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Strategically located in the South East Asian Peninsula, shaped like a card of diamond with an elongated panhandle, the largest compact land mass in the region, lies a beautiful exotic country, with a rich cultural heritage, ample resources, yet little known to the world of tourism. Dense tropical forests where the famous Myanmar teak Tectona grandis and other hardwood abound, a country with fertile crop land in an endless stretch of rain-drenched topsoil, with lush vegetation and infinite variety of tropical and temperate fruits, with exotic flora and interesting fauna, with priceless deposits of the finest jade, Mogok pigeon-red rubies, blue sapphires and large round silver-hued pearls equal to none in the world, in essence a land blessed by nature with infinite bounties.
The country shares a common border with Bangladesh and India on the North West, People's Republic of China on the northeast, Laos on the east and Thailand on the southeast. On the easternmost tip, jutting out like a rhino's horn where the Mekong flows sedately lay the rendezvous point where the borders of three nations: Myanmar, Laos and Thailand converge in 'The Golden Triangle'.
Three ranges of hills run from north to south in parallel lengths like giant pythons stretched in repose in the warmth of the sun and the cool of starlit nights. The western range is called, 'The Rakhine Yoma', the central range 'The Bago Yoma', and the eastern range, 'The Shan Yoma', 'Yoma' means 'mountain range'.
Three rivers, having their sources in the snow-capped mountains in the upper reaches of the north flow through the valleys between each of the Yoma ranges to the south toward the Andaman Sea. The mighty Ayeyarwady forms a delta of rich alluvial soil for commercial cultivation of paddy. The Sittaung and Thanlwin Rivers form estuaries with the Gulf of Mottama (Martaban).
The western coast dips into the Bay of Bengal which is part of the Indian Ocean. The country's coastline starts form there, curving south along the alluvial Ayeyarwady delta, to continue in an easterly direction to the Yangon commercial port, and to the Sittaung delta along the Gulf of Mottama. Then it swerves south along the Tanintharyi coastline right down to the thriving border town of Kawthoung, separated by the broad Pachan River from the Thai border town of Ranong. Thousands of islands dot the seas rich with marine life, yet unexplored and underexploited within Myanmar's economic zone. Those from the famous Myeik Archipelago (known as Mergui, in the novel 'Siamese White' of Maurice Collis fame) of enchanting islands where bird's nests are harvested in abundance, and where pearls of unparalleled beauty, lustre, colour and size are cultured from king-sized oysters.
Such is a country known as Myanmar or the 'Union of Myanmar'. It formerly went under the name of Burma in the British days and during the early days of Independence. It is in fact a misnomer, as the name narrowly connotes a majority national group 'Bama' from among many diverse ethnic races living together in peace and harmony. The original name 'Myanmar' represents the proper stature, glory and prestige for the word 'Myanmar' carries the meaning of a national race possessing quickness, acuteness of mind, patriotic pride, relentless effort and diligence.
The country has a total surface area of 677,000 square kilometres (261,288 square miles). It measures 936 kilometres (582 miles) from east to west in its broadest span, and 2,051 kilometres (1,275 miles) from north to south. The length of continuous frontier from the western-most point of Rakhine State to Kawthoung the southernmost point is 2,228 kilometres (1,385 miles). Map location reads at between latitudes 09 32' and 28 31' North and longitudes 92 10' and 101 11' East of Greenwich. Myanmar local time is 6 ½ hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
The location and topography of Myanmar generates a diversity of climatic conditions influenced by cold winds of the upper reaches of the mountainous north, or the wet humid south-west monsoon from the Bay of Bengal in the southern region, and the dry hot wind of the central plains hemmed in-between. Situated in the Tropic of Cancer and Equator zones, the country enjoys a tropical climate. There are three seasons a year, the hot season (akin to summer) from the months of March to May with temperature soaring to 44 Celsius (110 F) in some places. Then comes the rainy season starting from June and ending in October. It is marked by the regularity of visit of the south-west monsoon from the Bay of Bengal, the bearer of precious plentiful water needed for the plantation of paddy, our staple food and cash crop for export. Rain also helps replenish ponds, lakes and helps nurture trees in the forests. The cold season (akin to winter) lasts from November to February, mild in the south, cold in the northern regions, and capping the high mountains of the north with snow.
There is a sharp variation of temperature depending on the elevation above sea level of different regions. The mountainous habitats 3,000 ft above sea level witness the mercury drop to 0 Celsius many a time. In the plains the temperature ranges between 5 Celsius (41 F) to 44 Celsius (110 F) the hottest areas being in the central dry zones, commonly known as the Dry Belt. Annual rainfall varies from less than 101 cm (40 in) to above 508 cm (200 in) particularly in the coastal regions.
Extremes of temperature are rare in Myanmar for the country enjoys a relatively predictable le regular climate. Monsoon is almost always punctual, entering Myanmar around June and retreating in October when the planting season is well over and the heavily laden seeds are ripening. Depressions in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, many predictable by satellite pictures, and some errant ones bring turbulences, and storms. But generally speaking, conditions are congenial, calling for no better blessing by the smiling people from the land of golden pagodas.
To the many names of Myanmar, another epitaph can fittingly be added to its glamorous glossary – the land of year – round festivals. No month in Myanmar passes without at least one festival. Myanmar festivals manifest themselves in many ways; a time for merrymaking, focal points for social celebrations, for observance of a religious ceremony, or merely a safety valve to recover sanity, sense of proportion, and revert to the natural goodness – to – godliness attitude, inherent in Myanmar society.
Buddhism is traditionally a predominant faith of the majority of Myanmar people for more than one thousand years ago. Its chief influence can be felt in many ways. It has determined our thoughts, ideas, attitudes to material world as well as to the philosophy of life and after-life. Buddhism has also permeated into Myanmar culture, literature, art and architecture. Many pagodas, temples monasteries are the physical expressions devoted to the profound teachings of Buddhist. And many of the festivals are centred on the pagodas of the region, thence taking the name of pagoda festivals, a gala show biz for people of the region.
Myanmar people are happy-go-lucky but not easy-going as some foreigner's remark. They are happy-go-lucky because by nature they like enjoyment and their natural environment, social customs and religious tradition favour their way of life. Nature provides all necessities of simple living and social and religious activities create occasions for merrymaking. Apart from the communal celebration of social and religious events, Myanmar family has at least three important occasions to celebrate: first the naming of the child, second the ear-boring of the daughter and initiation of the son into the Holy Order and third, wedding of the daughter or the son; of them, the second and the third are important. A big feast and entertainment are held on these occasions. In Yangon and other big towns when such events take place in the halls of hotels, foreign tourists passing by might be invited to watch the ceremony and join in the feast and entertainment.
Each month of the Myanmar lunar calendar has its festival held annually. Myanmar year begins in April commonly known as Thingyan or water-throwing festival, where everyone can participate. Thingyan is held for three days during which fresh cool water is thrown at any passer-by to cleanse him of all evils and sins of out-going year and to usher in the New Year. It is a great occasion: alms-giving, feasting, doing religious merit and merry-making, which one and all join in, regardless of race, religion and rank. It is a festival of goodwill and loving-kindness. The next festival held in May is a religious festival. On the full-moon day of May, water is poured at the Buddha tree which the Buddhists regard sacred because the Buddha became enlightened under its shade. A festival of light, held in the Full Moon Day of Thadingyut, the seventh lunar month (October) is also a gala festival where night turns to day with lights paying homage to Buddha. Other festivals held every month are also associated with Buddhism.
Festival of December celebrates the worship of Maha Peinne Nat (Ganesh). Royal Regatta and boat races in September and Equestrian Tourney in January are the non-religious festivals held by the Myanmar kings. Myanmar is a land where various indigenous races made it their home since time immemorial. There are altogether 135 national races, among which the main national races are Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Bamar, Mon, Rakhine and Shan. Each national race has its own festivals, held principally in their own states.