When we were expecting Ava we didn’t know her gender. We were prepared with a boy’s name and the name Ava for a girl. The name selection process was intense. We wanted either Indian or Persian (my mother’s heritage) roots, yet something that would be easily consumed in America. We scoured online name dictionaries and settled on Ava, which in Farsi means angel of water. What we didn’t realize what that the year our Ava (pronounced like lava) was born, Ava (with the a pronounced as in able) was one of the top five most popular girl names in the U.S. So despite our best efforts to pick a name that is easily understood, Ava will spend her life correcting the way people say her name.
Regardless, we still love the name and love it all the more after visiting the ancient upper Burmese capital of Ava. Legend is that the British, who couldn’t pronounce the Burmese name Inwa, renamed the capital Ava. Inwa meant city of gems, fitting for our jewelry obsessed Ava.
Ava is an island about an hour south of Mandalay and is only accessible by boat. Once on the island, one can walk or take a horse cart. Since the route is long and dusty, we opted for the latter. After years of war and a severe earthquake, what is left of ancient Ava are ruins of original pagodas, remnants of palace structures and a reconstructed watch tower. Most of the remaining palace was shipped to Mandalay when the capital moved, and even unwanted teak was taken off the island and used elsewhere in the country, such as on U Bein Bridge.. What has since grown are some small farming villages and new pagodas. I’m convinced that there is one pagoda per capita in Myanmar. We were warned of ‘pagoda fatigue’, but somehow I can’t seem to get enough of the structures.
Instead of getting carted around, we gave our horse a break and explored some of the island on foot. This pagoda complex is one of the few left from the ancient kingdom. As much as we like off the beaten path places, sometimes it’s wise to stay on the horse cart. We realized we went a little too far when, as I snapped this picture, a snake rustled through the greenery just in front of Sandeep.
As usual, it’s hard to take a picture in Myanmar without a combination of pagodas, monks or pink-robed nuns in the background.
What we loved about Ava was the quiet. The island is very rural and, apart from us tourists, farms, pagodas, and a few monasteries provide all the action. What our daughter Ava would love about the kingdom Ava would be the pink nuns and the gold pagodas.
It’s easy to find quiet spots in Ava to explore the ruins and meander through serene farmland. Just keep a stick to announce your arrival if you plan on getting off the horse cart. While our decision to name Ava had nothing to do with the ancient Burmese capital, her name has more meaning for us after our time here.