Monday, March 25, 2013

Project 52: Saturday Afternoon

Two Saturdays ago I was at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, in Mohali, Chandighar, watching India pile on the runs against Australia. After a washed out Day 1, we were just happy to have some cricket to watch.

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Inle Lake

We were unprepared for an overnight bus. We thought it was just a few hours, and we would find accommodation for the night at the other end. We had asked as we bought the bus ticket, and got an answer we had thought we had understood correctly. But as the bus pulled out of Bagan, and the at sight of our fellow busmates all settling in for the night, the joke was on us! The answer of 9 at our guesthouse which we took as 9pm arrival must have been 9 hours, as in length of time for travel! Oops!

So we arrived into Nyaungshwe in the wee hours of the night, into the unexpected cold air, and nowhere to stay. A team of cyclos met the bus and the deposited foreigners, and after a lap of the deserted streets, and guesthouse door after guesthouse door showing a sign saying no vacancy, we ended up sleeping on a floor in the communal longhouse of a monastery.

What felt like a silly travel mistake actually turned out to be just fine - the fact that there was no accommodation in Nyaungshwe meant that we found a place to stay out on the lake, and we were soon longboating out on the water to the Golden Lion, a guesthouse of just 5 rooms, on stilts on Inle Lake. Away from the tour group hordes, which gave us some peace and some amazing views.

Taking in the view from water level, we saw fishermen and their famous leg-rowing techniques unique to the area, as well as families traveling back to town, all surrounded by mountains on either side of the lake.

After a bit of a nap, and a much needed shower, we were met by our longboat again for a tour around the sights of the middle region of the spectacular lake. The sight of villages on stilts was so novel, the water laneways between houses, and everyday life being carried out several meters above water level.

We visited the Paung Daw Oo Pagoda, featuring small Buddhas coated with gold leaf offerings to the point of being unrecognisable. We also stopped in at the disappointing 'jumping cat' monastery, which is really on the tourist trail for an old gimmick that the monks have clearly grown tired of!

Far more interesting for us was the floating gardens, with flowers and vegetables being grown on plots on the water, and the women moving past selling their wares of flowers for offerings, and fruit and veggies.

A pretty relaxed and visually stunning place along our Burma travels, Inle Lake was a much appreciated slower pace for recharging our travel batteries, and seeing a much different way of life. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Boating Along The Ayeywarady

Our last morning in Bagan, we decided to head to the river and take a boat to see a couple of the temples along the water. Our horse and cart driver soon figured out what we wanted to do after picking us up from the roadside of our guesthouse, and he called out to a man on a bike, who must have headed off and arranged a boat for us. As we arrived, chairs were being carted down to the boat for the three of us, and away we were.

Sailing out from Nyaung U we passed fishing villages and fishermen at work. We could see the transient community all along the water, washing clothes, herding cows, and carting water back to their homes.

Our first stop was a very remote temple, where our guide called on the key holder via a string from the gate to a couple of cans in the trees. Here, we took in the views across the river, and also explored the start of the 50 meters tunnels underneath the temple, reportedly running back to Bagan from wartimes.

At our last stop we checked out some well preserved frescos in an earthquake damaged temple, and then I chose to sit and stay out of the sun at the monastery while the others climbed a hill to see one more temple. This actually led to one of those most special travel moments, after I asked a monk if it was ok that I sit where I did. He then sat with me, and soon offered me some green tea. He brought it over, with peanuts and a sweet treat too on the tray, and we sat and had tea together. Through very limited English we talked about where I was from, how many monks live in this hillside monastery, where I have travelled to and where I will head next there in Burma. Such a special few moments.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hosier Lane, Melbourne

Melbourne street art changes so fast, and this is highlighted by the ever changing display along Hosier Lane off Flinders Street. The constantly renewed canvas always has a story to tell, when you dare to venture down the laneway.

These photos were taken in early January, and I wonder what will be there to be seen when I get back in April, and whether any of these pieces will still remain.

The diversity of the art on display is worth the wander through every couple of months, and so many times you can see works in progress. You can even smell them!

The mediums added to the walls are an element that makes this walk along the laneways all that more surprising and intriguing. This undercurrent of Melbourne culture adds to the vibrancy of our great city!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Project 52: Saturday Lunchtime

On Saturday just gone I was in Agra, getting ready to see the incredible sights of India's top tourist destination. We had had the morning off, after a long travel day the day before to get there, and at lunch I ventured to the rooftop of our hotel to catch a glimpse of the Taj Mahal, before we headed out to see Fatehpur Sikri, or the "Ghost Palace". That first sight of the monument of love was breathtaking...and it only got better with each view over the next few days.

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sunsets At Bagan

Our first night we watched the sun disappear over the mountains across from the Ayeywarady River, with beers in hand – perfect!

At the end of our second day in Bagan we were taken to temple number 394 on the map, for a serious incredible view of the sun setting over the plains of temples as far as the eye could see.

This was one of the few temples with access to the top level, and a climb up the stairs found us a spot to sit and watch the colours change in the sky above and in the temples all around.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Old Bagan

I had read about Bagan in Burma, and that it was a plain of temples and stupas for as far as you can see. I had even seen photos from the area, of exactly that. But until you see it, I don’t think you really have a concept that there really are temples and stupas EVERYWHERE. I certainly didn’t. So, so many of them! Everywhere you look.

The last count is apparently around 3000 temples still standing, over a 40 square kilometre area – is it any wonder that these inhabitants building these religious monuments for some two and a half centuries are an ancient civilisation – they were clearly not focusing on developing anything but building these temples!

We spent a day and a half exploring the temples of Old Bagan and the outer area of Bagan, and saw just a handful of them. The first day we wandered through the tracks of Old Bagan itself, and then the second day we hired 2 horse and carts, with a great guide, who showed us some of the most amazing ones in a pretty well thought out circuit – including a prime spot for sunset at the end of the day, away from the throngs of tourists trying for the same photo.

From our guesthouse we grabbed a horse and cart to the Tharaba Gate to walk into Old Bagan, and then explored the first two temples on our left, being Shwegugyi and Thatbyrinhyn Temples, which were close to each other. In the first I had a local girl show me some of the features of the temple, as she practiced her English, and hoped I would buy something from her shop at the end. We then wandered along the dirt paths of Old Bagan, checking out some of the smaller temples, before getting to Gawdawpalin for sunset. The white of the temple gave us some gorgeous colours, but alas we could not get to the second level for our shot of the plain in that light.

Instead, we had a couple of beers watching the colours fade on the bank of the Ayerwadday River, at one of the bigger hotels for the view.

The next day we rode around in the back of horse and cart to see about 12 temples, starting with the Shewezigon Pagoda. There are 37 nats, or spirits, and also 9 wonders. Things like the myth or fact that when papers that hold the gold foil that are placed on the Buddha at the centre, are dropping from the height of the pagoda they never fall outside of the temple precinct. Or that when it rains or floods, no water remains inside the compound, and also that when a big drum is beaten on one corner of the walls, it cannot be heard on the other side. So a sign inside told me!

Our day included the most famous of the Bagan temples, being the Ananda, which was indeed very impressive. I think the story of Dhammayangyi was the one that most stood out for me, and again we had a local girl walk along with us and tell us the story of the temple.  The design is like a bigger version of Ananda, built later by the most cruellest of rulers – this king demanded that the brickwork be placed so close together that he could not even pass a pin through it – mortarless, they state, although this baffles me as to how it has stayed in place for this long. The story goes that any of those working on the construction failed to manage the super thin space between brick layers, the king cut off his arm – and there are stones where such amputations were completed to be seen.  When this king died, the story continues that those slaves made to build the temple filled in the inner pathways in revenge, and now all visitors can only see one of the four openings to Buddha – one for the archaeologists of the future to discover the secrets and treasures within and on the upper and lower floors.

Many of the temples we visited featured well preserved frescos inside, for which you needed a torch to see. Each temple also had a different presentation of Buddha, in terms of hand posture, how he was sitting, and of course, how many there actually were inside. Even the more rural temples were elaborate and ornate inside, as we found when we wandered into temple number 744 on the map, just before we got to our sunset spot for the day.

A seriously impressive and mind-blowing place to visit, we could easily have spent much longer there. Although to be fair, I am happy with our visit and what we did manage to fit it - very wary of the old backpacker issue of being "templed-out". I never thought that state was really possible, but Burma definitely challenges that idea!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Scenes Around U Bein Bridge

Taking in the sights around the U Bein teak bridge across the lake in ancient Burma city of Amarapura outside of Mandalay was the perfect end to a day of exploring - watching the local families, groups of monks, and tourists alike navigate the platform so high above the water, as the light began to fade...

The boats took the tourists out onto the water for the actual sunset, or picked them up after they completed the crossing of the bridge and landed on the other side of the lake.

Many of the locals were just going about their usual day, heading across the bridge for prayer at the temple, or fishing and fossicking for shellfish on the bottom of the lake.

The movement in the water, from boats and people, made the water iridescent, adding to the stunning scenes playing out as the light faded, from our vantage point on the bank. What a special little pocket of the world! Burma has so much that is surprising and so amazing.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Cities Of Ancient Mandalay

There are three ancient cities around Mandalay, that at one point served as the nations capital, and we managed to visit at least a key point of each one in a day trip.

Our first city was Sagaing, and the climb to Soon U Ponya Shin Paya. This gave us great views across stupa-dotted Sagaing hills and the Ayeyarwady (or Irrawaddy) River - and the Ava and Irrawaddy Bridges.

The paya itself has impressive mosaic terraces, mirrored mosaic spaces, and the bemusing neon additions to the major buddhas of the temple.

At Inwa, or Ava in the old language, we left the car for a longboat across the river, to then take a horse and cart to explore the sights on this side. This city was the capital for 400 years, with an earthquake ending it's reign to Amarapura. What remains is the city walls, outside of which many villages have developed.

After our driver took us to the temple closest to his home, we visited the teak monastery, or Bagaya Kyaung. The building is supported by 267 teak posts, and is a working monastery, with lessons set up inside, and an older monk presiding over a younger monk's learning as I wandered through.

The most interesting sight on Inwa was the leaning and rickety Nanmyin watch tower - albeit from the roadside. A closer look lost the magic of the precarious structure, severely damaged in the 1838 earthquake, and seemingly has had no repairs since!

Riding in the back, or up the front of the cart with the driver, gave us each an ample view of the village life going on around us. A very rural and basic setting, we saw children coming from school, groups of woman working in the fields, and men driving bullock carts along the roads. Kids out doing their chores were always keen to say hello to the sight of three foreigners, and maybe even be brave enough to test any other English words they have been learning.

Getting to Amarapura, which is considered The Southern City to Mandalay's northern city. The main attraction our guide was keen to time correctly was to be at the U Bein Bridge for the sunset colours.

The bridge spans 1.2kms and is made of teak, crossing the Taungthaman Lake you will reach Taungthaman village and pass a monastery which is the home to thousands of monks.

After wandering along a portion of the bridge, we then spent this time people watching, on the bank of the lake with a few beers, which was the perfect end to an amazing day of ancient ruling capitals.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Royal Mandalay

From Bangkok to Mandalay, the northern city was our first taste of Burma. Getting into town to look for somewhere to stay, and taking in the pollution and traffic, the low-rise buildings and the compact central area, it reminded me instantly of Phnom Penh as it was 10 years ago.

Once we were housed for the next 2 nights at the basic Nylon Hotel, we found a driver to take us to the sights around the city, in a rickety old Corolla stationwagon - surely older than any running car back home.

The first stop was to explore the Royal Palace, through the gates and passed the men in uniform holding guns. Most of the complex is now a military base, but the King Mindon Min's Palace sits to one edge of the walled city, and is open for tourists. Having been burnt down in the battle where the British took over Burma in the 1940s, this area has been restored, reportedly with prison labour.

Walking through the many, many rooms of the many buildings, the complex went on and on. The best view of it all, however, was from atop of the watchtower, and here you got a great perspective of the tiered pavilion, and then Mandalay Hill in the distance.

The restored Palace is no longer made primarily of wood, but you can visit one original piece of the Palace - the Golden Palace Monastery, or Shwenandaw Kyaung. This detailed carved teak building was actually where King Mindon died when it was part of the Palace, but King Thibaw Min had it dismantled and relocated to this site.

Our next stop, as suggested without any English by our driver, was the world's largest book - a pagoda with 729 stupas all around it with a page each, with 80 to 100 lines of Burmese script on both sides, being the complete Tripitaka. This book on the grounds of Kuthodaw Paya would reportedly take one person 450 days to read it in it's entirety, reading 8 hours every day!

Our final tour stop for the day was the same as every other tourist in Mandalay that night - and to be honest, that wasn't an overwhelming number, was to watch the sunset from the glistening, mirror-mosaic-ed Sutaungpyai Pagoda. The terrace of the temple, reached by an elevator, hosts a perfect view of the sun going down, and was indeed pretty impressive in it's own right.

The next day on our way out of town for the day, we stopped in at Mahamuni Pagoda, or the Great Saga Pagoda. Here, after exploring the outer features of the temple, we peeked into the inner sanctum where men constantly layer gold leaf on the buddha here. Women are not allow past a certain point, but the goings on with the leaf placement is broadcast on TVs around the circuit of the temple.

This temple ground also has a room of relics lifted from the Cambodian Angkor region, and are said to have healing properties if you rub an injured body part on the same part of the three-headed elephant, or the oger or the Angkor soilders. Fi had a go at that, with her injured foot!

A great overview of the sights of Mandalay, before venturing out to the ancient cities around Mandalay.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Project 52: Saturday Morning

This Saturday morning it was Day 1 of the Second Test here in Hyderabad, India. Staying at our pretty flash 5-star hotel, we have been upgraded as a group, and so our breakfast is in the Executive Lounge. The staff and chef fall over themselves to serve you when you arrive, and make you the breakfast you want. Very un-Flag like! But amazing!

Sitting along the central table, the view on Saturday was of the sunrise changing the colours of the sky above the lake. Not a bad way to start a Test Match!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Myanmar or Burma? Burma or Myanmar?

Referring to the Land of Golden Pagodas as Burma or Myanmar may be the hardest things about travelling there at the moment.

The name was changed from the Union of Burma to the Union of Myanmar in 1989, as the martial law was introduced, and the General of the State Law and Order Restoration Council declared that the name 'Burma' was English colonialist.

Of course, the name Myanmar goes back to the 13th Century and was changed to Burma when the English took Mandalay in 1885, and turned in into a part of British India. It is indeed part of the British rule of this nation.

But Aung San Suu Kyi calls her home 'Burma', and will reportedly continue to do so despite being ordered not to, until the people of her country can decide for themselves - when democracy is allowed, and respected.

And that's good enough for me. She is the symbol of freedom and hope in Burma, and the end to the oppressive and fearful ruling is something that this most amazing country so desperately needs.

I actually expected to see her likeness everywhere as I travelled through Burma, but posters of her and her National Democratic Party were in fact few and far between. A little more in Yangon, but rarely in the rest of the areas we visited.

These three photos were one of the only ones I saw - at the top with her father, assassinated at such a young age, in a cafe on the side of a pagoda in outer Mandalay. The next placed above a room of working women, showing their wares and craft in the Inle Lake area, and the last in a hillside village near Kalaw. The calender on display here features photos of a visit Aung San Suu Kyi made to the area, and featured in a few stores and homes in this rural area.

I didn't speak to many about her and her likeness until I come across a picture of her like the one here in a store when I could ask about it - mostly her face is not displayed so openly out of fear of the military rule.

This is a country that needs it's freedom from it's oppressive rule, and in the last year there has been reports of political shifts and hope. The world is watching, Burma, with fingers crossed and breath held for you...
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