Yangon is not the capital of Myanmar, Nay Pyi Daw is; a common misconception. The Uppatasanti Pagoda located in the latter, a replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, is also famous for its white elephants.
The kings and noted leaders of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country have always associated the albino or white elephants with good fortune and positive power. The rare appearances of these elephants in the country are treasured and often pampered.
Right opposite to the Uppatasanti Pagoda in Nay Pyi Daw there is a specially built ‘White Elephant House’, a traditional Myanmar architectural building extending to 3,600 sq. ft. in area. The compound alongside the building also features grassland, two pools with fountains, two dams, a bathing pond with a fountain, a sugarcane plantation, a medical centre, a feed store along with a suitable viewing area.
Pink or white?
Your first look might defeat your sense of colours and shades. While these elephants go through a rigorous scrubbing ritual twice a day, to the normal eye it may look as if they have a striking shade of dusty pink as their coat. However, these rare elephants are prized symbols of fortune for the people in Myanmar who believe these white creatures bring prosperity and symbolise bumper crops.
The people in Myanmar have not been shy about trumpeting how well the white elephants reflect on their leadership. At the Royal White Elephant Garden, as the Nay Pyi Daw enclosure is called, tourists are handed brochures where stories of learned persons of the past successive eras boast that white elephants appear to kings and governments who have ruled well. In one such brochure that still remains reminiscent of my visit to Nay Pyi Daw, it reads, “emergence of the white elephants is a good omen for the nation at a time when the state is endeavouring to build a peaceful, modern and developed nation.”
So, even if you perceive them as pink, the elephants of Myanmar that enjoy all these attention are definitely white!
Trained and worshiped
The elephants are smarter than working class gray elephants, our tour guide was joking when we were in proximity. I could get a glimpse of their intellect when a baby elephant almost made a gesture for food. We patted her and touched her trunk. However, when the guide was talking about how these elephants are tamed and trained, one might have a heavy heart.
The white elephants are fresh early in the morning with the customary ritual, which includes a walk, a hand scrub and a belly-filling feed of grasses and sugar cane. In the evening, the ritual is repeated, complete with a second wash-down, before the old chief elephant master.
The Uppatasanti Pagoda remains one of the prime attractions for the tourists in Nay Pyi Daw; if not for Buddhist affinity, definitely for these white elephants.