Spot the Poser
So down the Irrawaddy we floated for a dozen sizzlingly hot hours accompanied by some very stiff German package tourists in their corner and a couple of hundred other people crammed in.
I vaguely remember something about Indian whisky and very little sleep the night before and thus the morning was spent curled in a ball on the floor waiting for normal bodily function to return. When it did I was greeted with hour upon hour of watching the beautiful green country float serenely past, only occasionally perforated by manic bank stops where planks are thrown down as makeshift bridges and the whole village and his dog clamber on and off the boat selling a whole array of goods that interested me very little - the banana-cake was though great.
The sun had just fallen off the horizon in a typical blaze of dieing glory when we arrived at the high banks of Bagan. I caught only the smallest glimpses of 500 year old Pagoda as we floated to the bank - I would have to wait for the morrow to see if this island strewn with hundreds of hundreds of years old temples lived up to its billing.
Three days were spent in Bagan criss-crossing the dry plain by bumby horse-cart from one impressive temple to another, exploring in-out under and over many, often all on our own. Three nights were spent learning Russian pool off a cool bunch of Burmese and watching footie in a typical Burmese "cinema".
Rather than trying to describe even just a sample of the temples, I feel it better to limit myself to a couple of moments this sight and setting gave me.
Sitting atop a gold plated pagoda peacefully reading my book ("Burmese Days" George Orwell - a highly rated fictional critique of British Burma) in the peace found when you occasionally look up from the fascinating world you are throwing yourself into at the wondrous world of reality that surrounds you - content. Precariously heaving yourself up huge monuments for that unique view of the plane and mighty river - contemplation. Finding your way through dark bat-infested innards with the occasional glistening Buddha and faint relic of past glorious wall-paintings coming out of the gloom - fascinating. BUT above all others, that truly special moment that this place gave... that very first view of the whole magnificent panorama.
Dave and I climbed up Shwezigon temple, arriving before and departing significantly after any others. We were greeted by a stunning plain surrounded on two sides by sharp hills and drawn out by the majestic Irrawaddy. Such sites of nature take your breath away, but add more temples then you can count stretching out in all directions and you are truly blown away. The golden roofs of those up kept temples glisten gloriously in the strong summer sunshine as they point sayingly to the sky. Some the size of palaces, others that of garden-sheds scattered across scorched earth crossed by sheep, shepherd, monk and tourist. Truly special. I was for one knocked-backwards by the shere beauty of the place as the heat of the day wained, giving way to the reds of the decline of the day and then the blackness. Wow!!!
By bumpy horse-cart we were able to see many of the most famous temples including the magnificent Ananda temple, and many not so famous. All in all a simply fantastic few days.
Two asides during this time are worthy of mention. Firstly the strange experience of having to interrupt a "cinema"(room with TV crammed full of men through the night - commonplace in this country) where the local folk are watching cheap porn so that we could watch the UEFA Cup Final. Secondly, a visit to the rather odd Mt Popa (see photo of temple on hill) where the 37 Gnats (pre-Buddhist Gods) are said to live. I saw more monkeys then Gnats but an interesting spiritual place with stunning views of the valleys beneath. On said trip, we first realised the full potential of Larry as he did his crocodile hunter thing in catching us a chameleon with his bare hands.
Take a second to view the blocked up offices of the NLD (National League for Democracy) and try and deny that such things are not suppressed.
I have to move on. We said our farewells to the magnificent plain over another sunset viewed from atop a hard-climbed pagoda and jumped on a very bumpy bus to the hills. As we climbed cramped up in half-seats, the scenery became ever more lush into tropical forest. On we climbed on one of those curling roads that clings to precipitous fall, until almost unthinkably after the hot dry plains we were surrounded by beautiful alpine forest. Here a momentous decision was made and with a little convincing not just us, but also Simon, Larry, 2 Israelis and a Belgian Lass jumped off the bus at Kalaw and within a few hours had arranged a two day 40 something km hike through partly out-of-bounds territory, hill-tribe and monastery to the peace of Inle Lake. This was to prove the highlight of my trip to Burma and bring out some revelations.