Cheroot cigar smoke drifting over the famed Ayeyarwady River…

It’s an image that’s long been celebrated as part of Myanmar’s rich culture – and by such iconic artists as The Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling (who immortalized cheroot in his classic poem Mandalay.) While visiting Da Nyu Phyu, you can experience it yourself with AmaWaterways.

Addictive, a good stogie has continued to remain popular among Westerners over the centuries, including such iconic and glamorous figures as Kings of England, Thomas Edison, Groucho Marx, Marlene Dietrich and Peter Falk. Mark Twain even once quipped “If smoking is not allowed in heaven, I shall not go.”

And in Myanmar, the fascination with cheroot smoking runs just as deep. Smoking these types of cigars are such a way of life here that it is sometimes described as a ‘Burmese facial feature.’ A mainstay in Myanmar by the time of British rule -- and quite popular among the British aristocracy – cheroot cigars are created with dried thanat leaves, various proportions of crushed tobacco and fragrant dried wood chips. A filter is often added and made of dry corn husks or, for a stronger smoke, sugar cane fibers are sometimes used. Coming in all potencies, shapes, colors and sizes – varying from green through brown to dark tar and in rolls the size of everything from a cigarette to the elegant long white cheroots favored by the members of the old British Empire. Some of the most lavish cheroots are even decorated. The cigars are either cylindrical or cone-shaped with both ends clipped. One end is for lighting, the other is rolled shut. They are aromatic and sweet in taste and, hence, freshen the mouth.

While cheroot is made throughout the country, many come from Myanmar’s Shan states where it is one of the main cash crops. Each area has its own distinctive flavors – such as jaggery (a mix of dates, cane juice and palm sugar), tamarind root, honey, anise, dried banana, pineapple and rice wine. Vendors sell in most marketplace streets, and cigars are often stacked high in their stalls. A labor-intensive, low yield cottage industry, the mostly female workers can roll up to 1000 cheroots a day, for which she may not even earn one US dollar.

The Burmese writer Daw Khin Myo Chit fondly described the tobacco tray in a family home as a special part of the household. At one time, a cheroot rolled by a young lady was indication of her interest in a particular suitor attempting to court her. They are often seen at weddings and other celebrations. One benefit of cheroot cigars, as anthropologist Verrier Elwin once wrote, is their sweet aroma, which may mask the scent of sweat, and therefore, deter mosquito bites.

While some believe the sweet cheroot cigar does not pose quite the same degree of health threats as other types of cigars, it should be remembered that they are still addictive and still contain tobacco.