Monywa, a town about three hours drive west of Mandalay, was the place from where we started to explore the many crater lakes. Monywa is a big place, with its own university of about 9000 students. There even is a geology department offering undergraduate education. Many students seem to study geology in Myanmar, too many the vice president of the university told us. Not so many of the students will have a chance of finding a job after their studies.
The craters, some still containing lakes, some completely overgrown and turned into farmland, are quite difficult to access. Dirt roads that are most easily travelled by oxcart, bicycle or motorbike fan out in all directions from the main road and it is not really easy to know which one to take. All signs are in Myanmar language and without our guide Lin Thu and our driver, we would have been completely lost.
Bumpy dirt roads, which seem not passable during the rainy season, lead through agricultural land, past small farmsteads and plantations, until finally a small village pops up out of nowhere. Traffic is quite frequent on these small roads: oxcarts, bicycles, motorbikes, an occasional lorry or jeep, goats and cows; meeting between vehicles thus become slightly difficult. But the farmers on their oxcarts are really good at turning the carts and the oxen around and letting others pass, while the cows and goats are much more stupid and run in front of the jeep for quite a while, until they realize that there is an escape to the left or right.
Several of the craters are located close to the village of Leshe, but none of them is accessible by car. So we had to walk down the steep rim of the crater, through loose ash and vegetation, up again on the other side and into the next crater, down again. And then back again, of course. Given the heat that explodes around 10 am, the walk becomes quite arduous. Without the help of a local we would never have found our way around in this maze of craters.
Nut and Lin Thu took a small boat out on one of the smaller lakes to test the water depth and to see if there are soft sediments that would be a potential target. While they were out with the owner of the boat, I stayed behind and watched two girls extracting some kind of thread from the stems of water lilies or lotus flowers, which had been collected in the lake. These threads are sold to a weaver who will color them and weave them into tissues to make robes for the monks. I’d guess that these robes will be very special and probably also very expensive.