It was almost unbearably hot in Bagan. The temperature often crept towards 45°C in the afternoon so we’d get up ridiculously early in the morning to explore some of the 2200 temples in the area. Then we’d try to find someplace relatively cool to hole up for the afternoon to avoid dissolving into a sweaty mess during the heat of the day. That’s easier said than done when there are frequent multiple-hour blackouts with no AC to cool you down, or even a simple fan to crawl under.
Luckily, the beauty of Bagan makes it all worthwhile. As with everywhere in Burma, the people are almost comically friendly and helpful. Even in this touristy part of the country (touristy by Burmese standards that is), they were always curious about who you are, where you’re from, and what you think of their country. Even more so than in the remoter parts of India, people regularly see you and ask to take a pciture with you just because you are such a novelty to them. Anybody that speaks English has already met a lot of tourists, but still any conversation I had with a local had a very genuine feel to it. They don’t spend any time trying to sell you stuff either. Maybe they ask once, but after you politely refuse they stop immediately and start asking questions simply out of interest.
Burma is a land that is lost in the past and this is apparent everywhere you look. For the first few days here I had the feeling that something was off, or maybe just different, when I was looking around. It took me a while to realise what it was: a complete lack of advertising. Advertisers give out huge shop signs for free in most developing countries with the caveat that they also bear the logo of whatever corporation is paying for the sign… and the logo is usually twice the size of the shop name. No matter where we looked, there was never any escape. Adverts have visually assaulted us everywhere we’ve been on this trip. A Coca Cola sign here, a Vodafone sign there, and so on, ad infinitum. Burma is different, at least for the time being. At most, all a shop will display is a miniscule little sign with the name in simple text and that’s it. It makes for a nice change!
After my last post on meditation (some have called it an ocean of words – thanks Magda!) I’ve decided to keep this one short and let the pictures mostly speak for themselves. That’s pretty easy to do when the post is about Bagan, which is a photographer’s paradise if I’ve ever seen one. Before I dump a tonne of photos though, there is one scene that I will write about as it’s one that will stay with me forever. We were driving down to Salay in a taxi, a village a few hours south of Bagan. Burma is not a rich country in general, but travel more than 5 minutes outside any city and it’s like steeping back in time to the middle ages. No cars, no motorbikes, no bicycles, just walkers and the odd ox drawn cart for heavy loads. At one point we crossed over a dry riverbed about a kilometre wide. There was no bridge – it’s only passable in the dry season. As we made our bumpy way across on the makeshift track, I saw two buddhist monks making the trek across the dusty, desicated riverbed in the scalding heat of the day. Dressed in traditional maroon robes, they carried their alms bowls with them to the town (more than 4km distant) to collect food from generous givers. The sun beat down on their bright red paper umbrellas through the hazy sky. I was too mesmerised by the image to take a photo, but I figured I’d mention it here anyway…