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    Tropical Punch Tour: Myanmar Video

    Enigmatic and intriguing, Myanmar is land of contradictions. It boasts some of the nicest people on Earth who are, ironically, ruled by an oppressive military regime. On the religious front, Buddhism reigns supreme, yet a subculture of nat (spirit) worship continues to thrive in its shadow. The country’s pagoda-dotted landscape maintains layers of dust despite frequent downpours in the rainy season. And despite its considerable distance from the equator, most of Myanmar is oven hot.

    Tropical Punch Tour: Myanmar Video kicks off in the capital city of Yangon with a visit to the high-rise spires of Botataung Pagoda, home of Buddha’s First Sacred Hair Relic, and Shwedagon Pagoda, the country’s biggest and most revered Buddhist monument. Rising 300 feet above Yangon, this gold-coated monolith pierces the sky and the human mind with a sense of majestic oneness. Up in Mandalay, we tip-toe through the bird-infested grounds of Mahamuni Pagoda, Myanmar’s second holiest temple and home of some gloriously blobbed Buddha bling, followed by Shwe In Bin Kyaung, an amazing Buddhist monastery made out of teak wood. Next up is a chance encounter with clattery street procession / percussion pushcart bands called Thone Yaung Chael and Shwe Pone Taung, followed by a stop at another Buddhist temple called Kuthodaw Pagoda, boasting no less than 729 blinding white stupas.

    Like most people everywhere, the Burmese strive for success in business, friendship, love, and life in general. Many of them seek good luck in these and other endeavors from spirits called nats. This is accomplished by making offerings and erecting shrines for them, and consulting with a colorfully costumed character called a nat kadaw (spirit medium) in a special music and dance event called a nat pwe (spirit show). Small nat pwes take place all over Myanmar every day, but the largest event of the year occurs every August when thousands of Burmese invade a small village called Taungbyone about 12 miles North of Mandalay in the central part of the country.

    Equal parts street fair, carnival, concert and religious ceremony, the Taungbyone festival is an ultra-intense blast furnace of vivid, colorful, chaotic sights and sounds. In a tradition that dates back over 900 years, an orchestra consisting of saing waing and kyi waing (drums and gongs arranged in circular enclosures), hand drums, cymbals, a wood block, let ko (bamboo clapper) and a heavily reverbed vocalist provide the blaring, clangorous rhythm for the faithful as they give offerings of food, alcohol, flowers and money to the nat kadaw in exchange for good luck blessings from the actual nat itself, which enters the body of the kadaw during a frenzy of dance and music.

    Background songs from Princess Nicotine, Radio Myanmar and Music of Nat Pwe CDs, courtesy of Sublime Frequencies.

    For tons of photos and a detailed travel journal, visit the Tropical Punch Tour page.

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