- Myanmar: Frozen in Time (South-East)
- Myanmar: Washed in Sandstone and Sunshine (Bagan)
- Myanmar: Burmese Days (and the tragedies) (Far North-Myiktkyina)
- Myanmar: Discovering a World Apart (North-East)
After two days of walking across the hills that stood between Kalaw and Inlay and staying with the local heart on a pilgrim route of sorts, for many locals searching out water for centuries, we were uninterested in wasting time away in Inlay Lake with the tourist beat. We grabbed our map (in Kalaw) from the tight grip of a nearly-too-clever man, then our translations from another cat in the village, then loaded up on some perishables to eat, some water and a bit of whiskey. After that we were on the way solo, to avoid crossing paths with any of the guided tours on theirs.
On the roof of a tight little jeep, carrying many locals within it, from house to home, from city to farm, we were headed to Bagan. Naturally, Bagan is without a doubt high on the list of priorities for everyone that comes to this country of ancient ruins, caves and culture. My first trip here I missed it (like my first trip to Cambodia missing Ankor Wat). This time it was certainly going to be tramped upon.
Getting there -and avoiding the tourist transit to dodge mundane and save coin- we had to pass through quite a few towns and transfer jeeps and buses a few times. It did work out cheaper in the long run. And despite that was a great chance to marinate in local fruit (and noodle soups).
Instead of heading directly, we made a stop at Mt. Popa and the long ass stairs to its ‘roof’. Another standard tourist attraction, it is still a chill environment compared to someplace like Jog Falls in India, a very chill place. And some great snacks on the way up!
We had to stop in Meiktila (I think) the first night as our transit was very long, and required a transfer that was hard to find in the later hours of the afternoon-evening. A large woman, with very good English gave us the news.
We could take a tourist bus that would be coming around soon enough or wait it out until the morning. She also told us we could take a room at one of two guesthouses -and their prices. They were too steep for me and my partner Jul. Even split, it was still out of reach -around 10-15 bucks each- so we dug up the local monestaries looking for a night’s accom.
Told by the first monestary, that across the river we’d find a nice monk speaking fluent English *and Japanese*, we figured this was the spot (and our last chance before the outdoors). The head Monk refused. I wasn’t impressed by that at all, and while I was about to lose my cool Jul took the reigns and dug up our tri-lingual monk. He snuck us into his room chalked with Backstreet Boys on the walls and footballers. Without a mosquito net I slept with the help of a couple valiums. And without that same mosquito net I woke up with a dozen little lumps around my knuckles and hands -forgetting to pull them in before passing out into lumber.
The night was grueling for my better half as our host was a little more social than one would prefer; a little too friendly. And I suppose when I said there was no shame in sharing a bed with another man, there were also exceptions.
We made it out nonetheless, basically unscathed, though Jul tired, and with an early rise, a great chance to hit Mt Popa for a minute and still make it to Bagan with loads of time for a bicycle to sunset.
Arriving on the scene, as usual, perched on the roof of a local jeep with big rice bags and a few other field workers, the security just inside of Nyaung-U towards old town Bagan, noticed our paler skin between baggage and cargo. After passing our passports over, we were then charged a fee to enter the area. After that, we were given a card to present or whatnot while inside the ancient capital. The fee was somewhere around 10 bucks. Naturally, we paid -but we were not all that impressed by the change in energy that had taken place. The same energy that took place when we hit the beat in Inlay. We both could feel a trickling anxiety begging for something else. Nevertheless, its a spectacular journey.After the jeep let us off, its a long walk or a tricycle lift, into the old town. We climbed onto this low-riding tricycle and our driver pedalled for dear life into the town. It took us a while to find a cheap spot, but we did. As usual -for the most part. We paid around 3 bucks each for, likely, the least impressive room in the whole region, but 3 bucks sounds sparkling to me. We were in for a minute then out to find a couple bicycles for the temple area.
Our memories of Ankor Wat were there, our memories of all these incredible, forgotten (at one time), architectural phenomenas, were at the front. The anticipation was a spectacular one. For every revolution of pedals you get a little bit closer to the large area of sandstone stupas; of 10 000 small temples, 3000 monastaries and 1000 stupas. Unfortunately, it was built on a very prominent fault line for earthquakes and a lot of what was ceases to stand any longer.
There is a well-known saying of Myanmar people : “If you are a real Myanmar, you must have been to Bagan.” Bagan is the spirit of history in Myanmar.
Once home to close to 200,000 people a thousand years ago, now its a very small village, that will hopefully start to thrive from its tourism, within those that deserve it and not solely the government itself. These castles of worship, storing golden buddahs hold no bearing to me as a religious significance, it’s not that which invigorates me. Curious of those around me, and their faith (somewhat) i try to understand what I can, but in a place like this, with all this rich history, it is hard not to fantasize the ground below your feet; and to how many in pre-Christian times strolled the scene, fresh and new, to the river for a bath. As the area started to pop up with little pyramids for a love life like no other towards their faith that had taken a sub-continent by storm, more came, more trembled with curiosity, faith and even obligation. The more that came the more the word spread -and no different than today. And no different then today, I am sure, as the sun went down many climbed to reach the tops of these iconic statues of red dust, matching the horizon at dawn.
Surely, the larger the summit reached, the higher they could go to see that sun set behind the river which fed them all.
The sensational calm is paramount and was worth every penny (of course) and the fact that we’d made it before swarms of sheep that will surely come on organized tours, more and more, made it a whole lot sweeter as we could roam through the rooms of these gorgeously carved, chisled and smooth temples -undisturbed. Perhaps I learned little of the history, but I felt plenty in my body’s circumference, and for me that is enough. That broken bicycle that should have been thrown away long ago; my chariot into this fabric of a culture in transit; it brought me there and my feet to the steps of a stupa roof to catch the glowing sun on its way down sitting beside a few others to sing a little and watch the dust settle on another fantastic day on planet earth.
Bronze in it while you can,