Trustees ready remote Alaungdaw Kathapa for festival season
Volume 31, No. 608
January 2 - 8, 2012
The road to Alaungdaw Kathapa is often in less-than-perfect condition.
TRUSTEES at Alaungdaw Kathapa Pagoda, located in a remote part of Sagaing Region, have begun preparations for annual pagoda festivals that start in February.
Alaungdaw Kathapa Pagoda hosts two back-to-back festivals each year: one on the full moon of the lunar month of Tabodwe (February 7 in 2012), and one the following month on the full moon of Tabaung (March 7).
At the first festival 9000 illuminated candles are offered together with htamane (glutinous rice), while at the second a mass alms-offering ceremony will be conducted. The festivals attract residents from both Sagaing Region and Chin State, and offer an insight into their traditional culture.
The journey to Alaungdaw Kathapa is not for the faint-hearted, however, with roads in the area often in poor condition after rainy season.
U Maung Maung Htay, a member of the pagoda’s board of trustees, said repair work on the road had begun in early December and it should be open by the New Year.
“There are many other chores to do, such as cleaning the rest houses, shrines and bathrooms on the mountain. The pagoda will open in early January,” he said.
U Maung Maung Htay also runs Alaungdaw Kathapa Tour Company, which offers trips to both of the festivals.
The first, from February 3-10, will see pilgrims travel from Yangon to Mandalay by train and then continue by bus to the pagoda, which is inside Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park. The second pilgrimage tour has been scheduled for March 23-30.
U Maung Maung Htay said the trip would cost about K72,000 a person, including transportation, meals and accommodation. The price is the same for foreigners and locals.
The company will accept bookings from up to 4000 pilgrims from Yangon and Mandalay, and plans to also offer four-day trips to the pagoda for those with a tight schedule, he said.
“Every Friday, we arrange buses for the trip. It costs K50,000 a person, not including meals, and we accept 30 to 40 for each trip. I planned it to cater to people who are busy but it is also attracting elderly people,” he said.
Aside from making offerings at the highly revered Alaungdaw Kathapa Pagoda, those who join the trip will also visit the cave temples of Po Win Taung and Shwe Ba Taung near Monywa, as well as pagodas in Sagaing and Mandalay.
He said Alaungdaw Kathapa Tour Company, founded more than 10 years ago, donates all profits from its tours to the Alaungdaw Kathapa Pagoda’s board of trustees for upkeep of the religious site.
While Myanmar has many pilgrim tour companies, few offer packages to Alaungdaw Kathapa owing to the low demand and poor condition of roads in the area, a spokesperson from Shwe Zee Kwet Tour Company said.
“The tour is seasonal but if we get enough passengers for the trip – from 30 to 40 – we arrange a bus. It’s very rare though because we don’t specifically offer that package and most pilgrims know there is one dedicated tour company for that site – Alaungdaw Kathapa Tours.”
Yangon-based Unique Star Tours is offering a January 20-24 package to Alaungdaw Kathapa priced at K190,000. Another option is a regular highway bus to Sagaing, from where local buses regularly depart for the pagoda at festival times.
U Maung Maung Htay said despite the logistical difficulties, the two festivals attract a total of more than 200,000 pilgrims a year.
“The pilgrimage is also attractive for [foreign] tourists. In recent years, it has been hard for them to get permission … from local authorities but now they are allowed freely. I think the number of tourist will increase,” he said.
According to Buddhist belief, the cave at Alaungdaw Kathapa Pagoda holds the preserved remains of Ashin Maha Kathapa, said to be one of Guatama Buddha’s most devoted disciples.
Those interested in signing up for the Tabodwe or Tabaung trips can contact Alaungdaw Kathapa Tour Company on (01) 226-924 or 09-7300-2473.