From Inle to Bagan is a long way. Not in terms of distance (some 190 miles), but in time. It took us over eleven hours to reach our destination but the snail pace of the trip, the pleasure of the massage due to the numerous potholes was really worthwhile and led us to unexpected encounters.
You often see women working by the side of the road. They’re carrying small stones in those large metal trays to fill in the notorious Burmese potholes that any visitor to must have experienced — an unusual sight, but not that nice when you consider the working conditions for the woman.
Indeed women are employed largely because they can be paid half a man’s wages and managers are reluctant and unwilling to hire men to perform that job as they would have to pay them twice as much. Unfortunately, Orwell’s quote, ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” tends to be true.
The closer you get to Bagan, the more desert-like the landscape becomes. Teak trees are replaced by acacia and the crop of oranges, papayas and mangoes are replaced by peanuts plantations. The roads and tracks become dusty.
We stopped when we stumbled on a flock of goats, time for a few quick shots of goats and an ox-cart by the local well. We also had the chance to meet a very nice lady who was so pleased to have her picture with her child taken. My wife and I also love Thanaka (
Late in the evening, at nightfall, we reached Bagan. Of course, many of us have seen photos of stupas with hot-air balloons at sunrise but getting a shot is quite difficult as thousands of people are doing the same and it proves difficult to get a high-enough position on the biggest stupas to afford a decent point of view.
After a couple of days visiting some of the most famous temples, we went down the river Ayerwaddy we had left in Yangon. It was odd as there were scores of beggars on the stairs leading down to the river. Apparently, these beggars are professionals and move from one place to another during the day. Bagan is also famous for lacquer work and sand painting. The hours of work to produce one lacquer tray or bowl are long).
On our last day in Bagan, we were lucky enough to go to a shin laung in one of the villages in the Bagan plain. It’s a celebration when children enter a Buddhist monastery for the first time, for a few days. The atmosphere is different from a ceremony in a big city as it involves all the villagers in a feast of colours, light and sound.
Empty, dust track
Once you get into the village, everything is really quiet, almost an empty dusty track and you just wonder if you are at the right place. Then, once you walk a bit further to the centre of the village, you start to meet clusters of people at crossroads (or, rather, cross-tracks). It feels as if something is brewing.
Then we stumbled on the village kitchen with the oxen nearby; the locals were cooking in huge pans with a hole dug in the ground for the heating. The tea was really good as well.
Then you hear the screeching loudspeakers of the parade. It starts with children, then with families in their best clothes, followed by the children about to enter a monastery for the first time. The colours of the costumes and the make-up are truly amazing.
The celebration would not be complete without musicians, either on an improvised stage or in cars with blaring loudspeakers.
And if you ever go there, try the tamarind sweets. They are simply delicious.