zircons. Sitting at the top on the terrace of a fancy hotel in the capital city of Yangon watching the sun set over the gold Shwedagon pagoda, selecting gemstones was just a beautiful experience. 
A collection of Spinels
Varieties of gems
The food in Myanmar was an absolute delight. A plain coconut curry cooked with chicken and potatoes would leave you craving more. Not only that every meal was a spread, even in the village,  vegetables both green and roots, rice and of course desert were all sure to be served.
Supper in the village in the mountains
A delicious local chicken curry
I’m now looking for another interesting country to visit, one with a range of natural gemstones that will give me the same satisfaction I found in Myanmar. I urge you to visit this colourful country, for the delectable food, the tea and its rich gemstone base.