At Inle Lake I was introduced to Marcie’s friends, who she had met at her hostel in Yangon. They were three very delightful english girls and one very brave irish girl who was travelling around the world by herself. We decided to set out on a day trip around the lake, with our very own long boat. Lucky for us it was the Buddha’s festival and we were in for a nice surprise.
The lake shimmered like a silvery silk cloth, and although we missed a lot of the infamous fisherman (due to the Buddha’s holiday), I did manage to get a few photos of a couple of them out on the lake. The fishermen, actually all the men in general of Inle Lake are particularly famous for rowing with their leg! It appeared so natural to them, and apparent that the younger boys must pick this skill up from elder siblings or relatives, as we observed from the Buddha’s festival procession. The procession consists of a large number of boats, full of men and boys rowing in sync, to colourful music or beating drums. There were nominated dancers on each boats who’s job, it appeared, was to keep the mood of the boat extremely lively! It was an incredibly hot day so there was also a lot of shenanigans as the boys pushed each other into the water and laughed. The last of the boats carried a large golden dragon, an important symbol of the festival and we were told that this boat/mini-gold temple was several centuries old and very sacred.
We also stopped at a temple along the lake and looked at some floating villages. One of the highlights was when the tourists because the tourist attraction! As there are still limited number of foreigners that enter the country, a group of western girls is a rare sight for the locals. One of the politely asked us if they could take a photo with this, this one innocent “yes” turned the local masses into paparazzi’s!
Sadly, I was to leave to Bagan the day after and after a lovely meal with the girls I said my goodbyes and headed back on the road solo.
Bagan – this was after all the purpose of my trip! Bagan is a “borderline” UNESCO world heritage site (having not been granted the full honour because the government have insisted on restoration that are not approved by the UNESCO organisation) and is famous for the thousands of pagodas that litter the plains. I had seen a photo of this beautiful landscape in 2012 and this is what drew me to Myanmar. It is what I had dreamed of seeing and was the object of my curiosity! Bagan in it’s peak was a capital for one of the wealthiest King’s in the 11th and 13th century, a Kingdom that came to ruin after the invasion of the Mongols (ahhh, one of my other favourite topics, the legacy of Gengis Khan!). In it’s peak there were some 10,000+ temples and pagoda’s built, of which some 2,000 remain today. The ones that have been left standing have also been subjected to earthquakes and fires in the last few centuries.
I hopped into a taxi at the airport to check in to my guest house… and would you believe it, on the road from the airport to New Bagan town, there they were… little brick pagodas, one after the other. Just like the photos! I gaped … mouth wide open… I was here! I had made it!!
I observed the most number of foreign tourist here, as to be expected and prior to my arriving I had frantically called around to get on a hot air balloon ride, the only real way to appreciate these temples was to view their vast numbers from above! Although I had found a spot on the 1st October (the first day of hot air balloon season), bad weather forced the company to cancel the trip. Devastated but determined, I set about on my first full day in Bagan on an electric bicycle with a map to climb and explore as many pagodas as I could. I started at 7am that morning and explored till 4pm that evening… I was a wreck, dirty, sweaty, a little bloody (from stacking it) and extremely happy! I stumbled like a novice on my bike, falling several times in the soft sand! But despite the heat, the torturous heat, I persevered!
In several of the stupas (pagodas which are hollow), a young Burmese girl or boy would ask me “do you want to climb to the top?” “YES” I would say, and I would be lead to the smallest, skinniest and darkest stairway that could possibly be built! But from the top, a glorious view would be granted.
One little boy told me that he drew post cards, and played tour guide for me. And then definitely DIDN’T try and rip me off, I bought a post card.
I decided my last day in Bagan would be spent leisurely in a horse drawn carriage. As there are so many temples to see, and as I had covered in my first marathon of a day the northern areas of the town I went to see the temples along the south and eastern areas. My horse and buggy driver was super friendly and was an excellent tour guide. I had asked to see original paintings on the walls (many are destroyed, but the ones that remain are centuries or even thousands of years old!) and a local village as well where I met a local girl who was fascinated that I was fascinated by their domestic chickens!
All in all, I am so glad that I went on this trip. Although short and brief, with it’s ups and downs, it gave me a confidence I always knew I had but had long forgotten. That I was more than capable of travelling to far off distant lands by myself. That I could be independent and strong. I’m glad that I got to see another fragment of this extraordinary planet we live on and meet some incredible people along the way.