Friday, August 26, 2016

A Land Peppered with Pagodas and Palaces

The view of Bagan in the mist
A land peppered with pagodas and palaces: Why magical Myanmar is THE destination for travelers in search of fresh experiences.

The country is described as a place where the pace of life has stilled from dancing fishermen to beguiling Buddhist nuns, Myanmar revealed Mail Online Travel explores the country which was once known as Burma.
A lithe fisherman in a straw hat performed a balletic dance as he flung his conical net across the waters of Inle Lake, an oasis of glassy calm in the Shan Hills of Myanmar.
Fishing for carp he balanced on one leg on the prow of his flimsy wooden boat, the other leg wrapped round a single oar with which he paddled and steered over a massive body of water swollen by monsoons.
The searing midday sun sparkled on the threads of his gossamer nets as we puttered past in our long-tailed motor boat on a voyage of discovery through the land better known as Burma.
It was like stepping back into history, where the pace of life has stilled. The landscape of slender-tipped stupas slowly unfolded as we travelled all morning from the towns of Nyaung Shwe to Shwe Inn Dein.
With fingers dangling in the cooling ripples, we slipped past clumps of palest pink water hyacinths and floating gardens bearing crops of sesame and peanuts, each plot pinioned by bamboo stakes.
On the banks more pagodas punctured the skyline with their tiered towers and bulbous stupas flaunted glistening golden domes, rich red brickwork and blinding whitewash.
In the World Heritage Site of Bagan alone there are more than 2,000 temples, monasteries, stupas and pagodas built by self-aggrandising monarchs dating back to the ninth century and a point to worship for Buddhists.
From high above we admired a green landscape studded with stupas – you can take a hot air balloon ride for a bird’s eye view, or a dawn climb up an observation tower will reward you for obeying that 5am wake-up call.
Or you can visit a higgledy-piggledy collection clinging haphazardly to a hillside at Shwe Inn Dein. Or wander inside temples as Buddhist bells chime and families kneel before ornate effigies to offer flowers, while worshipers- men only are allowed to embellish the Buddha with gold leaf. “We love gold and call our country Golden Land” said our guide.
We removed shoes and socks as a mark of respect, ensuring our feet were never pointed towards the statue. (A Brit is banged up in a Burmese jail for depicting Buddha with a pair of headphones so disrespect at your peril.)
The Burmese are well mannered, even the hawkers who come alongside your boat with intricate carving or the trinket sellers in colorful markets, are gracious if insistent.
“Happy Money” they declare as they brush your pristine US dollars or grubby local kyats over their goods. They are also a conservative people with strict and sometimes strange rules of etiquette, such as summoning waiters with a kissing sound, never patting someone’s head – it’s a sacred area – or touching a monk’s robe, and a modest dress code.
Myanmar is how you might imagine Southeast Asia before the influx of mass tourism to countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.
It retains a certain innocence despite a troubled past. It is still the poorest state in the region, but the easing of sanctions in 2010 has signaled record-breaking number of tourists with over three million recorded in 2015.
City name evoke a colonial past, Mandalay, Rangoon (now the cosmopolitan Yangon) and Katha – which George Orwell describes in his coruscating book “Burmese Days” in which he is as vitriolic about indigenous corruption as colonial bigotry.
He worked there for the Imperial Police Service in the days of the British Raj. And it was Rudyard Kipling who described the Ayeyarwaddy River, whose fertile silt enriches the paddy fields and farmland after every monsoon, as “the road to Mandalay”.
Myanmar has suffered from endless internal conflicts and corruption but there has been some encouraging political reform. There is now a palpable feeling of optimism for a settled future after November 8’s national elections if the charismatic Aung San Suu Kyi can lead the National League for Democracy to victory against the military-backed ruling party. ( Now her party won in 2015 election and she became the Advisor of the Country.)
Despite the embryonic state of its tourist industry with power cuts and erratic Wi-Fi all the hotels we stayed were top-notch, ranging from a spanking new Novotel on stilts on Inle Lake to other with old-world charm and dark palatial furnishing.
They boasted glorious swimming pools plus plentiful and varied menus ranging from samosa, noodles and grilled butterfish to spicy curries, rice cakes and chocolate mousse with chilli.
And, with the exception of a grumpy barman who seemed to take delight in announcing the end of Happy Hour just as you ordered your Bagan Breeze cocktail, the service staffs were a delight.
Domestic flights were reliable, although for peace of mind avoid the in-flight magazine “horror-scope”-mine threatened attack by pick-pocket, accident to right leg, verbal confrontation, dangers and rivalries, advising: ‘to bring good fortune clean the front of the house’.
None of which transpired, although I booked a window cleaner as soon as I returned home.
Nyein Moe, 41, our hugely knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour director, metaphorically held our hands throughout our odyssey, ensuring we caught internal flights, arranging groaningly early wake-up calls and sharing his country’s history, culture and architecture rich in fabulous frescoes and stucco works.
As part of our journeys programme, we enjoyed off the beaten path itineraries featuring hard to reach and lesser-visited destinations not in the guide books.
He took us to Tha Kya Di Thar nunnery in Mandalay where solemn, shaven-headed girls in pink robes with tansashes included us in their rituals and chanting.
We dispensed rice and coffee – offering food is good karma – before taking lunch with them and handing out gifts of stationary to assist their studies. At Aung Myay Thukha monastic school, Yangon, he introduced us to a gaggle of giggling girls and boys who we entertained with attempts at their tongue-twisting language. “Mingalabar” being the most useful as hello with a smile.
Nyein Moe survived our cooking at the Inle Heritage training centre, tutored by hospitality students who will be catering for Myanmar’s anticipated tourist boom, where we prepared fish soup and chicken curry after picking fresh ingredients in the kitchen gardens.
He showed off the mastery of silversmiths and lacquer ware artists – however tempted you might be to buy a model stupa be warned: they don’t travel well.
With scores of Saturday trippers we traipsed across what is reputedly the longest teak bridge in the world, all 1.2 km of it, across shimmering Taung Tha Man Lake where fishermen and women, up to their armpits in the waters, cast their nets.
The pillars of Maung Bein bridge – named after its constructor – once supported the royal palace of Inwa and were used to connect the capital of Myanmar to villages on the other side of the lake.
He brought us to the home of a school teacher for a jolly evening of home-made cooking, family fun and music where everything from politics and child care were up for robust discussion.
The up-coming election topped the agenda, with fervent hope for change but a realism born of broken promises. Our hostess, Mrs. San Myo Ei, told how her family were forced out of their home by the military government 25 years ago.
“About 100,000 people were moved because they wanted the area for architectural excavations” she said. “We came here to a place where there was no lights, no heat, no water – only fields. My father died here of a snake bite. He was only 28. We blamed his death on the move dictated by the military government.
“As for the elections, they will try to stop her (Aung San Suu Kyi) winning. They will be cunning and lying. There will be violence and protests”. San Myo Ei, a Christian, and Buddhist Nyein Moe, are united in their hope for peaceful democracy.  “We have been through bad times, but somehow we are happy. We live in the moment,” he said, to explain his people’s sunny disposition.
Our all too few moments in Myanmar were ending. Memories of a land peppered with pagodas and palaces, gracefully dancing fishermen, beguiling Buddhist nuns, a moving ceremony lighting oil lamps at the most sacred Shwedagon Pagoda as the sun set the color of the monks’ maroon robes – magical Myanmar and her gentle people offer so much to the jaded visitor in search of fresh experiences.
Ref; Gill Martin for Mail Online
Early style of Stupa in Myanmar
Golden Rock
Ballooning Over Bagan
The fruit shape pagoda in Bagan
Inside a temple of Bagan
Home of Sprits (or) Nats, Mount. Popa
Ancient Wooden Monastery
Lives in Bagan
Fine Wood-carving
Giant Unfinished Pagoda - Mingun
18th century Brick Monastery
Mandalay palace
World Third Largest Ringing Bell
Ruin Ava or Inwa
Famous Wooden Bridge - U Bein Bridge
Walking on U Bein Bridge
Artificial Floating Islands in Inle Lake
A local fisherman in Inle Lake
Wooden Monastery at the middle of the lake
Mural Painting in Ruin Indein Pagoda Forest
Native Tribe, Pa O people and Indein pagoda forest
A leg rower
A village on the lake
The Unique Beauty of Traditional Fisherman
Night View of Great Shwe Dagon Pagoda
A Catholic Church in Yangon
Colonial Heritage Buildings from Yangon
The 76 carat diamond at the top of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda
Minister Office Building
Bird eye view of nowadays Yangon
The picturesque scenery of Shan State
General Aung San, National Hero and his home
The friendly smile
Burma Pan Cake
Long Neck People
Paddy gain
Oxcart is still using widely in rural area
Myanma Farmers
A Nun and a snake at the snake temple
Snake Temple
Chin tribe woman
A village market

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