SAGAR : LOST TREASURE
by Khin Thuzar
Photos by Sonny Nyein
As accessibility improved over many areas of the country both the locals and the tourists
have been amazed at the number of enchanting places that were being discovered, such
as Kekku or the Taung-to Pagoda complexes of the Shan State. They may have been hidden from
the eyes of people from other regions, but they are living places of worship for the nationalities
living in the area. The nationalities are no doubt astounded that a place, which for many centuries
was part of their history, should generate so much excitement to newcomers. What
is more exciting, however, is that there seem to be more places yet to be discovered. Take for
example one unknown and mysterious village called Sagar, by the banks of the little-traveled Belu
Chaung, or according to the literal translation, Ogre Stream. One is not sure
if ogres actually roamed there once, but it is a stream flowing out of
Inlay lake and into the Mobye Dam on the other side of which is Pekon Town on the borders of
Kayah State. Belu Chaung then flows into Kayah State and even past Loikaw, its
In the old days when Sawbwas, or princes, ruled the territory Sagar was a principality with
its own prince. By now all is left of Sagar are ancient pagodas and
monasteries, and the once busy town is now a village hidden away from the world and almost forgotten. Nowadays the
nationalities who inhabit the area are Pa 0, as hard working as they are
good-hearted. The Pa 0 settles in large and prosperous villages and are
known for the work they put into their communities.
The route to Sagar is in itself a journey of enchantment. The bo~t weaves through the
waters of Inlay and down south,
beyond Taungto Village with its old pagodas, past Kyaing Kan Village where they weave monk's robes from
fibers pulled from the lotus stems, a magical process not known anywhere else in the world.
The village of Kyauktaing one passes by and must stop on a market day is then a gathering place for the
nationalities, to see them arrayed in their colourful costumes and draped with beads, chains and coins. They
come to buy and sell piles of fresh, luscious vegetables that for sweetness are unrivaled,
finely woven baskets, pots and bowls of thin red-gold glazed ware made in local kilns.A few
old ladies earn their living with some rickety sewing machines set up for making up
new-bought longyi on the spot.
A market such as this offers simple wares and delicious local food such as fritters and
slices of golden fried bean curd, Shan noodles and steamed vegetables wrapped in leaves.
Definitely Kyauktaing market day is not to be missed.
The boat then goes beyond Lekya Village known for its lacquer ware, finally easing into
Belu Chaung. If ogres reign there they must surely have been the most benign of
creatures, and lucky are they to live here for the scenery is
beautiful; the morning sun casts rays on the sparkling water and the tender green
shoots of grass shimmer with the light. Purple mountains and hilly terrain surrounds the
stream. The air is still with the blue and gold of sky and sun, as if nothing else
exists on this earth. To breathe in the pure air in such a surrounding,
far from the violence and stress of the other places on earth, is balm to the soul and comfort to the mind.
Waterfowl of all sizes swoop lazily to watch for fish, or they sit in groups briskly cleaning their
feathers. As they circle over the boat, which is something they rarely see here, the sun glints
through their wings and tips them with gold. It would be a paradise for birdwatchers here as the
winged ones are of many different species.
You pass by clean and prosperous Pa O villages here and there on the banks, their fishing
boats moored on the banks. The villagers farm and fish, living with few material and modern
comforts but with a vastness of tranquility and bountiful nature around them.
The two hours' boat ride seems almost too short on this route, when you arrive at the
Takhaung Mwedaw Pagoda complex just before Sagar village itself.
The pagodas are in the same style as those of Kekku, Taung-to and Indain all of which lie
further north. Once, there must have been some connections between these four complexes. No
records remain apart from the charming
legenqs told, and firmly believed in, by the people of the region. They say a beloved king
of Bagan, Alaungsithu, had traveled far and wide, building pagodas at places of rest. Maybe
somewhere there are old artifacts and inscriptions to be discovered but
so far none has been found.
The workmanship and style of the four complexes are similar, so perhaps the craftsmen
who did one complex worked on the others as well. Who were they, these gifted builders, and
who were their patrons? Once, when the pagodas now in ruins were newly consecrated,
what festivities there must have been. Long lines of pilgrims must have marched over
mountains, across rivers and valleys to bring offerings to the shrines. Soft light from
hundreds of candles must have turned the place magical, these centuries past.
The once splendid pagodas are lost in time, sometimes half submerged in the rising waters
of the stream. Their isolated and abandoned state makes you wonder if their guardian spirits are not
yearning for the lost times with pilgrims praying
and bringing offerings of food, flowers and light.
As Buddha taught us, AII is Impermanence. But it is strangely painful to see the decay of
monuments built in His memory and as testament for our gratitude to
Him. As a lost site of antiquity, sagar may yet regain the devotion of pilgrims from far and near. Then it will be the
gain of these new pilgrims not only to worship here again but to be blessed by the
tranquility of the region, a tranquility which is like a treasure that is getting more rare in this