#4 Myanmar, Feb. 27, 2003

Dear Everybody,

I really did like the town of Mandalay. For further sightseeing I hired a taxi to take me to some of the ancient cities outside of Mandalay. The old kings had a penchant for moving their capitals, I guess so that they could build new palaces. Anyway, there are four old abandoned cities around Mandalay.

I walked across U Bein’s Bridge, a 1.2 kilometer long bridge across the Taungthaman Lake. It was made about 200 years ago out of teak columns from an old palace that was being abandoned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the bridge I visited a small village and some weavers at work. Their looms were clackedy-clacking and I bought a small piece from them. A visit to a famous paya and then a boat trip back across the water to my waiting taxi completed this part.

The taxi, by the way, was a newish tiny little pickup truck. The driver suggested that I would be more comfortable in the backend, which had two benches with narrow, plump cushions. I tried it but I couldn’t see very much so asked to sit in the passenger seat instead, which he accommodated by moving the spare tire and gas can into the backend. The taxi would hardly run and there was lots of groaning when he shifted gears, but we did OK, and the price was $8 for all day. I actually only sight-saw from 10:00 until 2:00—then ate a luscious lunch and drank a cooling beer. I bought us each a watermelon from vendors along the side of a road, but when I tried mine later that evening, it wasn’t sweet—quite disappointing.

The second part of my sightseeing was climbing the Sagaing Hill. It had lots of steps but blessedly it had a covered walkway with many resting benches along the sides. And even more blessedly, one didn’t have to remove one’s shoes!! The hill is entirely dotted with religious payas—some white, some gold—all shapes and sizes, a very holy place.

The following day I engaged my familiar rickshaw driver who drove me around to various points of interest that I had selected. The bicycle rickshaws in Myanmar are regular two-wheeled bikes with a little ‘side car’ with a third wheel on the outside—hence ‘trishaw’. They’re very nice because you sit almost alongside the driver and have nearly a 360 degree view, which I really like.

After my sightseeing tour which included the market, clock tower, museum, gem market and two more payas, I went to my usual (wonderful) restaurant around the corner from my hotel, the Lashio Lay. When I was going to pay for my meal, I realized that I had forgotten my purse at the hotel and had nary a kyat on me! I explained that I would go to the hotel and get my money—they just smiled and nodded and didn’t seem in the least perturbed.

One can get to Bagan (my next destination) by airplane, car, bus, train, pickup truck, or boat. I chose the boat which went down the Ayeyarwady River for 10 1/2 hours. What a beautiful sunshiny day, a beautiful wide river, and a beautiful, smooth boat! The Ayeyarwady REALLY is “The Road to Mandalay!” The boat left at 6:00 AM, and yes, “the dawn comes up like thunder on the road to Mandalaaay.” It was more than enough by the time I arrived in Bagan at 4:30 PM.

My Mandalay trishaw driver is trying to get a job in Bagan at the Inn Wa Guest House and he suggested that I stay there. He called them and they picked me up at the boat jetty when I arrived in Bagan. I put in a good word for my driver—I hope he gets the job, if there is one!

There is a plethora of temples, pagodas and stupas here in Bagan (about 2200)—they are cheek by jowl all over the place. Bagan’s heyday was in 11th to 13th centuries, until it was overrun by Kublai Khan and the Mongols. It was quite famous in its time—Marco Polo visited Bagan and even wrote about it in his book describing his 13th century travels.

I was surprised to find an email service here, which I used the evening I arrived. Only in Yangon, the capital, have I not been able to send emails that actually arrived!

The first night that I was in Bagan, somebody knocked on my door about 10:30 PM. At first I ignored it but they persisted. Finally I asked why they were knocking on my door. A male voice asked something about an email. I answered yes, that I had sent an email earlier that evening. I gathered from his reply in poor English that he had an answer. I told him to slide it under the door, which he did. To my surprise it was an email from Claire that she had sent to Mandalay, but too late for me to receive it as I had already left. It turned out that my trishaw driver in Mandalay had come all the way to Bagan to deliver it. But of course he also wanted to see the hotel here about a job.

The next day I got a trishaw driver to take me around to see some of the temples.

 

 

 

The temples are not huge, have lots of big and little Buddhas in them, and generally have been quite well restored and maintained. They have an Indian quality to them, are shaped beautifully. People still worship in them with flowers, incense and money, and one does have to remove your shoes and socks when you go inside the complexes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each has many souvenir shops close at hand and it is really hard not to buy some of the lacqerware, bronze statues, gongs and bells, pictures on silk, tapestries, sets of brass weights, longyis, etc., etc.

 

 

I did buy a small bronze bell and George Orwell’s book, “Burmese Days.”

 

 

 

Breakfast at my hotel in the morning is on the rooftop terrace, overlooking the main street of this little town. To be seen are mostly pedestrians, bicycles, trishaws, pony carts, and an occasional truck or car. Lunch yesterday was at a pretty indoor/outdoor restaurant. I had a Myanmar beer, (they brought peanuts), then a huge avocado/tomato salad, chicken with veggies and cashews over rice, and then they brought a small fruit plate for dessert. The bill? $2.60. And always that smiling, respectful demeanor by the waiter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he dropped me off, my trishaw driver suggested that I might like to see the sunset at a certain stupa. He picked me up at 5:00 and we drove for quite some time, much of it uphill—he was sweating buckets from the exertion. It made me feel a little guilty, but think how good it is for his heart!

 

Anyway, there were hundreds of people on various levels of the stupa which one accessed by very steep narrow steps, but with a good railing to hang on to. The sun went down across the Ayeyarwady behind a mountain with a hundred pagodas in sharp profile, the river all silvery and crimson.

Driving back to town in twilight was wonderful. The air was perfect, the road downhill, and many of the pagodas had a light at the top or inside, or colored lights in various configurations.

The next day the trishaw person took me around again and I saw another seven temples which were all wondrous. I also broke down and bought some souvenirs—bronze wind chimes, lacquer boxes, a painting on silk, etc. I’m sure that somehow I can stuff all this into my backpack!

Having seen the sunset, my trishaw driver now suggested seeing the sunrise from the same Shwesandaw Paya. This time only five people were there. The sun finally bubbled up over the horizon and showered the red brick stupas with a lovely warm light. Again, I could see the Ayeyarwady River. I was the only one there without a sweater or jacket, and it was pretty chilly, but lovely and quiet except for roosters crowing, birds twittering and a few dogs barking.

On the way back my trishaw driver just couldn’t resist showing me two more temples, and they were outstanding. We also overtook three sets of white oxen pulling carts and decorated with dashing bright pink ribbons. They are really beautiful animals.

After perusing the market and shops today and having a tasty (I hope) meal at a good-lookin’ Indian restaurant, I shall fly tomorrow morning to Heho and from there get a pickup truck to Inle Lake. My trishaw driver is taking me (and my pack!) to the airport. Claire is on her way to Bangkok for a jewelry show and buying trip- hope she has time to tune in and send this on to all of you. Carol

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