Vignettes of Myanmar
This last week in Myanmar has been one of the most uplifting travel experiences I have ever had. The people, the food, the landscapes, it has all been beyond my wildest expectations. Yet, being just a week it is starting to fade around the edges, slowly fogging as a dream does when you awake. With extremely emotional travel on the horizon (i.e. Cambodia’s Killing Fields) I decided that I needed to write everything about Myanmar that stood on in my mind as, well, being Myanmar:
“This Buddha is very special, it was taken by the British back to England. Then, the Queen started having very bad headaches, and the headaches didn’t go away until she returned the Buddha to Myanmar,” an older man in his mid-60’s with long hairy eyebrows and a limp slowly guides me around Shwedagon Pagoda. The hot sun radiates down on the already shining golden pagoda. My backpack digs deeper into my back as dehydration starts to kick in. “People come to this Buddha to pray for a white baby,” he says pointing up to a Buddha statue holding a baby. “I’m sorry, did you say people praying for a white baby?” The day begins to lull as I look at hundreds and hundreds of Buddhas, each with its own story that I’m not sure I should believe. I try to listen to the elderly Burmese guide, but my eyes are drawn again and again to the pagoda in the middle of this holy place; I am a moth to the flame. I recall back as the plane flew over Yangon. Searching for my first glimpse of Myanmar outside the plane window I am immediately drawn to the pagoda that appears like a golden bonfire in the middle of the Myanmar landscape. Even then, even high above, even before my feet touched Myanmar soil, excitement flowed through my veins for Shwedagon Pagoda.
The early morning light has not arrived yet as I step off the overnight bus from Yangon. A few sleepy Burmese teens sit on the clay brick wall outside the bus station. “Where you go? I take you,” the teen quickly jumps to his feet to take my bag. As he smiles I see the familiar red stain of betel nut on his teeth, making him look vampiric in the pre-dawn light. I jump into the back of the small cart and the horse begins to pull away from the bus station. Dreary-eyed and almost asleep, I arrive at a large brick pagoda with thin stairs leading to the top. I turn my feet sideways so that they will fit on the narrow steps until I reach the top. As far as my eyes can see in any direction are green fields and pagodas. My two eyes stare out over Bagan as over 2000 pagodas staring back. The sun hides itself behind clouds and eventually I resign to head back down to the cart. We begin to pull away from the pagoda as the sun emerges, A bright orange circle hangs low in the sky while three brown hot air balloons cross in front. As the cart bumps and jolts its way down the road I smile at the monks in their burgundy robes as they head out to collect donations for the day. I wave at the beautiful Myanmese girls with yellow Thanaka smoothed into a circle on each of their cheeks. The men, monks, women, and children alike return every smile I send.
Light rain falls down from the pitch black sky. In the distance, lightening falls down upon the Thanlwin River, illuminating the mountains behind. Today is a celebration. Today is the first day Buddhists are able to marry after three long months. The villagers refuse to let the rain stop their festival. As a large bolt of lightening strikes down, something shoots back up into the dark sky erupting into a red flower. The locals are shooting fireworks into a lightening storm. The rolling Hpa-An mountains are a deep green during the day, but tonight they are blue, red, purple, and yellow.
The next day, our motorcycles rumble as we form snake patterns with the wheels across the open road. The road curves and meanders in between the mountains of Hpa-an. Each mountain hides a number of cave temples and displays a permanent golden beacon in the form of a pagoda along one of the many ridges. Emmanuel and I stop to take a break and get directions. Neither of us know which way to go. I had met Emmanuel in the morning at our hostel and we became quick friends over a Vietnamese breakfast. Each of us is a long-term traveler, neither of us really care where we are going. On both sides of the road are thousands of Buddha statues sitting and watching. I wonder what it is that they are watching, each other? The mountain? Us? The road continues on through the mountains as our skin changes from beige to pink to red. By the time we return to Hpa-An, our skin is painful to the touch. After a quick break to put some heavy sunscreen on, we head to hike Mt. Hpar Pu across the Thanlwin river. Tonight, we will sleep well, but perhaps first the locals will battle the sky once more.
Note: To see more of Myanmar, jump over to Adventures in Redefinition’s Youtube channel