Update : January 20, 2021
By Sayagyi U Min Wun
Former Professor, Department of Civil Engineering
Rangoon Institute of Technology
When I read the article on “Kyaik Hti Yo Development Project” (KHYDP) by Dr. Koung Nyunt (A67, New Zealand, GBNF), it brings me lots of fond memories and remind me of the “Good Old Days” of my tenure at the then R.I.T. It urges me to write this supplemental article.
There are many attractive sites in Myanmar for pilgrims, such as
• “Ah Laung Daw Katha Pha” to the west of Monywa,
• “Popa Taung Kalat” and “Mount Popa” north of Kyauk Pa Daung,
• “Pin Da Ya Hlaing Gu” near Nyaung Shwe in Shan State,
• “U Daung Taung” near Inlay Lake in Shan State,
• “Mrauk U” and “Wei Tha Li” in Rakkhine State,
• “Kyaik Hti Yo” in Mon State, … and so on, just to mention a few.
These pilgrimage sites are our “National Wilderness Heritages”. A Wilderness is a place where the imprint of humans is substantially unnoticed, and the changes will occur primarily through natural disturbance, and minimum human influence. This is not the case with Kyaik Hti Yo, and many of the above pilgrimage sites in Myanmar, where human encroachment and activity are becoming noticeable.
On your way up the Kyaik Hti Yo Trek, after the Nga Gar Lain climb, the first sight of the Gilded Stupa-Topped Boulder, resembling a Hermit’s Head, floating on top of a Stone Pillar, appears in vista vision. At that time, a thrilling feeling of achievement and excitement is beyond description and all the physical tiredness seems to have dissolved and melted away in the bodily blood stream. During the Pagoda Festival Season, this scenario was usually hidden from view by a long row of bamboo huts along the last ridge toward the Kyaik Hti Yo Pagoda Plateau. Many smaller boulders along the ridge were painted in white for advertising the vendors.
To the East of the Pagoda Plateau many bamboo huts align the smaller ridges with waterless bathrooms in the back and human wastes are dumped along the slopes, creating ugly and unsanitary sites for parasites, and causing unpleasant smell in the air. Water is a scarce property and it is a luxury to afford a shower.
With the blessing of the venerable “Me Byaw Sayadaw”, the Kyaik Hti Yo Pagoda Trustees (KHYPT), requested me to prepare a Project Report for the development of Kyaik Hti Yo and its Environment. The Project was sponsored by the KHYPT under the auspices of the Kyaik Hto Township Party and Council. The Project Development Team (PDT) was formed with the following volunteer Team Leaders:
- Dr. Koung Nyunt, (Dept of Architecture, R.I.T., GBNF)
- Dr. San Lin and U Hla Thein (Electric Power Corporation, E.P.C.)
- Dr. Kyaw Latt, (National Housing Board, N.H.B.)
- U Tint Lwin (?), (Dept of Geology, R.A.S.U.)
- U Aye Win Kyaw, (Dept of Civil Engineering, R.I.T., GBNF).
And volunteer members from R.I.T., E.P.C., N.H.B., R.A.S.U., too numerous to mention and I do hope they will excuse me.
Preservation of Wilderness
Dr. Koung Nyunt and his team had prepared many good recommendations to preserve Kyaik Hti Yo and its environment by maintaining the natural landscapes and scenic beauty , and to preserve it as a Wilderness Area. (See Slide #16 of Kyaik Htiyo Album, KHA. Dr. Kyaw Latt is the Second from the Left, looking away from camera.)
The team lead by Dr Kyaw Latt had prepared useful Zoning Maps, with guidelines for enforcement, to demarcate Kyaik Hti Yo Plateau for Resting Huts, Food Stalls, Souvenir Boutiques, Photographers, etc.
The Hydropower Team lead by Dr. San Lin and U Hla Thein made a feasibility study for Micro-hydro Power Project, for lighting, for pumping water to the Pagoda Plateau level for water supply and sanitation purposes. U Hla Thein will design the turbine and manufacture it locally. (See Slide #29 of KHA.)
U Tint Lwin and his team made a general geological survey of Hyaik Hti Yo Pagoda Site. A detailed study of the Stone Pillar and the Hermit-Head Boulder was conducted. Disposed “Food Offerings” were found at the foot of the Stone Pillar and many “rodent holes” were also observed. These holes became small piping tunnels for runoff water to drain deeper and quicker into the ground, causing erosion and exposing the base of the Stone Pillar. This process was gradually endangering the stability of the Stone Pillar, which is “supposed” to support the 160-ton Hermit-Head Boulder on top of it. A concrete slab was poured around the base of the Stone Pillar and discarding of “Food Offerings” at the base was at once prohibited. Several hairline cracks were observed at the top of the Stone Pillar and “Water Offerings” to the Stupa on top of the Boulder was prohibited temporarily until the hair line cracks were sealed with apoxy resin. (See Slide # 25 of KHA.)
U Aye Win Kyaw and his surveying team were very ingenious to determine the volume of the Hermit-Head Boulder and its weight, which was calculated to be approximately 160 tons. The center of gravity of the Boulder was determined to be 6 to 9 inches away from the vertical axis of the “Contact Point” with the Stone Pillar, giving an impression of being on the verge of falling off. The Boulder seems to be afloat and can be rocked back and forth about a shifting “Contact Point” on top of the Stone Pillar. A rope can be pulled through this “Contact Point”, without getting crushed, by rocking the Boulder gently. And it seems to defy the Law of Gravity, thus making it both a terrestrial and a celestial “Wonder”. (See Slides #13, #22, and #24 of KHA.)
Many field trips were organized by each team to do site investigations both during Kyaik Hti Yo Festival Season (beginning at the end of the Buddhist Lent and ending on the Lunar New Year Day) and off the Festival Season.
According to an age-old saying, the author should become rich because he had made more than “Three Trips to Kyaik Hti Yo Pagoda”, at least nine trips. The age-old saying is, perhaps, true, because many of the PDT members and volunteers are now abroad living comfortably or enjoying a retirement life.
A feasibility report was submitted to the Kyaik Hti Yo Pagoda Trustees in 1982. Since then I have not been to Kyaik Hti Yo Pagoda Festival. I have learned that there are many improvements to make Kyaik Hti Yo a Tourist Attraction.
We should, however, keep in our mind that the “Wilderness” of Kyaik Hti Yo should be protected and valued for its unique ecological, historical, religious, scientific and experiential resources.
Saya Dr. Koung Nyunt (A67), who contributed several articles to “RIT Alumni International Newsletter” is GBNF. His spouse has contact with selected alumni in Australia and New Zealand.
Saya U Aye Win Kyaw (C70) is also GBNF. His family suffered a double tragedy when his son died from electrocution. He is also an expert in Western and Eastern Astronomy. He taught astronomy at MARB (myanamr Astro Research Bureau).
Sayagyi U Min Wun was from the first batch of three Engineering students — including Sayagyi Dr. Aung Gyi and Saya U Maung Maung Than (GBNF) — chosen to study in the US under the “Twinning Program”. Sayagyi retired as Professor from RIT, but his former students (including Saya U Myat Htoo (C68)) encouraged him to work at CalTrans (California Transportation) until he passed the tender age of 80. He stays healthy by practicing Vipassana meditation. Sayagyi could not leave behind Sayagadaw to travel to Myanmar to attend the multiple Reunions and Saya Pu Zaw Pwes. His former students from Myanmar (and one from Australia) sent their Garawa money to him.
Dr. San Lin (C62) worked at EPC and taught part-time at the Civil Engineering Department at RIT. He had UN assignments in Thailand before he relocated to the US. He used to visit Sunnyvale to pay respect to Saya U Soe Khaw (Mining, GBNF). On one occasion, U Soe Khaw, Dr. San Lin, Saya Allen Htay (C58, GBNF) and I had a lunch gathering which extended into the Dinner hours. Dr. San Lin is enjoying quality time with his two lovely grand children.