On our journey to choose up the boat at Pakkoku taking us down the Irrawaddy river to Bagan, I asked our guide Wyn about a rather peculiar practice I had noticed with the locals in Myanmar. Each and every morning they paint their faces with a yellow substance, hunting like really poorly applied make up, some add a circle on every cheek, other folks two broad square brushstrokes and a handful of cover their entire face. This is not restricted to the girls, male and female use the dye, young and old, even the toddlers have it smeared on them.
Apparently, the use of Thanaka is purely cosmetic and one of a kind to the folks of Myanmar. It is a paste created from ground bark and sold in shops and markets all through the nation in its raw type of a brief but thick branch from the Murraya tree.
An early begin on our initial morning in Bagan, but the four:00 AM wake up contact was a smaller inconvenience for what promised to be a highlight not only of Myanmar and South East Asia, but the entire of our 10 month adventure. This was ballooning at dawn more than the three,000 temples and monuments of Bagan.
Till the six.eight magnitude earthquake struck in August 2016 the smaller town of Bagan had more than four,000 monuments in its 42 sq km area. Temples, stupas, libraries, monasteries and ordination halls mostly from the 11th and 12th C. nonetheless litter the landscape and horizon of this magical location. So right now we had been to see these that stay from the air and the ground.
We met with Piers, our pilot for the morning, a frightfully British gentleman from Bristol, who gave up his job as an airline pilot to devote six months a year ballooning guests across Old Bagan. We had been joined by couples from Spain, Korea and Russia for breakfast in the field exactly where the balloon was inflated and there was a small nervous laughter about the table.
But when we had been in the basket with the flame roaring above our heads as we rose serenely into the brightening sky any apprehensiveness disappeared as promptly as the ground under us.
It was spectacular. The morning mist draped itself about the hundreds of temples and across the parched land, as we rose larger the sun broke by way of to give the scenery under a golden hue and all was quiet.
A couple of hours later we landed softly on the sandbanks of the broad Irrawaddy river and immediately after a celebratory glass or two of champagne, allegedly an acknowledgement to the French inventors of ballooning, we had been collected by boat and taken back to the hotel to begin the day with a different breakfast. My goodness what exciting.
We met Aung our guide for the day, a lawyer and it seemed to me component time political activist who had campaigned really hard for UNESCO protection of the region. He was a charming man, keen to debate the tough problems the nation has to address with a joint military and democratic government, but with an infectious giggle and an encyclopedic information of the region and its monuments. I was keen for him to take us off the usual tourist route, he was not going to disappoint.
Aung explained that in 1990 the military forced the entire population of Bagan to move to a new Bagan outdoors the old city walls. This was only 10,000 folks but nonetheless if, like Aung, it is your house and loved ones then it is going to be quite traumatic so they refused to move. The military reduce off the water provide, then the electrical energy, and when that failed they threatened to open fire. Aung, his loved ones and the remaining villagers left to set up house in New Bagan. Old Bagan exactly where all the monuments are positioned was now deserted.
The military demolished all the shops, residences and town buildings to enable the creating of hotels and private residences for the generals. They had taken ownership of potentially a single of the most well-known tourist destinations in the planet and had been not going to let UNESCO interfere, they now charge overseas guests 25,000 Kyat, about £13, to enter the Bagan Architectural Zone. It is rigidly policed – “show your prepaid card for the officer inspects in any time, the Culture Zone”, as it clearly states on the pass.
We visited the big gold Shwezigon Pagoda constructed in the 11th C. as the prototype for all the stupa in the area. The creating wants new gold gilt each and every six years costing $900,000 every time. Under the gleaming structure we located a space about 5 metres square and ankle deep in revenue, the notes had been getting counted and bundled by 3 kneeling girls who couldn’t hold up with the bucket loads getting thrown onto the floor by the guys.
Perhaps there’s not that a great deal distinction to the tall hand painted donation thermometers we see at house in the UK outdoors churches that require a new roof but the opulence and poverty in Myanmar do not sit comfortably collectively for me.
We mounted our scooters and hit a dusty trail that Aung promised was off the beaten track of vacationers. Soon after twenty minutes or so, with our eyes streaming and noses complete of grime we arrived at what appeared to be a deserted orange brick temple about thirty feet square with the upturned bell like spire balanced on the roof. It looked neglected but in pretty superior situation possessing escaped the effects of the earthquake.
Disappointingly the entrance was sealed by a wrought iron gate with a big padlock, we peered by way of the bars into the darkness inside.
‘In right here is my favourite Buddha,’ mentioned Aung.
‘We can not see something, Aung,’ mentioned Helene, ‘Are there any lights?’
As the 3 of us squinted into the musty smelling entrance there was a sharp clanking sound producing all 3 of us jump, it was very eerie in this isolated spot. A smaller man appeared out of the darkness removing a huge ring of keys from the waist of his longyi.
There had been no lights inside the temple but as we located our way about the perimeter wall we entered a space with organic sunlight pouring in from 3 higher openings in the walls above us. They had been clearly strategically placed, for they shed a stream of light on the most lovely seated Buddha we had noticed.
In the gloom and the shadow that surrounded him his pale face shone with red lips and dark eyes hunting down on us in a smaller smile. The remainder of his terracotta coloured physique was swathed in a painted vermilion robe leaving a single arm bare and hands in the enlightenment mudra position. It was sophisticated, dignified and stunningly lovely.
‘You can hold all the gold stupas,’ mentioned Helene, ‘this is by far the most exquisite of them all.’
Of course, she was ideal.
David Moore is Author of ‘Turning Left About the World’. Published by Mirador and accessible from Amazon, it is an entertaining account of David and his wife’s travel adventures – typically intriguing, often funny and sometimes tragic.
If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.