From Diary 3 I now head a bit west, mainly because
the fighting prevents me from going east and north.
Not that I'm
suspicious in any way, but
it seems like that number 13 haunts me the entire day. After a hour, there s
a major congestion on the narrow road, and in both directions. It delays us
a hour and a half, and looking out the windows does not make up for it.
Despite it is after eight, the mist easily keep the sun away.
The road more or less follows the railroad, and the same huge gorge have to be crosses. Where the railroad had the old cast-iron-bridge, the cars have to zigzag the entire way down to the river for the crossing. It is a great decent through what appears to be the only untouched forest I have see so fare. The huge trees are overgrown with lianas, ferns and orchids. I wished I could do a walk here, but I fail to figure how I get back on a bus. Further more, the few policemen are said not to like company, although they do appreciate the water bottles from the bus-crew.
Like all other mainroads, cars from other states have to pay toll, and it is quite big. We follow the gorge, which is indicated by a long, dense cloud. After the crossing of the gorge, the road seems a bit dull, and I doze off. I get woken when we enters Pyin Oo Lwin, and do a short lunch brake. I skip lunch to enjoy the sun and the nursery we have stopped at. A bag of caramel with nuts must be sufficient. I need to replace all the energy the air-condition have taken this morning. I don't get why everyone have to freeze, several have asked for blankets.
We start the long decent to Mandalay, and there are some great views to the lowland through the mist. We reach a big bus terminal, but accordantly to the helpful girl I ask, I have to drive to another one to catch the bus for Mingun village. A young boy, not that bright, drive the eight kilometres, and now it get difficult. It seems like she had misunderstood which city I was heading for - despite I showed it to her in writing and on a map. There are no busses going that way, at this terminal. They say the only connection to this remote village is by moped through Sagaing.
The boy could drive me there in a good hour, for
5.000K - the others say - but I rather get a bus. A taxi driver, who can a
few English words - more than the others all together, offers to drive me
for 10.000K, and it seems like there are no busses anyway. At least, we
seems to be in the right end of Mandalay, and at two, we reach the huge
bridge to Sagaing - I hope. The town is build on several big hills,
and the only thing visible despite the trees and numerous pagodas. It look
like an entire town of pagodas and temples.
Just around the corner, I find the new and too clean
market. Well, the butchers do it easy to maintain vegetarian... I walk a bit
around, but I am clearly in the wrong neighbourhood. A moped driver,
speaking a bit of English, offers me to find a slightly cheaper hotel, but a
the same time, he repeat the taxi driver claim: It is a real expensive town.
I drop the bag and head straight back to town. The
market get another look through, then I try to find the tourist attractions.
Both to see them, but also because I actually would like to find a golden
pagoda as my Myanmar souvenir. It is after all the thing I connect Myanmar
with. One of the stalls offers the stuffed pancakes with kick peas and other
vegetables, and I try one: Just as delicious and the others I have had.
Finally, a middle aged moped driver calls at me. He offers to show me the two pagodas and temples on the top of the biggest hill, the sunset from here and the ride back to my hotel, and I gladly pay him 4.000K. It is a rather long drive and the last part is steep. We passes hundreds of young monks and nuns. Same haircut, but the girls are warring pink while the boys have bordeaux ropes.
The first place he drops me of is a huge gathering of temples, pagodas and huts with statues. I head upwards, and time and time again, I think I have reach the top and its secret building. The view to the surroundings are fantastic, and so are the shrines. Lines of identical Buddha statues in golden buildings, some standing tall and alone in other buildings. All kind of stupas, pagodas and other symbolic buildings are gathered on this top. After I have reached what apparently is the top, returned down and then up to get my flip-flops, my driver do the short tour to the nearby hilltop.
As hoped, both places
have plenty of souvenir shops, but nothing remotely resample what I was looking for.
And I only se Asian Buddhists, not a single pale-faces. This is a real well
visited city, but by pilgrims!
As we passes the
market, I ask him to stop. This must be the place to look for dinner. It is
in the last daylight, and the cut flowers look fantastic. I try a few photos
of the stalls in the dimmed light, and feel I have to buy a sweet pancake,
filled with something sweet. Then two of the vegetable pancakes - and a
sweet just to be sure.
Back at seven, I start the usual work, except the
pointless attempt to connect to the internet. They don't have any - like the
others, but they acknowledges it. Considering I have the room for two days, I might celebrate it with a
small round of laundry.
Despite the loud prayers, I get a great nights sleep for once. No reason to
hurry anyway; the 75 kilometre moped drive will be cold enough later in the
morning. I find some great breakfast on the street nearby; Fried noodles with
slightly spiced vegetables, tofu and veggie-pirokes.
With a cup of instant coffee, I have to pay 1100K. I share the table with a
farther and his little son. He is only slightly better with the chop-sticks
At nine, a third driver turns up, and why not: A bit of
English and a rather new moped is all I need - I hope. We take the narrow
road along the river up north. I do not see any busses or alike, but plenty
of cows, temples, and pagodas! The area are home to 6.000 monks and nuns,
and we see most.
After a hours driving, we reach Mingun, the area starts
to teaming with people. At the main area, even a few pale tourists are
found, who have arrived by boat from Mandalay.
We park on the other side of the road, and as a tourist, I have to pay what all the locals have mentioned as a heavy price; 5000K, but I'm fine with supporting the area this way. As with all other pagodas, two Chinthe (half lions, half dragons) are watching the entrance, and these are build and match the size. Well, they have disintegrated quite some, and now, they look more like the buts of elephants. Anyway, their share size make them impressive still!
A guy is lining up his Indian oxen in front of a wooden
carnage, and offers me a ride around the area. There is a childish drawn
"taxi" on the bamboo cover. I decline, and walk the other side of the road
to see this giant of a pagoda.
Next on my driver's agenda is the huge, white pagoda-like structure of Hsinbyume Paya. It is the symbolic seven mountain ranges around Mount Meru: The centre of the Buddhist universe. It is also impressive, and I do the walk around it, and to the top, which offering a great view to the surroundings.
Next to it is a more wooden-like structure. It is build to protect the mightily Mingun Bell - world's second largest bell. Bodawpaya had a bell made, matching his pagoda. It was cast in 1808, and measures 4,87 meter at the base, and four metres high. The weight is 90 tons. It does have a fine, deep sound!
After that, I offers the driver a cup of coffee, mainly
because I could do with some tea. I walk to the white Sat Taw Yar Pagoda,
which is the same type of building as the mightily Mingun Pagoda, was it finished.
Back in Sagaing, I don't seem to be able to avoid a tour
to the highest hill with its pagoda, and as a good tourist, I do a round.
Next up is some water paintings. We pass one office to be registered, and then head over to the Tilawkaguro Cave. It seems like another huge pile of bricks, and it does hold some ancient paintings on the inner walls. I walk around all by my self, and try to find the bats.
From here, we head way out on the south-western highway. Here are the largest golden Pagoda; Kaunghmudaw Paya, and the tour it self is interesting. We passes smiths making the brass stuff for the pagodas, some shops selling huge terracotta things and some selling weaved furniture.
We reach the Kaunghmudaw Paya and it is truly huge!It is not only 46 meter tall, it is also rather obese. It
is said, when the king was asked about the shape, the queen just pointed at
her breast, and said: Make it like this. It is from 1636, and real well
preserved and maintained.
I still look for a golden pagoda as the perfect Myanmar
souvenir, and ask my driver to stop at some of the huge silver smiths on the
way back. They do have a lot, but not any small ones.
I get a lot of good pictures, although I keep failing to get their faces: The look away every time. But look back, when I say "thank you" - and take the second picture. It fall quite natural for me to say "Min-ga-lawa" by now. A normal greeting. On second floor, the textiles are found, and I do some "laundry". Underwear; 1000K.
Then I do the surrounding streets and alleys. A few cups
of tea - or is it coffee? later, I have seen it all. The sun disappears, and
I head home to work on photos and diary. I have somehow been able to make
303 photos, and it is going to be a long evening. I start with the diary,
while I chase the tiny ants in the keyboard again. I might have to take the
Mac apart one of these days - and I did bring the tool, and I'm not afraid
to use it!
At seven, the prayer school is up and running next door,
and I head back to town for dinner. Street food again, but here are no
festival this evening, and I head home. On the way, I do a single stop for a
cup of tea, but the temperature is slightly low - for me.
17/12 Breakfast same place as yesterday, and then
down and catch the pick-up. Well, that would have been easy, but apparently,
they do NOT leave for the south-western highway from here. I spend quite
some time asking around, and everybody seems to agree: I have to go around
Several agree on where I shout jump of, but unfortunately, they must have it wrong. Here in this part of Mandalay, none have heard of Nyaung U or Bagan. A moped driver have an idea: The motor boats! Why not? He drive me across the huge city once more, and the jetty is there. Unfortunately, there is only a seven o'clock boat. But they know where the busses leave from.
Back on the soon to be rich moped drivers iron-horse, and
a new angel cross town. I recon I now have seen most of Mandalay, and it
don't seem to me as an interesting, nor beautiful city.
Then I find something fantastic: A real teahouse with
kettles, socks and condensed milk. That causes for a celebration, and four
cups later, I'm so ready for a four hour bus tour. That is more than can be
said about the bus. When if finally turns up, I get a shadow window seat,
and we spend the most of a hour, getting out of Mandalay.
Here are a few fields with corn, then liquorice root,
coconuts, cotton and then some tobacco plants. Small herds of sheep and
larger herds of Indian oxen. We crosses several huge rivers with water, and
smaller ones without.
Next time we stop is at a narrow bridge. It turns out this single lane bridge also doubles as a railroad line, and the train have the way of right. Then we stop outside town to let me pay 25.000K in fee to the Bagdan archaeological area. We reach Nyaung U in the outskirts of Bagan at five, and I walk down the mainstreet, looking for a good hotel. Some don't have hot water, some are ridiculous expensive. This is tourist country for sure.
In the middle of town, I find a great looking place, good
price and a truly helpful receptionist. I get a big map and hints to what to
see. He recommend a restaurant next door, which I on one hand find a bit too
fancy, but they have a full page of vegetarian courses! I get "Golden
Beans", which is unripe green peas.
From here, it will be the western part of the country - from the middle and down, and the north is closed to foreigners due to the fight lings. Read about the wild west in Diary 5.