Due to an administrative error (I deleted 10 days of intensive writing about Myanmar); the names of various temples and tiny villages have been wiped out from memory, mine and the computer’s!
We wanted to have lunch at a local restaurant. Faced with Zoe-sized chairs and tables on the pavement (fine for people who squat down all the time) we waited for a normal table and chairs to be available. Lunch, consisting of rice, soup, chicken, salads and other dishes, some really tasty, cost under $4.00 for three people.
First stop a local
market. to get a feel for the way people live and shop. Among the
stalls were stalls with a Singer sewing machine powered
by a large foot pedal. The stalls were very busy as women were ordering
new suits - long skirts and blouses - for the upcoming Thingyan New
Year Festival. While groups of women browsed and discussed the
styles in the Burmese "Burda", the seamstress measured the customers
and with feet pedalling merrily, the
First stop a local market. to get a feel for the way people live and shop. Among the stalls were stalls with a Singer sewing machine powered by a large foot pedal. The stalls were very busy as women were ordering new suits - long skirts and blouses - for the upcoming Thingyan New Year Festival. While groups of women browsed and discussed the styles in the Burmese "Burda", the seamstress measured the customers and with feet pedalling merrily,she sewed
Bagan is situated on the Ayeryarwaddy River, which is an important waterway for transporting logged teakwood and other goods, people and tourists; it is also where the people draw their water, wash their clothes and themselves and where the children play. Our lodge, Thiripyitsayar Sanctuary Resort, was situated near the river amongst lush gardens with our own private pagodas, two of the more than 1,000 pagodas in Bagan. All pagodas in Bagan are old; no new ones are allowed to be built there. Pagodas and stupas are made from brick and are solid; temples are the walk in ones. Colloquially all are referred to as pagodas.
One of the more interesting temples was the three spired temple that had the interior of two of them decorated and the third was plastered and even outlined for the decorations but it was not completed as the Mongols conquered the area in 1260 (?) and the artists ran away. Interestingly at the same time the Mongols conquered Jerusalem on the other side of the world and were defeated at the Battle of Ein Jalud not long before the Crusaders were finally expelled from our area. We climbed the78 steps of Ananda Temple late in the afternoon. It was an impressive site to see the many spires of pagodas rising above the trees, but the red ball of the sun disappeared into the haze while it was still high in the sky.
I bought a
mask and was delighted to find out that it was Travelling Buddha shown
here on the left as he delicately raises his cloak as he walks.
Travelling Buddha is certainly my
karma! I later bought a wad of gold leaf packets and rubbed it on the
mask back home. To the right is the Smiling Buddha. Depending on where
one stands and the angle Buddha's face changes from quite stern to a
After watching a woman
weave cloth, buying a skirt was mandatory. Wearing it is both
comfortable and pleasant.
A fun stop was at a lacquer factory. Utensils are made from teak, but usually from bamboo; horsehair and bamboo are used as a base to make flexible cups. Lacquer, which is the pitch black resin from the melanhorrea usitata tree is painted 18 times on the bamboo and has to be slowly dried in a moist cave. The resin, interestingly enough, does not harden in the sun. When finally polished, free hand decorations are scratched into the lacquer and the natural colors, red, yellow and green are in turn rubbed into the grooves. We learnt that white is a chemical color usually on inferior utensils.
We went on a pony ride through another village, which was most uncomfortable both for Eitan and me – and most probably the pony! Afterwards we were dropped by the river and went on an enchanting boat ride up the Ayeryarwaddy River to see the sunset. Even the racket of the outboard motors couldn’t ruin the mesmerizing atmosphere.
Our next destination was a flight to Heho, the gateway to Lake Inlay. We felt we were totally out-pagoda-ed and ready for a different experience. On the way to the lake we stopped at yet another local market and were again enchanted by the local wares. We thought this market was very upscale: in addition to the endless shops selling a variety of flip-flops, one shop sold boots and sneakers. I tried betel leaf and found it bitter. Anthony, who dismembers chicken with a chopper, was fascinated by the ability of the women to delicately and evenly chop chicken or fish. We eat a lot of chicken with a little rice; they eat a lot of rice and a small portion of chicken has to suffice for the whole family. Women sell fish and chicken; the men (Muslims we were told) sell meat.
Unlike in Yangon, there weren't traffic jams here, mainly because of the many motorbikes and other forms of local transport.
When we reached the
river we transferred to a
boat, a flat-back canoe with a
noisy engine, and boated to
our hotel, Inle Resort. For the
next three days the boat was to be our
only means of
transport. The waterway to the hotel was protected by `speed bumps’
The Inle Resort was delightful. Our spacious suite was built on stilts on the lagoon where we could see fish jumping and two stately black swans swimming. Water and gardens were all around. The area had the peace that I’ve only experienced in Sinai. Food at the hotel catered for Western palates as well as offering local Myanmar food, Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Impressive.
We drove, sailed and pushed the boat to lunch, crossing the lake and up a shallow river. It is the end of the dry season and the lake is only 2 meters deep and the rivers about 1meter deep. We ate an excellent lunch and watched with appreciation how valets, knee deep in muddy water, ‘parked’ the boats and helped those stuck on the sandbank. We visited a weaving factory that makes silk scarves but had come without money. What a waste. We watched as a fishermen rowed with one leg while throwing a fish trap into the water with one hand and pushing the nets to the ground with the other, all while standing on one leg.
The next morning was Thingyan, a 3-day Water Festival, celebrating the start of the lunar New Year 1375. Traditionally one sprinkled scented water on people to help wash away their sins in preparation for the coming year (Tashlich anyone?). Today children waylay boats plying the water and douse them with buckets of water, all in good spirits. Since the rivers are low there is no way to avoid this and when some-one emptied a bucket from a bridge Eitan nearly fell off the boat! We rode along the river and shared it with people washing their bedclothes for the New Year, saw water being diverted to agricultural fields, and water buffalo wallowing in the water. We reached Indien where we saw young men washing their motorbikes in the river and even a bus was being washed in the water.
We walked up a hill to a monastery surrounded by tens of old stupas, many of which are being renovated as merit for the next life. One notable thing was that we hardly saw people begging and nowhere did we see people with disabilities. As we walked to Shwe Inn Tain monastery with its many stupas, we met a young man with rudimentary forelimbs who was drawing intricately designed pictures on previously used parchment. The drawings looked like etching, but in fact he was drawing free-hand in black ink, with the stubs of fingers he had. Of course we bought one and it has pride of place in our house. Pity I don't remember what the drawing is meant to represent. When we were in Yangon we visited Gill Pattison's River Gallery situated in the wonderful colonial Strand Hotel. The high quality of the paintings displayed, their vitality, colour and compositions was startling; in addition to traditional art forms, contemporary art has flourished starting from colonial times.
Seventeen floating villages with some 18,000 inhabitants are involved solely in growing tomatoes on floating beds. This form of agriculture started some 200 years ago. In the dry season taro plants, reeds and thatch that clump together are cut into mats and floated down the lake to these village. There they are positioned into long beds with narrow waterways between them and secured to the lake floor by bamboo poles. The green parts of the mats are then cut off and soil is brought in, poles stake the beds and tomato seedlings are planted in single rows. All care and picking of the tomatoes is done from small one-person canoes. Should the beds send out roots they have to be severed before the rains come as they would be flooded. This way they float according to the level of the water. We were told that they used to use seeds from Israel but today import the seeds from Thailand. By the way Burma (today Myanmar) was the first Asian country to recognize Israel and ties were very close for many years.
On our third day, faced with visiting another three pagodas, I gave Eitan the morning off and choose instead to walk up a hill 300 meters high to visit the forest monastery Maing Thauk. When the boat landed we saw families walking to the various shrines. The woman, on their heads, carry bowls laden with offerings to Buddha. In the monastery above we later saw that the bowls were placed in front of a Buddha statue as an offering and later removed and taken back home to share with the families.
The nicest things about the monastery was that I was the only “European” there and there was not even one shop in sight! Families were seated in the shade and eating, having given the monks a portion of their food. At 9.30 a gong was sounded and the novice monks – young boys around 10 years of age - came running to get their morning snack. They looked as boisterous as most young boys.<>
The next day we reluctantly
left the Lake area and flew back to Yangon.
The next day we reluctantly
left the Lake area and flew back to Yangon.
A new meaning to "8 seater car"
The shops were closed
for the festival but we
restaurant near our hotel with really good food and best of all – green
The next day was New Year and the three day water festival was over, thank goodness; by this time we were out-watered. On New Year, the same people who had been in the streets the day before wetting and getting wet were transformed into people quietly making a pilgrimage to the huge Shwedagon temple complex. Together with the locals we took an elevator to the platform at the top of the hill and visited various shrines
. Everywhere there were
people who were offering (for
hundreds of thousands of visitors free drinks, T-shirts were handed
nurses were in a special complex offering free check-ups to monks as
first aid to pilgrims suffering from the intense heat. Despite the
packed platform there was no pushing, no arguments and we heard no
crying. Our guide had brought a book that worked out which day of the
is born. Eitan was born on a Saturday and his sign is a dragon; I was
born on a
Sunday and my sign is a garuda, a mythical bird. We watched as people
birthday occurred that Wednesday offered garlands of flowers and burnt
before the small Wednesday statue. They then poured small cups of water
the statue, one for every year and an additional one for the coming
year – just
as we lift children according to the number of years at their birthday
for the next year.
Young couples placed
gold leaf on a small statue of
boy, hoping to influence the sex of their yet unborn child. We walked
steps to our car amazed at the constant river of people entering and
As if I hadn’t visited enough Pagodas I asked to return to the Reclining Buddha that we had visited the day before. It is a modern Buddha, in white plaster, and on the soles of his feet are 108 squares that tell the story of life – the natural world, the world of inanimate objects and the world of impermanence. The face of Buddha was arresting and the look of compassion was exquisite. While Eitan photographed, I sat and meditated. It was very meaningful.