Monday, August 24, 2009

Cigar Making, Inle Lake

Jumping Cats, Inle Lake

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Annoyances at the Lake

Pizza at the Lake

After a morning of travel and sightseeing, we stopped into a local restaurant the Golden Kite (kinda sounds like Chinese Food), expecting more rice and chicken. Imagine our surprise when we were delivered up pizza and cheroots.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Inle Lake

The further we go the more primative and mysterious things become. Inle lake is a marvelous area, with many of the locals living in the hills in areas restricted to us. It will take a while to write this up, and even posting pictures will take a while. It's a photographer's paradise, and we got a little carried away.

Here's a sampling to tickle your interest, hopefully next week a complete posting can be made.

mysterious ruins

Tourists in the swamp, heading to adventure

Fisherman catching "stupid" fish

pulling up to the hotel? you'll have to check in next week to find out.

Smartly dressed local ladies, and a member of the Tourist Tribe

Owl Liberation Front

Owl Salesperson -- You buy fine owl? Make very tasty soup. Only 5000 Kyats ($5US)




Mandalay at last!

No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay .

Today we really are off on the Road to Mandalay. Our road is as the crow flies, our vehicle Air Bagan. The 30 minute flight gave us time only for a quick coffee before landing at the Mandalay International airport which is about 45 minutes from the bustling city of Mandalay. A little odd that the bus ride is longer than the flight, but that's modern aviation.

The airport. A grand project, excellently executed, but lacking customers. Picture the Southwest terminal at LAX minus electricity and people (not strictly true, there are more employees there than passengers but there's enough room to hide them all, and you could shoot skeet in the empty rooms) and you've got the feel. A truly amazing sight is the empty airport parking lot.
This airrport was another military government project and it has kickback and international engineering firm written all over it. Someday it may pay off, assuming it can be maintained for that long, but the price was probably extorted from the people now. For now I'd prefer the "old Flotilla" with their "paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay." The flotilla would be a better fit for nature of this country and maybe faster.

What's so difficult to describe about Burma are the contrasts. Modern white elephants like the Mandaly airport and the stunning ancient Pagodas: the military government, and the kind, industrious, happy go lucky people. In some ways Burma is stuck in the old days of the Empire. The romance and exotic feeling are woven through everything and you feel the nature of the country as much as see it. This is one of those places that must be personally experienced because each traveler will have an entirely different take on it. Though all of us have fallen for it -- it's that kind of place.

The monsoon is behind us. The weather is Kipling quality: "An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;" We bang a temple bell three times for good luck and karma.

After being met by our local driver, we went straight to the ancient city of Amarapura, conveniently located on the road to Mandalay.

On the way, we stopped at the U Bein Bridge, the longest wooden bridge in Myanmar which crosses a lake. On the walk to and from the bridge, we were met by hoards of vendors peddling purses, bracelets, and necklaces made of watermellon seeds. Of course, we all had to buy something when the prices came down so low we couldn't pass them up.

On the bridge, we came upon a woman with cages of birds. It was explained to us that when you purchase a bird and set it free, all your sins will be released with the bird through the ends of your fingers. She had a beautiful barn owl which looked big enough to carry away our sins. A 747 might be a more appropriate vehicle - it just lacks the charm of an owl, and it doesn't have the Buddha's approval. We each donated one thousand kyat (one "dolla" each). We each petted the bird (you must touch it to give it your sins), took pictures, and then Augie released it. So now we are all pure! The Owl Liberation Front is being dilligently hunted by the military authorities.

Our journey continued on to the Mahagandayone Monastery, the home of over 1,000 monks. We watched as a seemingly endless line of monks, carrying their lacquer black bowls, entered the compound to receive their afternoon meal and proceed to the lunch room to eat. We got to wander through the kitchens, you'll have to check the pictures, it's too hard to describe.

Watching all those monks eat stirs up an appetite, so it's off to Mandalay for our lunch at a local restaurant. Chinese was the cuisine of the day.

Mandalay. After studying the Kipling poem and absorbing the urge to return to the mystical East, the city turns out to be somewhat anticlamatic. Kipling even got the geography wrong "By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;" The Mahamun (K couldn't spell worth a darn) Pagoda is several hundred miles from the sea, but we'll forgive that as poetic license. What we saw was a modernizing, busy city that did grab you in its own way. If you were a nostalgic British soldier, you definitely would want to come back here.

Then it's on to our hotel, the Mandalay Hill Resort, a beautiful setting that looks like a miniature Belagio from the front, the curved building wrapping around a gorgeous swimming pool, spa, and fittness area. Our window view is a sweeping green hillside studded with golden topped Pagodas.

After our afternoon rest, we're off to the Shwe Kyaung, Golden Palace Monastery, which has the most intricate and detailed wood carvings imaginable. Next, we visited the Kuthodaw Pagoda, known as the world's largest book. It's not what you'd expect a book to look like -- it's rows upon rows of white pagodas, each containing a marble slab upon which has been carved Buddhist canon, front and back. There are 729 of them.

Nostalga, or too much Gin?

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat -- jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen,
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
Bloomin' idol made o'mud --
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd --
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

R Kipling

Magic Bagan -- By Rhonda S

Magic Bagan
The Land of the Pagodas

I have fallen in love with the people of Burma. They refer to themselves as Burmese rather than using the new country name of Myanmar. The people are not only very beautiful on the outside, but so kind, giving and friendly.

Once we arrived in the beautiful city (more like a village) of Began, I knew we had found a magical and enchanting place. I never imagined so many pagodas with such ornate and detailed artwork and handywork. We climbed to the top of several and viewed the surrounding thousands scattered as far as one can see. It was a magnificant sight and a once in a lifetime experience.

We took the opportunity to take a pony cart ride through the pagodas and the village to see how the people live. Riding in the cart we were able to visit many pagodas that are not accesable by motor vehicle.

The people in the Bagan village live a simple life and rely for their livelyhood on tourists to buy their beautiful sand paintings and exquisite lacquer ware.

They are a happy people. We should learn a lesson from them -- simple can be better!

Post by Rhonda Shumway

Nyaung Oo Farmers' Market -- Bagan


Bagan Lacquer Goods Factory

Bagan Monastary


Bagan - Click on the thumbnails to view full size

"You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a Pagoda"

Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad

Bagan World Heritage on the Road to Mandalay


On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!
R. Kipling

Everyone we have met has a smile for us, and the locals are a cheerful bunch. Yesterday's rains haven't dampened any spirts, we're ready for some real adventure.

Up before the sun, a quick breakfast ordered up from the kitchen last night. Just like in the old days, the butler delivered it and set it up in the room.

We had to hit the road at 5 am to get to the airport in time for our flight to Bagan, which is now leaving about 45 minutes early. There are two short hop planes in the fleet, and they rotate from town to town, and are worked pretty heavily. The monsoon followed us, and began to dump water on us as we transferred from the terminal to a loading bus, and even more as we ran from the bus to the plane stairs. Once on board, not too bad. Nice turboprop jobs, with an in flight mini-meal. And this is only about an hour's flight. Oh, the good ole days.

The weather changed from monsoon to nice and sunny (and hot, with a capitol H) Bagan is a semi-arid place, and it's nice and dry while there's a full on monsoon in Rangoon a few hundred miles downstream.

Upon arrival we had our temperatures taken to see if we were carriers for the new avian flu. Test accuracy somewhat doubtful as the technician measured the temperature of Augie's hearing aid.

Since luggage was being taken care of we hopped onto our new bus (a relative term, it actually has a carburetor) and headed out for our days adventures. Within a minute of leaving the airport we were in a World Heritage Site -- the land of Pagodas. Now we are seeing the country.

Excitement when the first one came in view, then the next, next, next, ..... when will they ever stop? The place is covered with them. In every condition from ruin to extraordinary. A few minutes later we pull up to our first pagoda.

The pagodas were built from about the 10th through the 13th century (not counting modern restorations) as more or less offerings to the Buddha. They are a mix of temples and stupas (monuments,) and some have been in continuous use as temples for 800 years.

Climbing up for a better view, the view turns out to be extraordinary. Descriptions and photographs don't do it justice. The view's stunning and eerie at the same time. Colors constantly changing with the light and time of day. This is truly one of those places you have to experience for yourself.

Many ooos and ahhhs later, and a bit of haggling for souvenirs, we took off to the local farmers' market. The market is a colorful, busy, chaotic place, a mixture of a true farmer's food market and fixed stalls selling house wares, clothing, and just about everything needed to supply a home.

Word quickly spread that Gringos were in town. Within seconds we were mobbed by vendors selling books (Burmese Days -- Orwell), combs, carvings, and whatnot. Friendly but pushy, they won't take no for an answer, and have their faces and goods plastered on the bus windows as the bus drives off.

Augie bought a wraparound dress worn by most of the local men. It's a quick cover-up because shorts, the most comfortable way to dress, are not permitted in temples. A t-shirt for the quilt project was also picked up.

The tourist business is slow this time of year and most of the tourists that are here are from Spain. Europeans are not big spenders, and the locals are hurting for business. In their minds Americans have fat wallets and soft hearts (heads), and are seen as easy marks for a fast talking souvenir hustler. Overall the Burmese are happy people, so haggling is mostly fun, but they do need to make a sale to eat, so they try hard to close the sale.

Most of our group are experienced travelers, so this is fairly ho-hum, but it is entertaining and does connect you with the locals and gives you some actual interaction. This is always a relief from looking at old buildings.

With our vendors in tow, we make it back into the bus, and head off for hotel check-in and lunch.

After lunch we motor to the area's largest pagoda. Well, it is big. We're running out of superlatives here, there' just so much superlative stuff. This one's a monster, and vaguely familar with its Stalin Wedding Cake look, but this one was around half a millenium before Stalin.

It's also the starting point for our late afternoon horse carriage ride. Clip clop, off we go for a round of pagoda watching. Our tour winds through a local village of dirt streets (nothing special there, most around here are) and we whip smartly past a lowly ox cart with our horn blasting. Round and round in a cloud of dust, pagodas to the left of us, pagodas to the right of us, pagodas just about everywhere.

A last bumpy turn onto a small dirt road leads us to, you guessed it, a pagoda, and out of the buggy. Dump the sandals, and climb the dark tunnel stairs up to the pagoda's main walkway. Another breathtaking sight. Our guide Johnny has taken our small group to a pagoda of our own so we can watch the sunset. An adjacent pagoda seems to have the rest of the local tourist population on it waiting for the sunset, and a vaguely ant-y appearance.

We are surrounded by pagodas and stupas(a monument built over a buried Buddha statue, presumably to help you remember where you put it) that are changing in color as the sun sinks behind the clouds and mountains. It is amazingly beautiful and dramatic with color gradations and shadow movement that keep you enthralled. It is one of those sights that you must actually see to really appreciate.

With the sun finally gone, we head off for the hotel and dinner.