Burma with eyes and heart wide open - part 3

The inimitable Mr Aung

Pagan to Mandalay via Monywa - a car and boat  journey

My driver from Pagan to Mandalay was Mr Aung. I fell in love with this man – he was so friendly and well-meaning and his gestures and mannerisms cracked me up. He had this wonderful upturned hand waggle, almost like an Indian dancer, that signified “Whatever!” or "Let's go!" or, now come to think of it, perhaps anything. Yan, Mr Aung and I went out a number of times, to local places to sample food and libations. I had great fun with them.

Tall Standing Buddha near Monywa
School children celebrating at a festival just outside Mandalay

Sagaing (near Mandalay)

Sagaing is a very peaceful spot although quite a few tourists pass through here. It doesn’t look like you would expect from Burma - it’s more like a Mediterranean town, with pastel-coloured buildings and lots of trees and flowers. Very peaceful and calming indeed. You can visit some of the monasteries and nunneries and see them practicing their chants. The view from the top of the hill was one of the most iconic of Burma for me, the rolling hills, the many, many golden stupas shining in the sun, the Irrawaddy river. It looked like nowhere else in the world.
Nuns praticing their chants in Sagaing

Pindaya, Shan State (near Inle Lake)

Pindaya in Shan state had my favourite scenery. The red earth and the colours of the farmland were stunning to me, village ponds looked like they were full of chocolate, like Charlie and the Chocolate factory. There was a good deal of activity in the fields for many vegetables were being harvested at this time and Shan state is where most of the agriculture in Burma takes place. Tractors draw along much larger trailers to serve as local buses. Children ride buffalo. A very pretty region.

On the way to Pindaya, Shan state

Family who gave me lunch in Pindaya

Inle Lake

I was incredibly impressed when my guide in Inle Lake, Sai – a lovely guy who taught me a lot about Buddhism - told me that he and his colleagues had started a campaign to promote conservation awareness in the area. One of their endeavours has been to ban the use of plastic bags in certain parts of the lake, which I find amazing, considering how young the area is in terms of tourism and the little resources they have at their disposal. 

Sai drew me some pictures so that I could understand the differences between traditional Burmese and Shan stupas. All my guides had told me about the composite sections of the stupas – the bell, the umbrella, the spire etc. Shan stupas have elongated sections at the top. I also loved the story that the stupa shape is based on the Banyan tree leaf - the Banyan being the tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment.


 I loved some of the expressions and stories I learnt in Burma. After a quick, torrential shower whilst visiting the beautiful botanical gardens in the colonial hill station of Maymyo, Yan told me of an expression used between lovers - “Your love is like Maymyo rain”. He also told me to be wary (as a single man) of the ladies working in the rice fields. They might capture you and make you drink their breast milk, as had happened to his uncle allegedly. Aye Aye used a lovely phrase in a tea room in Pagan, when explaining how the practice of sharing the garlic and chilli spiced green tea leaf would be commonly used to patch up disagreements between people - something like “All our sins are wash away”.

A last few pictures

Child at market in Kalaw
Ngapali beach on the Bay of Bengal
Fisherman at Amarapura

Burmese scaffolding at Shwedagon

Entrance to temple in Monywa
Locals coming off boat at Pakokku

A summation of sorts

There are only two places I have travelled that have completely consumed and gripped me and inspired me to keep a written diary whilst there, thirsting for all possible knowledge about the culture, the history, the religions. A riot of colour, scents and smiles - and inquisitiveness, on both sides. The other place is India.

Part 1
Part 2

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant piece Alex! Very evocative and informative. I like the mix of text and pictures which all lead one through the story and also the way you balance personal impressions with historical background and contemporary issues.
    If you want suggestions, I suggest shorter paragraphs at the beginning and also some geenral reflections at the end - feelings on flying or arriving home maybe? Also, will your comments about the military possibly upset them to the point that it may adversely affect Audley's interests? (Not that you should make any criticisms - and you do make many positive and encouraging comments). Finally, it may be worth trying to get a version of this published in one of the weekend supplements given the accessible style you have and the interest that the country has aroused.
    Well done and I look forward to hearing how it works out.
    All the best