Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar--  An enormous conifer, Araucaria columnaris, towers over the Burmese National Botanic Garden at a refreshingly cool altitude of 3,500 feet. Once a hill station to which the British retreated from Mandalay's heat, the garden was begun in 1915. It took us nearly 3 hours to reach it from the steamy plains of Mandalay, following enormous trucks around hairpin curves of theBurma Road on their way toChina, only 350 miles away. 

Once at the little town of Pyin Oo Lwin, we squeezed into a tiny cart, shaped like a stage coach and painted in pastels, to be pulled by a little horse to the garden. British tradition, you know.  

Begun by Alex Rogers, a forestry researcher, the garden was helped by Otway Wheeler Cuffee and his wife Charlotte Wheeler Cuffee, offering advice on the layout and plant collections. The Cuffees, says our Burmese guide Kenneth, were from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  

Maymyo Botanical Garden (also called Kandawgyi) is organized around a man-made lake on 436 acres. Low beds of annuals provide the color around the lake, where families come to picnic and listen to a rock band on the weekends. Black and mute swans keep their distance from each other.  

Now privately maintained, the garden has several large collections, including bamboo, conifers, orchids, and crotons. We headed to the orchids collection through the pines.  

There are 42 endemic orchid species housed here, neatly grown in clay pots. In flower for us were Paphiopedilum wardii, pictured at left, Paph. spicerianum and many gorgeous cymbidiums. Alas, no labels. Onc. Sharry Baby surprised our local guide Joe with its chocolate perfume.  

In the large aviary, hornbills eyed us and white peacocks ignored us. Perhaps most splendid is the butterfly museum, with all the butterflies of Myanmar, South America, and Asia. Photos not allowed.  

It was a glorious afternoon, and took only 1 1/2 hours to descend back into the city and the heat and the motorbikes of Mandalay.