The road to Mandalay
15.01.2013 - 30.01.2013 30 °C
A land of dry dusty paths, seemlessly endless steps, Paya topped mountains, cool nights, hot days. A world of mystery for all those stepping foot in it. Myanmar.
To all those who have asked me .... Burma, as was.
Stepping foot in Myanmar was like being transported back to my first day travelling. Getting off the plane in an unknown land, looking around feeling a sense of being lost, succuming to the newness of it all and being overwelmed by it. So there I am, standing in a street, not knowing why im here or in which direction I want to go and feeling just a tad homesick, I do the only thing I can and ask the nearest person for help. Turns out to be a great move, the Burmese People I met were friendly, helpful and after a few minutes of speaking English (with varying degress of fluencey) I was set in the right direction and once again knew where I was heading.
I loved Myanmar. It is a beautiful country and I would consider myself extremly fortunate if my future journeys ever took me there again.
My road to Mandalay started in Yangon. I wasn't sure what to expect. Its a bit daunting having to take all your money into a country. (i'm sure this is how travelling used to be but now there are ATMs everywhere ... except Myanmar) working out how many dollars, getting pristine, unblemished notes, finding a suitable place to store them as my wallet is not big enough to keep notes flat. It all add to the sense of going into the unknown. Anyway, with that in mind i flew into Yangon and the extremely nice taxi man transported me to a guesthouse where i booked in. I have to mention here that the guesthouse had an amazing buffett breakfast which they were extremely proud of. I spent a day with fellow travellers, met at the amazing breakfast, exploring Yangon on foot and culminating in a visit to the Shwedagon Paya which was impressive with its grand staircase entranceways.
The next day we took the train to Bago where we caught the bus to the Golden Rock.
The train was great fun. Iit was rickety and bumped its way along the tracks and I loved it. We were in ordinary class with all the locals. We bought drinks and sweetcorn when the train stopped from sellers boarding the train. The journey took us through beautiful countryside. The local women we were sat next to on the train were incredibly kind and helped us know which station to get off at. They also had a lot of patience and were happy for us to practice our Myanmar words and phrases with them.
The Burmese do a Pilgrimage to the Golden rock, more people come at weekends and at the full moon. We started seeing people arriving from 10pm, the ones who were going to walk up and stay the night on the mountain and see sunrise there. We then heard them again from 4am! We got to the truck station at 6.30am and there were trucks being filled with people, we were directed on to one. You had to climb up (moveable) steps. The trucks were open with rows of benches, which had padded seat cushions (thankfully!). There were about 35 people in each truck. We waited until truck full before it set off. It stopped for a head count to make sure that the truck was not over loaded. It became apparent why the further up the mountain we drove. The journey took about 45min, the road was steep and twisted in places, it was like a roller coaster ride most of the time and everyone seemed to be enjoying it At the next truck station we walked up the rest of the mountain. At the top we paid the entrance fee and walked the final part to the Golden Rock. Its an amazing experience to watch people as they complete a pilgrimage to a sacred site. Once up there they were milling around and sitting in groups taking it all in, enjoying being in the sacred place. Men are allowed to walk the bridge to the golden rock and touch it, pray at it. So i took pics of the guys in our group doing just this. We got down the mountain at 11am and then onto a bus at 12.30pm to Bago and onward to Kalaw. We arrived in Kalaw at 2am and were glad we had booked ahead as they were waiting for us to walk us to the Guest House were we checked straight in and went to bed.
Kalaw is the gateway for the trekking to Inle lake so we spent a day here taking in the market and local teahouses. I found a great Indian teahouse which served sweet tea with samosas, fried chick peas, sweet dough ball, spring rolls and had extremely friendly locals. We wandered around and then walked up the hill to watch the sun set over kalaw.
The next day we started our Trek. We were a group of 7; 3 Spaniards, 1 Belgium and 3 Brits. Day 1 saw us treking around villages and beautiful mountains and hills, we stopped to watch the train pass on an 100 year old railway built by the British. We then walked down the train tracks on to the next village. We stayed in a homestay that evening and ate by candle light – 18km. Day 2 we trekked through farm land, watching people at work in the fields and with their cows and ploughs, we stayed in a monastery with 40 other people that night with cold bucket showers outside – 20km. Day 3 we trekked through the morning mist which seems to linger near (and over) the lake, walking down to the Inle Lake, we took a boat across the lake for an hour to Nhaungshwe seeing the fisherman in their canoes along the way– 15km. The surrounding countryside was very beautiful and it was an amazing way to arrive at the lake and I felt like I had earnt my right to see the beauty of the lake. We all slumped into the boat relaxing on the floor as the boat motored its way across the lake. We ate at Mee Mee’s which we found to be a lovely little, quiet, place away from the main road which made its own pasta (and I do mean made its own pasta!), we watched him roll the dough out, flatten it and cut it up. The carbonara was yummy we found ourselves sleeping in a monastery again as accommodation was scarce and it was very reasonable.
To see more of Inle Lake we hired bicycles and rode down one side of the lake to a forest monastery that good views over the lake. Inside there was a beautiful Buddah with the tree painted on the walls behind it to depict Buddah sitting underneath the tree. We passed a couple of Orphanages on the way. Often orphans are cared for and brought up in monestarys as monks. On the way home we visited the Red Mountain Estate, a vineyard to sample their wines. I indulged in a glass of Sauvignon Blanc whilst watching the sun setting over the lake and nearby mountains. Heaven. We cycled back in the dark trying to avoid falling off the road into the dirt tracks at either side, as we hadn't thought to bring torches when we set out, pedalling across little bridges with wooden planks.
The next day we hitched a ride with friends back to the forest monastery village and met a woman who lived in the village on the way to drop her son at preschool. She is a canoe person and her husband a motor boat person. She canoed us around her village, showing us the stilted preschool, vegtable gardens growing tomatos. We had a coffee in her family restaurant and then her husband took us out on the lake to the bigger floating gardens and weaving factor (very impressive) where they make fabrics from lotus plants. We saw the famous fisherman who paddle there canoes using there legs whilst their ahnds are busy casting nets.
We took another night bus to Bagan - everyone we met along the way kept saying they had found places to be fully booked when they turned up but had managed to share a room with someone else rather then end up on a park bench (yes, someone did this! Although they did arrive in the middle of night). We arrived at 3am to the bus station. We got a horse and cart to the guesthouse where a man was up by a small bonfire in the front yard. Firstly they said they were full (I think because we were two people), they then said they had a single room. We took it and I camped on the floor for the night. Having slept on monastery floors this compared fairly well. The man was very sweet and brought me a mat and blankets of which i made a comfy bed. They moved us to a twin room the next day. Best of all the shared bathrooms had hot water (if you are up early enough) !
Bagan was great. Such a beautiful place. Sunrise, sunset, temples, hot air balloons rising up to float over Bagan, misty mornings. Abandoning our bikes we explored temples and found hidden gems to climb up on and see Bagan spreading out before us. We easily found secluded spots on temple tops to watch the sun rising and setting and met lots of people to travel with including a visit to Mt Popa. Bagan has over 3000 temples of varying size and we arrived during there festival so lots of Burmese people were there having travelled from different parts of the country. Monk chanting rang out throughout the day and night and the people gave prayers and received blessings.
The final leg of my journey to Mandalay took me on the Ayeyarwaddy, a day spent on the river, watching the shores the fastest thing to happen was the sun rising and setting. Myanmar is a country where every sunrise and sunset is picture worthy so I hope you will endulge me whilst I tell you about it; the sun turns a vibrant orange then reddy colour as it dips below the horizon, there is then a period of stillness before it lights up in the reds, pinks, purples streaking across the sky. Every night. Every morning. Myanmar is a beautiful country, I do not think my pictures do not do it justice:
sweeping at paya
train to Bago
market - kalaw
The trekking path
Fisherman on Lake Inle
Hotair Balloons rise over Bagan at sunrise
The temples of Bagan
Sunset over Bagan
Temple at sunset
sunset over Ayeyarwaddy
Highlight: The beautiful sights; Inle Lake, Bagans temples, sunrises and sunsets, pilgramage to Golden Rock, the train journey, Burmese people and the other travellers - ok, so most of it was a highlgiht.
Lowlight: the smog, pollution and dust. i developed a slight cough whilst visiting the country and my lungs (which does seem to be the only part of me) are glad to have left.