Travel with Hafeez: Myanmar - Part II

After staying for two days at Mandalay, I was ready to move. Generally, I do not stay at one place longer than two to three days. Some make fun of me for such a rapid travel. But it is the only way to see a country from one corner to another in a limited time and cost.

My route
My route
Beyong Mingyan, the area changed from flat to mountainous with scanty greenery.
Beyong Mingyan, the area changed from flat to mountainous with scanty greenery.

 

Kyine was a lovely lady working in the hotel. I asked her about Bagan and what I got was: “Only two buses. Ticket here $8.50, Highway Terminal, $6.50” A two-dollar profit margin!! That was worse than a daylight robbery. I dragged my carry-on to main road and negotiated with a taxi driver to drop me at Highway Terminal for $4.

The terminal was dusty, over-loaded with buses, mostly junk. I traced the ticket counter for Bagan only to realize that ticket was same as Ms Kyine had offered i.e. $8.50. Also, I found that one bus had already gone, next would go at 1:30 pm. I would have to wait for about three hours.

At 1:30 pm, I got the bus. When I entered in, I was happy to see a wide space in between two rows of the seats. My happiness was short-lived. Firstly wooden crates were pushed in; secondly, passengers were made seated on plastic stools in the remaining space. Stools were termed as half-seats and attracted half fare. The bus left only when it was full to the brim.

I had a window seat. The person sitting next to me, on the aisle seat, was constantly chatting with the one sitting on the half-seat. Both were educated and sometimes talked to me on plight of transport in the country. A ride on the tightly packed bus had all the intimacy of coach journeys described in old literature.

The bus was right-hand drive. It looked very dangerous as traffic also was right-handed. As a make-shift arrangement, a conductor was posted on the left-hand door who constantly shouted warnings to avoid collisions.

To start with, the bus ran parallel to the Irrawaddy River. After about 40 km, it entered a town named “Kyaukse”. I was told that the place was famous for elephant dance. No real elephants but only figures made from bamboo and paper. Two men would adjust themselves inside the elephant-body and dance around the town to the accompaniment of Dobat and Drums.

Next stop was at Kyaukpadaung, a small town beside the river. The area became dry. The landscape changed from flat to undulating slopes with only low scrubs and bushes.

During a tiresome journey, it is a great relief to stop by a roadside café. On entering, I heard sound like “slurp, slurp”. It reflected taste of the food being consumed. People were sitting on knee-high plastic chairs gulping different curries, greasy bread, noodles, banana pancake and tomu (sweet, semi-solid porridge made of coconuts and raisins).

Perhaps, near the Bagan, the bus had turned into a local bus. Stoppages became frequent allowing passengers to get in and out. A newcomer to my next was a beautiful girl, her cheeks white with a paste and tiny flower buds woven into her hair. A little after, I found a young monk in red robes occupying the seat. At about 8 pm, the bus was stopped at a military check post. All foreigners were required to present their passports and pay $10 for as entry ticket.

A view of Bagan from window of a temple
A view of Bagan from window of a temple

BAGAN

I met an American, John Swanson, while traveling in the bus. Incidentally, we both had reservation for the same hotel, Park Hotel (Thiripysaya, Block No.4, Bagan, 95-061-603222).

Since we were dead tired from daylong bus journey, we hurriedly had our dinner from a nearby restaurant and went to sleep.

Next day, 9th April, 2009, we explored Bagan on a horse-drawn cart hired for the day for $10. It was very pleasant to see ancient architectural designs, precious frescoes, mural paintings and stone inscriptions. In fact, Bagan was a country’s # 1 destination where centuries old pagodas and temples were densely concentrated, mostly within walking distances. Some were untouched, some in ruin, some restored.

 Thatbyinnyu Pagoda as high as a 17-story building.
Thatbyinnyu Pagoda as high as a 17-story building.

Three most famous Bagan pagodas are:

Thatbyinnyu

High as a 17-story modern building, it is a significant monument. Its terraces provide a panoramic view of the green and brown landscape. One can see hundreds of temples, distant hills and even bed of Irrawaddy River which bisects the country from North to South.

Ananda - it is one of the oldest yet best preserved Bagan pagodas.
Ananda - it is one of the oldest yet best preserved Bagan pagodas.

Ananda

Though slightly shorter than Thatbyinnyu, it is one of the oldest yet best preserved Bagan pagodas. Four tall standing Buddha statues peacefully adorn its corners.

Ananda temple is considered to be one of the surviving masterpieces of the Mon architecture.

Shwezigon, the holiest of the Bagan Pagodas
Shwezigon, the holiest of the Bagan Pagodas

Shwezigon

This is the holiest of the Bagan pagodas. Its impressive gilded bell-shaped stupa houses relics of Buddha. The bell shape became a prototype for later temple construction.

The gilded pagoda sits on three rising terraces. Facing stairways are four shrines, each of which houses a four-meter-high bronze standing Buddha. Their right hands are held palm outward, fingers straight up, portraying the gesture of abhaya or 'no fear'.

In the evening we went to a lone temple on the other side of Bagan. It was awesome to view the sunset. The setting sun silhouetted hundreds of golden zedi, stupas and pagodas and brought us in a tranquil state.

On Bagan, Kipling is quoted as calling it ‘a golden mystery… a beautiful winking wonder.’

FOODS

Yesterday, while exploring Bagan, we had a Chinese lunch of a typical style. We were made seated and a number of dishes, bowls and trays were placed on our table one after another. There was a wide choice of egg rolls, soups, salads, chow mein and Kung Pao Chi Ting. On the same day, in the evening, we went to an Indian Restaurant, Aroma. We opted for a set menu consisting of rice, ‘papdam’, bean soup, mutton ‘coffta’ and tea. While I could digest all, John experienced some stomach problem. He could not sleep at night. When a taxi came for taking us to our visit to Mt. Popa, he was not in a position to join me. Despite this, he handed over to me his share of $12.5 which I reluctantly accepted.

Mount Popa from far afield
Mount Popa from far afield

Temple atop Mt. Popa

A pillar contain many Statutes
A pillar contain many Statutes

Mount Popa

Mount Popa was 50 km away from Bagan. Near the mountain, the approach became quite scenic. The barren and dry land turned green. It was like an oasis in a desert. The taxi driver told me about contribution of Japanese in this regard. Suddenly, I saw an odd shape sticking out of the landscape. No doubt, it was Mt. Popa.

On reaching its base, the driver asked me to go ahead while he would wait in a nearby hotel. Indeed, it was not an easy task to go up to a shrine scaling 750 stairs.

There were two giant elephant statutes at the entrance. Inside, there were a lot of shops laden with flowers, incense, fruits, drinks and, of course, peanuts for monkeys. Initially, it was a fun to go in small steps. At one point, I was asked to take-off my shoes and go barefooted. Then the fun began: the stairs became steep and the steps slippery due to frequent cleaning with a wet cloth. Some steps had rough surface which pinched my bare feet and resulted in pain. Luckily, there was a handrail which saved me from falling. Many visitors were seen sitting or lying on the way huffing deeply.

In about 40 minutes, including two brief rests, I reached the top, 737m above the base. It was a major pilgrimage destination with many shrines. The temples were flashy with massive use of silver and gold. Besides, there were tinny mirrors and dazzling lights which made rippled- effects. It looked like something out of Harry Potter.

Mt Popa was said to be a home to 37 nats. A nat is a spirit, previously human who met with violent death. Like human, a nat has ‘wants and needs’, likes and dislike, delight and anger. People who believe in nats take part in some festivals. They gulp ‘toddy’ in large quantities, get drunk and dance wildly in fits of ecstasy to the loud beat of the music.

I sat for one hour on the top enjoying a panoramic view below. Going down was, of course, easy but the danger of slipping remained. Besides, there were semi-tamed monkeys snatching food from the visitors. They were considered holy and no one could harm them.

On return, I took a sigh of relief. I traced the driver and resumed journey back to Bagan.

In the evening, I asked the hotel to get a ticket to my next destination, Kalaw. I was told that the bus would leave at an odd time, 4 am and if suited me they would be glad to book a seat for me. I had no choice.

For $2.5, the bus driver had agreed to pick me up from my hotel. Initially, it appeared a tourist bus and I stretched my legs hoping for a nice ride. At the next stop, there was a crowd of people and they kept on entering the bus in a seemingly never ending influx. At long last, the bus moved with a jerk jolting everyone. Initially, it was flat area with little greenery. As the bus neared Kalaw, the road started winding up and down, twisting and turning

Kalaw
Kalaw

KALAW

In about 10 hours, I reached the place and found it very peaceful and quiet with old colonial buildings. It was very pleasant to get out the bus and breathe fresh air. It was a popular hill station in the colonial time. When leaving Myanmar, the British reportedly said, “If we could take Kalaw with us, we would!”

I had reservation for the Pineland Inn which was two-storied guest-house on the highway. The room rent was only US$5. Nearby, their sister concern, Pineland Restaurant served delicious Chinese and Burmese dishes.

I had a hearty meal and a little walk. There were quite a few teashops, fruit stalls and general stores operated by Indian Muslims and Hindus. The evening was cool and it was delightful to move in an area laden with the pine trees and bamboos groves. (Kalaw is about 1,400 meters above sea level).

Next day, I left for Inlay Lake by bus which took about 3 hours. I paid $3 as fee for entering the town, Nyaungshwe.

INLAY LAKE

I stayed in Minghar Rest House. It was located in a residential area. Firstly I thought it was a good choice until a loud-speaker blared and never-end chant of mantras started. High pitched and piercing tones became unbearable. I got up and traced the source. It was from a magnificent temple. Once used to the loud voice, I became immersed and relaxed under the influence of the sermon. Whispering in my year, a young monk translated something like this: “World-Honored One, we subdue our hearts with the vow that we “must cause all living beings -- those born from eggs, born from wombs, born from moisture to enter Nirvana without residue and be taken across to extinction.”.

Being a touristy spots, there were lot of restaurants in the town. I picked up an Italian one and enjoyed their speciality, “Wood- fired Authentic Pizza” for $5.

Stilt houses in the lake
Stilt houses in the lake
Floating Vegetation
Floating Vegetation

In the afternoon, a boatman came to fetch me from my hotel. He led me to the lake passing through a well crowded market. Soon we arrived at a canal where a large number of long-boats were moored. Nearly 15 meters in length, in jet black color with an out-board motor, each boat had four low-chairs. Seating alone inside one with leg stretched, I felt like a maharaja. The boat moved slowly through a narrow channel. On both sides were paddy fields, hemmed off by bamboo poles and wooden railing. After a while, we entered the open lake. It was a vast reservoir of water rimmed by the blue-colored mountains. Many boats were insight, some speeding fast causing spray of water. Some were engaged in bringing up mud, silt, weed and dead vegetation

Rowing a boat with one leg.

An unusual feature was that all village-canoes were being rowed by one-leg for fishing. Normal fishing methods were not appropriate in the shallow water filled up with weeds. So a unique way was found. Using one foot to steady their oar, the fishermen kept their both hands free in order trap the fish with large conical bamboo baskets.

The first stop was a village with a web of canals as its streets. The boatman guided me to many handicrafts units engaged in cigar rolling, cloth weaving, boat making & steel hammering.

The devotees place a golden leaf and images of Buddha.  Each image has become a ball of gold.
The devotees place a golden leaf and images of Buddha. Each image has become a ball of gold.
Jumping cat Monastery
Jumping cat Monastery

Phaung Daw Pogoda & Jumping Cat Monastery

Next stop was Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda housing five small Buddha images heavily overladen with gold leaf placed by devotees. I did not see any Buddha images as these had turned into balls of gold.

Later, we moved to Nga Phe Kyaung, a wooden monastery built on stilts over the lake. In tourist literature, it was called the Jumping Cat Monastery. There were quite a few cats ready to leap through a small ring made from iron-wire.

Water Festival

From Inlay Lake, I went to a nearby airport and took a flight to Yangon. On getting out of the airport, I was in for a surprise. There were few cabs and cabbies were not budging from $10 for a ride against a normal rate of $4. I was told that because of a festival, “Thingyan”, the traffic was restricted to certain roads and a long way would have to be taken to go to the downtown. I spent some time in negotiating and finally agreed to $6.

The water festival marked the start of Burmese New Year. It was being celebrated in a rough and shod manner. Water was being thrown, in large quantity, on any one in sight.

Since it was a three-day festival, I made preparation to face it next day. Wearing polyester shirt, acrylic trouser and rubber shoes, I was ready for the occasion. But I could not imagine its scale. The moment I came out of the hotel, a bucket full of water was thrown at me. Once on the road, I faced onslaught from street boys using water pistols and bazookas. As if it was not enough, water tankers were moving on the road with stirrup pumps.

It was free for all. Soon I was asking for it as getting soaked was a great relief in the hot summer. There were dances and songs all over the city.

I saw a young boy being chased by some girls. When caught, his hands were tied behind his back, his face blackened with oil and his head dunked in a bucket of water. It went on till he surrendered. He had to perform a monkey dance while the girls clapped hands in a rhythmical manner.

I was told that such acts were rare and only among close family members. However, in villages, these were still being practiced.

Shwedagon, most sacred temple in Myanmar
Shwedagon, most sacred temple in Myanmar
Two gaint guards at the entrence of Shwedagon
Two gaint guards at the entrence of Shwedagon

Shwedagon Paya

In the evening, I went to see the most sacred temple in Myanmar, Shwedagon Paya. It was a big complex having many entrances. Two nine-meter-high half-lion & half-griffin statutes were guarding its southern gate. Inside, there were a large number of shrines, prayer pavilions, stupas, large bells, museums, planetary posts, banyan trees, flower pots, murals, offices and guard posts. I was lost in the maze and, while getting out, was helped by many guards to retrieve my shoes.

Bahadur Shah Zafer Tomb

I had one task left: to offer prayer (fateha) at the tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Muslim Emperor of India. He died in 1862 five years after he was toppled and banished by the British colonial rulers. To get there, taxi drivers were asking an exorbitant fare of $10. Disappointed, I looked for an Internet cafe and hit a website, Wikipedia. Lo and behold, I got all information in a second. It was in the vicinity of Shwedagon Paya. I noted down the address on a slip of paper and instructed a taxi-driver to drop me one street before the pagoda. He asked me “where to” and I replied “none of your business”. He smiled and left me exactly at the gate of the Mausoleum for only $1.5.

Last resting place of the king
Last resting place of the king

At the tomb, a caretaker greeted me and showed me three graves of: (i) Bahadur Shah Zafer, (ii) his wife, Begum Zaneet Mahal and (iii) his grand-child. Later, he disclosed that it was not his real grave but only a symbol. He took me down-stair and showed me the real one. After a short prayer, I was told that in 1991, when workers were digging the place for foundation of a new hall, they found a red-brick structure which was acknowledged as the real tomb.

Hanging in the hall was his famous poem:


I had requested for a long life a life of four days
Two passed by in pining, and two in waiting.

How unlucky is Zafar! For burial
Even two yards of land were not to be had, in the land of the beloved

Poetry by the Emperor
Poetry by the Emperor

Back to Home.

On 16th of April, 2009 I returned to Karachi, Pakistan.  My tour was fabulous.  There were no mishaps and I remained safe and sound.  Praise be God who protects lone travelers like me.

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Comments 36 comments

Numan Nazir 7 years ago

Thank you for the post

It must've been so so fun....Kindly tell the behavior of the people of Myanmar; How are they similar to people of Pakistan?

Thank you, again


michael james schmidt 7 years ago

Great story. Great pictures too! It makes me think I'd better go to Myanmar!


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 7 years ago from Pakistan Author

Dear Numan Nazir,

Of course, traveling is fun.  People in Myanmar were very honest, peaceful and cooperative.  In my travel tale, I passed good remarks about them.


Fahad_Khan profile image

Fahad_Khan 7 years ago from Karachi

Thank You so much sir for uploading the 2nd part. I was waiting for the description of Bahadur Shah Zafar's tomb and its surroudings. It's really informative!


sumaira talpur 7 years ago

Sir i like these pics alot . travling is such a nice habbit


belinda ruperto 7 years ago

Mr. Malik,what an exciting travel! It makes me want to go to Myanmar and experience it myself! Is there a way to visit these places at a minimal expense? You made it so interesting! More power!


SHER ATTIQ-UR-REHMAN 7 years ago

Thank you :

So, i'm very happy to see the Myanmar pics. and that is a greattttttttttttttttttttttttttttt funnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.

Great story. Very Good pictures too! It makes me think I'd better go to Myanmar!

It must've been so so fun....Kindly tell the behavior of the people of Myanmar; How are they similar to people of Pakistan?


sana rao 7 years ago

Thank you so much sir for uploading the 2nd setion of your fabulous journey. simply inspiring. plz sir itz mi request to share your more experience with us.


sheraz khan 7 years ago

nice pictures and wonderful journay.thank u sir for sharing of this beautiful trip and also thanks for good photography.


Qamar Bezanjo 7 years ago

I must say travelling around is the best experience of knowing people and their behavior just like you know ... Sir you have uploaded such beautiful pictures and discussed about such a wonderful tour which is informative for us and a guideline for us that how to safe our cost and time while travelling such beautiful places .. Thankyou Sir ....


afshan mukhtar 7 years ago

salam sir this is all beautiful speacil bahadur sha zafar tomp and front of poetry itsssssssssss sooo nice


Fatima Iqbal 7 years ago

The essence of the poetry of Bahadur Shah Zafar lies in the fact that, " Do Gaz Zameen Bhe Mil Na Saki Kooay Yaar Men".

Thank you Sir! Great Journey no doubt! I would like to know about your future travelling plans....


Rick Peters 7 years ago

Hafeez,....your Myanmar trip-part II is exceptionally enjoyable.....visiting Myanmar vicariously while sitting at my computer is almost as great as being there ! I'm looking forward to your (our) next trip with anticipation, Rick.


Ovais A. mushtaq 7 years ago

Assalamualaikum

Sir This is too lovely and intrestnig Story. During reading, I was feeling that I am in Myanmar. I became too impatient after reading your journey stories that what I am doing here in bore office work.

Too intresting that you visited Hazrat Bahadur Shah Zafar Rehmatullah Elah tomb. I have heard that He was a!-- @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } --> pious person. I have heard that two couplets are written down on his tomb. Sir, I you have noted that then would you please give me that?

Thanks for sharing this wonderful material.


khalid AKhter profile image

khalid AKhter 7 years ago from KARACHI

its simply awsome...


Husna Fatima 7 years ago

This is really intresting and informative articale

thanks for sharing such a nice memory


MUHAMMAD DANIAL 7 years ago

WHAT A NICE PICTURES. I WILL DEFINETLY VISIT MYANMAR. THANKS FOR SHARING THIS WITH ME. IT IS A WOUNDERFUL PLACE AND YOU EXPLAIN ALL PLACES IN AN INFORMATIVE MANNER. THANK YOU


MUHAMMAD DANIAL 7 years ago

WHAT A NICE PICTURES. I WILL DEFINETLY VISIT MYANMAR. THANKS FOR SHARING THIS WITH ME. IT IS A WOUNDERFUL PLACE AND YOU EXPLAIN ALL PLACES IN AN INFORMATIVE MANNER. THANK YOU


Munesh Kumar 7 years ago

it is a very knowldgeable travle tale with the deep description abt every momnet that u had done & pictures also. it helps me 2 know most of the things abt mayanmar....i like that poetry v much on the tomb of bahadur shah zafar. thnxs for that poetry picture....


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 7 years ago from Pakistan Author

Hi Belinda,

I spent a total of $480 during my stay of 15 days. That comes to $32 per day. I stayed in 2-3 stars hotels (all rooms spacious with attached bath, air-condition, telephone and television), ate at reasonable restaurants and traveled 1,800 km within Myanmar. I used all means of transport: Train, plane, bus, ferry and taxi.

If there are two perons and pace of travel is slowed, I think, the expenses can easily drop to $10 day. What else, it is almost free.


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 7 years ago from Pakistan Author

Hi Sher Ittiqur Rahman,

You have asked a question similar to Nauman Nazir. Please go through my answer. Briefly speaking, people of Myanmar are very nice, honest and friendly.


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 7 years ago from Pakistan Author

For Fatima Iqbal. Thanks for your comments. I would go in July-August 2009 to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. I would certainly write a travel tale on each country. Please stay in touch.


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 7 years ago from Pakistan Author

Hi Rick, as I said to Ms Fatima Iqbal, I would go in summer to South East Asian countries. Please stay in touch.


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 7 years ago from Pakistan Author

Hi Ovais, I have posted a picture of the burial place of the King. There is some poetry written on the walls. If you can give a hint as to what do you want to read, I may find it out by view the full picture, which now stand reduced. Thanks for your interest.


samreen habib 7 years ago

Assalam-0-Alaykum Sir

Thank u so much ,you have uploaded such beautiful pictures and discussed about such a wonderful tour which is informative for us and a guideline for us..


Saleha 7 years ago

i like the way you have written each and everything so breifly.this is very informative and gives good guidence to people

Mount popa picture is awesome,which camera were you using there?


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 7 years ago from Pakistan Author

Thanks for your comments. I use Canon Digital, IXUS 80 IS. I bought it from Canon Outlet, Camera Market near Saddar Post Office, Karachi for Rs.14,000.


warda Riaz 7 years ago

Myanmar part 2 is very intresting and informative.Thanks for sharing your wonderful experiances in Myanmar with us,kindly if you had visited any other country earlier plz share that with us.


usman alvi 7 years ago

its really interesting, and the way u elabrate ur tour its really realistic 4 me. thk u.


donna 7 years ago

Dear Hafeez, Finally, I stole some time to read your second installment re: Myanmar. As usual, it was immensely interesting, informative and personalized. I especially enjoyed your humorus relating of the steps sans shoes. I look forward to your next adventure. Donna


Numan Nazir 7 years ago

OMG, Travelling seems to b your hobby...

Kindly post a hub for those who want to enter this wonderland of travelling. A hub on how to plan, seek information, safety etc before and during travelling to a country..

Thank you


talat qadir 7 years ago

This is really an exceptionally enjoyable travelogue which makes the reader travel along as the article moves on.


Shazia Sobani 7 years ago

I never thought Myanmar had so much to offer. The photos are beautiful and the culture and history pretty interesting. My favourite piece was Bhadur Shah Zafar's tomb.

Looking forward to seeing your travelogue!


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 7 years ago from Pakistan Author

I would be going to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in July-August 2009 and would write hub on each country.


mashood_khan profile image

mashood_khan 7 years ago

Dear Mr. HAfeez:

Thankyou for providing really interesting and knowledgeable stories; perhaps the last part of Bahadur Shah ZAffar is really interesting. Expects you more in future


Dr.nazeem khan 5 years ago

Hello sir you should also come to "Hunza" northern areas of pakistan. very peaceful area. literacy rate is 99 %.

Pakistan china boarder is very beautiful.

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