Steve Winter .
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Local fishermen repairing their nets on the Irrawaddy River. Kyaukmyaung, Myanmar. Girl catching rain drops in one of the first rains of the year. Monsoon rains fall from June to Oct, bringing over 200 inches of rain to some regions. Daily life is conducted amidst the deluge. After work the village comes out to the river to relax and play. People come down to the river to visit with their neighbors play soccer, or just relax and take a walk. Pyay, Myanmar. A man bounces a rattan ball off his foot during a game of Chinlon, a national sport where the goal is to keep a rattan ball in the air with any body part except arms and legs. Irrawaddy Delta. Irrawaddy Delta, Myanmar. A Burmese miner raking a muddy slurry in search of gold at a mine in the Hukawng Valley. Elephants and their mahouts head downriver as a hunter waits to cross. Tarung River, Hukawng Valley, Myanmar. A Burmese man rafts a load of palm fronds to market. Tarung River, Hukawng Valley, Myanmar. A Naga shaman in traditional attire sits by a fire in his hut in a remote Naga village maintains the old ways despite the influx of outsiders to the region. Naryang, Myanmar. A Burmese man holding up a pair of sambar deer antlers. Hukawng Valley, Myanmar. A fishermen throwing out plastic floats to mark his nets at the river's mouth. Irrawaddy River Delta, Myanmar. A tatooed jetty worker fishing for dinner at the end of the day, display his catch, catfish that are endemic to the Irrawaddy. The scars on his chest come from ritualistic ceremony from hooks that are placed in the chest. Bagan is the spiritual center of Myanmar, where ancient Buddhist monuments polka dot the 20 square-mile floodplain. A typical scene all along the river morning and night. Man is bathing at the end of a long workday.  Madalay, Myanmar. Troups of transvestite or women Nat-kadaws-spirit "wives," dance, sing, and re-enact the stories of the spirit's lives and violent deaths. The Nat-kadaws are a cross between shaman and medium. The nats (spirits) are called in with loud music, then the "nat wife" sings and performs special dances that invite a specific nat to possess them. Once possessed, they continue to sing and dance while in a trance. (See also photograph below) A woman wearing traditional makeup called THANAKHA made from a powder from a tree similar to sandalwood sells goods in her shop at the edge of the riverbank - kinda like a Burmese 7-eleven. Most people still live off the land, raising livestock and farming. Here, a herder walks past boys riding cows home at the end of the day. Monks are eating their main meal in the monastery in Pokkoku. Most males between 5 and 15 spend from 1 to 3 weeks as a novice. Pokkoku, Myanmar. Here in Myitkyina, a river village in the north is a table offering animal parts that are used in traditional Asian medicine. Items include tiger bone, elephant skin, and macaque skulls. Hukawng Valley, Myanmar. The Irrawaddy River is the lifeline for the people that live along it. It is the highway, the grocery store (fish is a staple food), and provides water for irrigation of the rice crops.  This is an short extract from Steve’s full and fascinating essay on his extensive travels to Myanmar for National Geographic magazine and  To see his full essay, please click here to scroll down Myanmar by Steve Winter In November 1999 I received a call from Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, now CEO of Panthera, the world’s leading organization devoted exclusively to the conservation of wild cats and their ecosystems.. He asked if I would like to go on an expedition to Hkakabo Razi, the last village in Myanmar’s remote northern mountains. He’d surveyed the wildlife on a 31-day trek there the year before, but this time we would fly in by helicopter.  It would be my first trip to Myanmar, and I was allowed entry on Alan’s permit for conservation work under an agreement that he’d signed with the military government while he was Director of the Science and Exploration program at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The warmth of the Burmese people intrigued me, though they live as if transfixed by time, cut off from much of the world’s progress. The experience truly lit a spark inside me and I wanted to return to shoot other stories here.  On the flight back to Yangon, Alan gave me an idea. “See that huge swath of green in the distance?” Alan asked. “That is called the Valley of Death. I’ll show you photos.” Alan and I went to the WCS office. A big board on the wall was covered with camera trap pictures of elephants, tigers, leopards, and many more species—all taken in the Valley of Death– the Hukawng Valley (HV), an area in northwest Myanmar that borders India. Alan had convinced Myanmar’s leaders to protect the region as a tiger reserve. A few months later, we began work on a story about the Hukawng for National Geographic Magazine with Alan writing. I traveled to the valley to document both the people and the conservation work of the WCS tiger team. Were there poachers there? If so, who were they? The decrepit WWII-era Stillwell Road (aka Burma Road) had just been re-opened after 57 years. Would this create an easy route for the lucrative trade in endangered species for use in traditional Chinese medicine? All these questions were foremost in my mind when I arrived. But another, more pressing question arose when I arrived in the frontier town of  Tanai that bordered the Hukawng Valley. The town was overrun with miners.  A gold rush had erupted, with an estimated 50,000 people flooding in. I joined the WCS Myanmar field biologists and staff from the Forest Department deep in the jungle to document their work trying to quantify the number of tigers and prey in the region. I also needed to show both the beauty of the forest and how it was being used: how the miners were impacting the reserve, in some places, turning it into a post-apocalyptic moonscape and hunting out most of the animals for food. I visited a Lisu village in the reserve’s interior. I’d seen an older man carrying a crossbow with poison-dipped arrows enter his home and kneel to pray before a trophy board—a bamboo wall covered with the skulls of animals he’d killed to feed his family. His son, now the village’s main hunter, had no trophy board. Before the Burma Road opened, he’d hunted only for food, but now, he hunted for cash. I photographed a street vendor selling small pieces of tiger bone, elephant skin, small lizards, and macaque skulls and other animal parts for the medicine trade.  After the story was published, Alan returned to Myanmar and showed the photos to officials. At that point, the government agreed to halt the operation of a number of its mines and expanded the reserve, making it the world’s largest tiger reserve. I was compelled to return to Myanmar, this time to document the people, which led me to a story on the Irrawaddy River, driven by memories of reading Orwell’s book “Burmese Days” describing his days as a British policeman there. An ally in the United Nations helped me obtain permits to travel where no Westerner had ventured since WWII. I spent four months over two trips traveling the entire length of the river. I was photographing culture rather than animals for the first time in a while, this was my first digital story, and my lovely partner Sharon suggested I reach back into my photo past and begin shooting flash fill. My first night shooting produced the opener of the story: a man bathing in the sacred waters of the river after work on a day that reached 116 degrees. The Irrawaddy River is the lifeline for the people that live along it. It is the highway, the grocery store (fish is a staple food), and provides water for irrigation of the rice crops. I used a hot air balloon to get my aerial – the golden spires of Bagan rising out of the mist and smoke at sunrise. Buddhism was the spine of the story, yielding photos like the mandala of monk’s arms reaching for their last meal always taken before noon. Two pictures that ran in the story were made in the delta, a little girl tasting the drops of the first monsoon rains and a woman working in the rice fields. Not long after, the tsunami hit and devastated those villages, breaking my heart. Steve Winter Contributing photographer to National Geographic magazine Media Director of Panthera,