Mogok Ruby Mine

Mogok ruby mine for quality Burmese gemstones

At Mogok in the center of the country about 120 km north of Mandalay, precious stones are mined since hundreds of years, this area stands for rubies and sapphires. The mined gemstones are traded at the gem market at downtown. Mining is done the old fashion way via washing the earth and gravel extracted from the earth. The people handling rubies exploration, digging and extraction are from different ethnic groups, there are Shan, Kachin and other. Chinese usually do the gem trading because that

bring the biggest share of money and they make the real cash. On the other hand, its a risky business and large sums of dollars must be available, in a country without a banking system this is a real problem. Almost all banks except the government bank collapsed during the last Asian economic crises and only two recovered.

The business is more in raw gems and less in jewelry.

Of course there is some jewelry, like rings, earring, bracelets, necklaces, pendants and other precious jewelry, but the real business is done in Yangon and Chanthaburi in Thailand.

Most of the gem stones including star rubies and all varieties end up in Thailand and are made into beautiful jewelry items there.

Interestingly they are sometimes less expensive in Thailand, even with similar quality.

After a miner  find a gemstone with some substantial value a mini pilgrimage leads to the Chanthargyi Pagoda on a small hill, the place also provides a great panorama over the town, lake and the surrounding hills.

The word Mogok comes from the Bamar Moegokesetwaing, meaning horizon. In Shan language it means a cold place with early sunset. According to legend, three hunters lost their way in the jungle and as they made camp under a large fig tree, they found many fine rough rubies dislodged by a landslide from a nearby hill.

They gathered many stones and brought them to their Sawbwa at Momeik close by. This was the start of a bonanza and since then thousands of precious and semi precious stones have been found. Many people had some luck and got rich overnight that’s the reason why there is a continuous flow of people coming in beside the harsh and rather primitive living conditions there. They work in over thousand mines spread over an area of about 5000 sqkm, this are open surface mines and underground mines.

Depending on the size of the mine and capital the gem bearing soil is excavated with some heavy excavator or manually. The earth is diluted with water mixed and moved through several metal sieves and inspected carefully as it is running through, gems are collected if there any, read more.

The city is spread out in the valley bottom,

in the morning mist-clad, pricked with fire and out of the mist the shaped forms of mountains rise up in vague outline above the valley. Some miners suddenly grown rich, the gambler poised between the strokes of fate, the sorter dreaming of his fortune.

The big market is permanent and always full with traffic, along the road are women with great hats on their heads, and the products of their gardens spread before them. Fruits and vegetables abound, here are small tomatoes done up in little cane cylinders, through the pattern of which the red fruit glints, baskets of scarlet raspberries, piles of flowers, and a variety of strange products from mushrooms to bamboo-roots. Down these lanes the crow is laughing, talking, bargaining,

While the sun burns down and upon the colors of the clothes of the market women. It is the real East ; clean, neat, and prosperous. Crescent silver neck lets, big again as the moon, about their throats. Some are of the Shan, with fair skin, with even a rosy flush in their cheeks all thoughts are on the mines and can I strike it rich.

Here and there in the crowd is a Burmese lady, in silk, velvet, pearls and a yellow translucent parasol. Towering above the line of sight are houses of the prosperous trader, all of stone, very high ; and from its mid-storey protrudes the head of a retainer, pipe in mouth, his slit eyes restless absorbing.

At the window of a house at main street, barred like a leopard’s cage, sit groups of  worker naked and intent, sorting the rubies which lie in gleaming trays upon their knees.

Other people roll cigars by the hour, selling them to the passers-by. At intervals there are Chinese eating-houses, equipped with little tables and stools, and dressers fitted out with blue china, and chopsticks, and pewter spoons. The fare is varied and savory, and pigs’ legs, plump fowls, cabbages and ducks, hang from strings like a curtain. Houses are filled with crowds of Shan, Lisu and others who crowd round the little tables and feed in groups, bowl to chin, their feet perched high up on the narrow stools.

Mogok town of rubies
The Mogok ruby town in the morning
mogok ruby market for Burmese gemstones
Open air market for Burmese gemstones
sorting burmese rubies
Sorting Burmese rubies
mogok ruby mine
Open Mogok ruby mine  or searching the water

Mogok was the scene

of the original immigration of the Tartar descending at some indefinite date before the sixth century B.C. from the direction of Tibet towards the foot of the Himalayas. Driven by attacks from the west to migrate in the direction of the Irrawaddy valley. All accounts agree that they came from the north-west, but whether they came via the Hukawng valley straight down the Upper Irrawaddy, or via the Chindwin valley, is uncertain. They founded their first important capital at Fagaung on the east bank.  In process of time the original settlers were surrounded and engulfed by incursions of the Shans, who in turn, after various vicissitudes, were subjugated by Alaung-paya and incorporated in the Burmese Kingdom of that time since the mines have been a excellent source of income.

Consequently, the riverside tract of this district, including the whole of the Tagaung Township and the major portion of the Thabeitkyin Township with the exception of the south-east portion. Mogok, the headquarters of the district, is really a conglomeration of 12 villages which have been notified as a town for revenue purposes, but are administered under the Village Act. The area of the town is 2.68 square miles. The first settlements appear to have been at Uyin and Thapanbin. The Uyin villagers worked paddy in the valley, and as it was evening (me chok thi) before they got home the cultivators established a village near their fields, and named the valley Mogok.

At the mines

precious stones are discovered at the original settlement Shanzu, now Shandaw. The development of mining led to the annexation of the Stone Tract in King Bodawpaya’s time and the administration was in the hands of the so-thugyi appointed by the King. Under that official were two asitringyis or councilors who performed the practical work of Government, though in judicial matters they did not pass orders but submitted a report on which the so-thugyi. passed judgment. Under each asiyiugyi was an ein-u-saye, or chief clerk, who had no executive authority. Each separate village had its thugyi under the control of the so-thugyi, and in the centre of the group a “zay-thugyi” exercised authority over the three quarters of Shandaw, Myoma and Aleywa at the mines.

None of the officials had any regular pay. The villages were assessed at what they could be made to pay, and each grade of official added a little to the demand on his own account. When the so-thugyi had levied his own contribution the balance went to the Royal Treasury. During the ten years that preceded the annexation of Burma by the British the mines were managed direct on behalf of the King by an official from Mandalay, but the last two, U Waik, 1880-82, and Nga Si (afterwards the Mogoung tam) 1882-85, left the so-thugyi a free hand so long as their dues were paid. After the annexation the myothugyi appointed by the Deputy Commissioner at first exercised jurisdiction over the whole area so, but from 1895-96 his authority was confined to Mogok Town, and in 1904 the post of myothugyi was abolished. There were no private rights in land, the whole of the Stone Tract belonged to the King. Since then not much has changed, only the King was replaced by the government and they just collect taxes on a ruby mines for doing nothing.

The principal highways of the area are the Irrawaddy and Shweli rivers, although there are some roads but in bad conditions means trading and mining is not so easy.

It may be said that practically all the villages in the Thabeitkyin and Tagaung Townships with a few unimportant exceptions, are situated on the river bank. The principal trading centers are Thabeitkyin, which is the port for the city, Twinnge and Kyahnyat (the two river termini of the main road from Mong Mit State), Myadaung (opposite Tigyaing) and Kanni, a little further north, the two centres where the timber traders mainly congregate, and Inywa at the junction of the Shweli with the Irrawaddy in the extreme north of the Tagaung township, which is the principal rafting station for the timber that comes down the Shweli.

The river vessels call at the principal villages on their way between Mandalay and Bhamo and there is a ferry boat to Thabeitkyin from Mandalay. The express steamers call at most riverside cities when having passengers calling. Inter village communication other than between the special points noted above is mainly by country boat on the Irrawaddy and road or, if the journey is down stream, by raft, either the ordinary timber rafts bound for the Mandalay market or the paddy rafts from the Mezachaung valley of the Katha District, which bring supplies to the riverine villages.

The mines are operated according to the nature of the ground.

They are known as:
(a) The Twin-lon or pit method used in excavating alluvial deposits.
(b) The Hmyawdwin or open trench method resorted to on the side of a hill.
(c) The Ludwin system for the extraction of the gem bearing materials that fill the limestone case.

A small round hole of sufficient diameter to allow a man to descend comfortably by placing his feet in small steps cut in the sides, is sunk until the deposit of byon earth is met with. Ordinarily speaking most mines worked by 3 men, two of whom work in turns for half a day each sinking the shaft, while the third man stands at

the top lowering a small basket to haul up the earth. The haulage is performed by means of a small round tray-like basket (chingon) hung on to an anchor shaped piece of stick (matanglat) which is attached to the end of a spliced cane, varying in length with the depth of the shaft. The cane is attached to the end of a long bamboo rod (maungdon) pivoted on a high pole (maung-doing) with a counter weight (nauk-myi-chin), in the shape of a basket of stones, at the further end.

The digger at the bottom of the shaft squats to his work, for which he uses a small hoe (tuytoin) and an iron jumper (tkangyaung). Down to a depth of around 10 meters the work is not difficult. Below that level it is usually necessary to sink a shaft parallel to
and a few feet from the first, with which it communicates below ground, to provide ventilation.

When the layer of byon is reached, lateral horizontal passages are driven. The sides of the twin-Ions, except where the earth is very firm, are shored by means of vertical posts (ra-o-daing) with horizontal beams (tok) at intervals. Across these are fixed cross pieces (doing) which are small poles of about 14 diameter, behind and between which are stuffed grass and leaves. The terns twin-Ion is only applied to circular shafts big enough for a man to creep down. The ordinary sized square shaft is known as lebin, which is a square with sides of 1 cubit and 1 span, or kobin, with sides of 3 cubits. In the latter case, apart from the shoring arrangements noted above, cross timbering divides the shaft vertically into smaller squares.

Larger mines are known as Inbye, and vary in size. It is not a usual form of mining as it is very costly in timber. From the nature of the position in which the pits are sunk twin-lon operations can only be carried on in the dry season.

This is open cut mining

A stream of water, sometimes brought from a distant source by channels and aqueducts, is directed to the upper end of the working, whence the earth is carried in a slush to the tail race of the excavation. The lighter earth is washed away and the heavier material (including the precious stones) remains. This is then washed according to the method described below. This method of working is used mostly in the rainy season when plenty of water is available. These are merely excavations into the sides of the hills, following the gem producing deposit through the cases and crevices of the lime stone. A shallow, more or less circular enclosure (known as ye-ban gwet) is made with. big stones, the floor of which slopes slightly to the lower end. Into this the earth is placed and a stream of water directed on it, while the whole mass is stirred up. At the lower end of this enclosure there is a small outlet leading into a hollow of about a foot or if feet in depth, through which the water and debris flow away. This is the zalok. When the earth and lighter material from the mass of byon are judged to be sufficiently washed away, the heavy gravel which contains the precious stones, chiefly varieties of corundum the specific gravity of which is very high, is gradually pulled towards the mouth of the zalok with mamooties, and then a man standing across the mouth of the zalok proceeds to scrape into it the bearing residue, water pouring over it all the time and of course carrying away occasionally precious stones, which by the custom of the country become the perquisites of the Karen women.

Gradually by this process the whole of the zalok gets filled up with a very heavy layer which is scraped out by means of shallow bamboo trays known as pauktus. Each tray is then taken and washed in water with a circular motion so as to get rid as much as possible of the light earth and sand, and the residue is then turned out on to the earth by the side of the working (where it is known as theban). It is then sorted by the proprietor of the mine or some trustworthy person, the rubies and other precious stones being placed inside a hollow bamboo which is stuck upright in the earth alongside, and known as the sinlebauk. When the theban or washed gravel has been sorted it is known as the bat, and in that condition the women are allowed to go and take portions of it to resort in the hope of finding a stone that has been overlooked. While the byon is being washed in the yebangwet, any extra large stones are picked out and put on one side, forming what is known as the kyaukpyon, and by custom any person has a right to search therein and, if he finds a stone, to take it although not the owner of the mine. This, of course, is according to the native custom ; for tinder the ruby mines regulation, any male person who picks up a stone without holding a license renders himself technically liable to imprisonment.

Burmese ruby mines using a process called the yemyon, an open sluice box made of planks takes the place of the yebangwet. In this the byon is washed by means of a stream of water. The lower end of the sluice box leads into a zalok or hollow, as noted above. This form of washing is mostly used in the case of what is known as Kathe yaik working which really consists in removing the original surface layer of soil to a depth of at most one or I feet when the byon happens to be on the surface, whence it is merited to some other spot where water is available for washing. This ruby mines stone system is said to have been so called because it was adopted in the original instance by the Manipuri captives whom the Burmese Kings sent to these parts as royal slaves to work the mines. Not understanding anything about mining they could not make twin-/o s and lanyaws like the local people, and so resorted to scraping the surface and washing it for what they could find. The term is now applied to surface operations generally, wherever conducted.

They dig the soil, yellow and scarred with pits. Hill people in blue clothes and yellow parasol-like hats ; people in loose trousers, showing legs tattooed with tigers and dragons ; people small of stature with muscles of iron, the process of mining is simple.

A straight bamboo pole twenty feet high stuck like a mast in the yellow soil. Near its top, through a slit, works another horizontally; at one end of it a make-weight, a basket filled with mud or stones, at the

other a long cane reaching down like the line of a fisherman last of all a bucket to hold water or mud, as the case may be. If it be water, the miner stands at the little pit’s mouth, lowers the bucket, lets it fill and come up again, the cane slipping through his fingers ; and on its emerging, tilts the water from it into a channel, down which it runs yellow and turbid to swell the stream by the roadside.

If mud, the digger in the pit fills it with a spade and lets it run up to the man overhead, who empties it with a jerk of his wrist on to an adjoining mud-heap. When this heap has grown big enough it is washed, and the rubies are visible. At a corner, in the dazzling

sun of the afternoon, a child stops, scraping the yellow earth from a dry heap into a shallow basket. A child at play it would seem, but when the little basket is laden she carries it away to where a woman in a dark blue kilt is at work, close to her figure as she sits, a pale yellow coat and pink silk bound about her coils of black hair. Her wide sleeves lift as she works,’ revealing her slender arms.

Her gem business in life so much at least as she transacts here – is to let the yellow stream run through each basket of earth, till all the concealing clay is washed away and pebbles alone survive ; from this remnant to pick out with precision rubies, which she slips under her tongue till her mouth is full. The occupation has its merits.
Little streams of yellow mud

run across the plain, making pools and puddles where the precious stones are extracted from, run in bewildering variety the. This is Mogok mining in its indigenous simplicity. In a very little space off the main street and in the park, groups of people with wide hats are clustered close together, one is stricken with curiosity to know what they are about. You crush into the crowd and find yourself in the midst of the buyers and sellers of rubies.

Mogok ruby mines
Mogok mine pumping water and search the gravel
Mogok sales street

In the centre of each group there is a shining brass tray full of rubies and it looks like a disc of beaten gold in the sun. By it sits the buyer, ringed by satellites, each of whom believes himself an expert. Then there is a swaying in the crowd, and a miner edges in, picturesque in his wide trousers and great flapping hat, and subsides by the tray on his haunches. There is a little cloth bag in his hands, tied very tightly round the neck with string. Slowly he unwinds the suing and the masked eyes of the buyer glitter. No word is spoken. The gem trader is in no hurry, when at last the long string has been unwound and the hand clasping the little globe of cloth relaxes its amatory grip, the mouth of the bag is turned down, and from its interior there flows into the tray the red stream of gemstones.

The gem buyer moves in, his his long fingers reach out swiftly and in an instant the little pyramid of rubies is spread over the shining disc, each stone blinking in the light. For the next few seconds and still in silence, fingers are moving. At this gem market the good and the bad stones are separated from each other, and formed into two little piles ; the bad rubies are being pushed back to the seller’s end of the tray; the good rubies brought instinctively a little closer to the buyer. At this stage discussion starts. All the critics have their say ; the seller eloquent, the buyer cold and deprecatory. Thus the duel proceeds, there is a score of these trays, like suns in the close cluster of men, and that is nearly all there is to tell about. Like all that is truly Eastern, the process is simple in its character,

limitless in its fascination. One can describe in a minute what one can look upon with interest for hours.

Look at the buyers, they are backed by a hundred thousand dollar of capital. Many came to the town a few years ago as poor people. Some got some money into their fingers. After a while they lend it at high interest rates, on the security of gold and rubies. Then they change to the gem trade and now some of them are the richest guys around.

At the gem market

is plenty of gem trading but no jewelry shops, business is done in the park, the whole atmosphere is very similar to Chanthaburi in Thailand where most of the precious stones found are ending up for sale. Here is only the first stop on the way to some beautiful jewelry elsewhere, usually in India, China, Singapore, just name it.

gem market ruby stone
Mogok gem on a copper plate, rough and uncut

Jewelry is usually enhanced with some diamonds around to get real good sparkling jewelry. In recent years Burmese rubies lost quite some market share because of the political problems.

Around is typical rural and very interesting to watch how life is going on, notably considering that many different ethnicities live in that area without conflict since there are no external sides to steer up conflicts means English and other colonialists.