Mohana Gill’s Column 27

Wonders of Myanmar - A Letter from Aunty Mohana -

posted: October 5, 2015
purcel tower

The region of Pyin U Lwin or Maymyo as it was called holds fond memories for me and is therefore very close to my heart. My father was born there and lived with his family until he was married and moved to Pathein. My earliest recollections of Pyin U Lwin were of annual vacations during the school holidays to visit my paternal grand parents. My grandmother was well known for her delicious homemade strawberry jam, made from strawberries that grew in abundance in Pyin U Lwin.

The British 'discovered' Pyin U Lwin after the capture of Mandalay at the end of the Third Burmese War.
An early Englishman described it thus: "Pyin-u-lwin, a charmingly situated village of some five and twenty houses, with a market-place and a gambling ring, won our hearts. I inspected a curious magnetic rock in the neighboring jungle. Some years afterwards a geologist of note described it as a new discovery.
It has been lost again, but will doubtless be found some day." (Herbert White, "A Civil Servant in Burma").

The British soon established a military post there and the village was renamed Maymyo (May Town) after the commander of the post, Colonel May, a veteran of the Indian Mutiny. Within a few years, after it was connected to Mandalay by rail, it became the summer residence of the British Government in Burma (the civil service would move, almost to the man, from Rangoon to Maymyo).
A little later, it was made the headquarters of the Burma Division, a largely Gurkha and Indian division.
The Nepali population of Pyin U Lwin today is the remnants of that division. White goes on to describe it as "Without pretension to the picturesque, it is a place of great charm and quiet beauty, with no palm trees and few pagodas, conspicuously un-Oriental, more like a corner of Surrey than of Burma".
I guess one can use ones imagination to describe it in any way but it is still less like Burma than almost anywhere else in the country.

Maymyo was an important educational center during colonial times, with schools such as St Mary’s, St Michaels’s St Albert’s, St Joseph’s Convent, and Colgate all based in the town. Children of British settlers and colonial administrators were sent to be educated here, both European and Anglo-Burmese children.
The town was also the location of the various schools of military education open to all ethnicities.

Today it is home to the Defence Services Academy and the Defence Services Technological Academy. There is a large military presence in the town. Now a day there are some private schools such as Soe San, Sar Pan Eain and others.

horse cart22

Pyin U Lwin is known for its unique horse carriages and British colonial houses and this makes it stand out from the rest of the towns in Myanmar.
In the flurry of activity that punctuates the markets in Pyin U Lwin, horse drawn carriages or gharries are still a central mode of transport. Imported from India, these carriages operate much like modern day taxis. Unlike the open horse-drawn carts found in other parts of Myanmar, these quaint carriages are closed and painted in vibrant hues.

Once the summer capital of the Raj in Burma, Pyin U Lwin retains some of the 'hill station' look that cities like Darjeeling and Simla in India used to have in the 1960s and 1970s. Because of its history as a summer capital and a military centre of the Indian Army during British times, it has both a large Indian population and strong Anglo-Burmese and Anglo-Indian communities.
As a town near the border of China many Chinese people are also settling down in this pleasant hill town. It is also an important market centre for goods from the Shan State and Kachin territories and an important military base.
At an elevation of 1070 metres above sea level, there is an abundance of flowers, strawberries, and coffee beans. The land is very green and the cool climate makes it a very interesting and lovely place to visit.

Purcell Tower stands in the heart of the town. The clock was one of the few made in 1934 by Gillette and Jonson Co. of England in commemoration of the sliver jubilee of the reign of King George V of Britain. The history of the tower is a mystery. One story is that it was a gift to the people of Maymyo from Queen Victoria. Another story is that an Armenian trader Mr. Purcell paid for the cost of the construction of the tower in 1934.Whatever the origin of the tower; it still chimes the tune of the Big Ben, playing 16 notes before the hour.


One of the most interesting, beautiful and well-known attractions in Pyin U Lwin is the Kandawgyi botanical gardens. Established in 1915, the beautifully created national garden and the adjacent Pyin U Lwin nursery are famous attractions. Alex Roger a forest Officer established it.
The original site was 30 acres and was modeled after the Kew Gardens of England with the help of an amateur gardener called Lady Cuffe.In 1917,the government granted it official recognition, and in 1924,the site was declared a Government Botanical Reserve. On 1 December 1942,the Ministry of Forestry designated the Botanical Gardens a “protected forest area”. On 1 December 2000,Sr Gen Than Shwe renamed it “Kandawgyi National Gardens”.
It has been used to promote extensive ecotourism in Burma.

The Botanical Gardens has many species of indigenous trees, foreign species and species of bamboo as well as crotons. There are also about 300 species of indigenous orchids roses and land lilies. The gardens are immaculately kept and the lawns are manicured to perfection.


The ministry of Forestry manages the National Botanical Gardens. Forty-two acres of the site are a protected forest area.
The gardens are popular among tourists as it reminds them of the Kew gardens in England. Endangered wild animals are also kept in the National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens, including Eld’s Deer, Burmese Star Tortoise, Takin, Hog Deer, but there are also pheasant and waterfowl.
It has collaborated with the UK based Botanical Gardens Conservation International to conserve the indigenous orchids in their natural habitat.

There are three museums in the Gardens. The Fossils Museum houses fossils of mammals, reptiles and invertebrates, and the Petrified Wood Museum displays fossils of plants, colorful stones, toddy-palm roots, as well as things made from fossils of plants. The Butterfly Museum has various species of butterflies from Nepal, Taiwan, South America, Japan and south East Asia.

Today, Pyin U Lwin is particularly noted for four centers of national economic importance. It is the center of sericulture (silkworm rearing) The Research center conducts three distinct roles: the intensive planting and harvesting of mulberry trees (leaves for the silk worms bark for hand made paper) The rearing of the actual silkworms, and the reeling of the silk from the cocoons. It also has a large research centre for indigenous medicinal plants and has one of the country’s few pharmaceutical production facilities.

It is also the centre of the country’s principal flower and vegetable production. The most popular flowers grown are chrysanthemum, aster and gladiolus. All these flowers are exported all over Myanmar. It has also become well known for its coffee industry. A number of factories in the town process coffee beans that are distributed country wide, but it is also now prepared for export.


the author of the book “Myanmar : Cuisine, Culture & Customs” and the world prestigious “Best Asian Cuisine in The World” winning author.


“Myanmar : Cuisine, Culture & Customs”,

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