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Buddhism and Burma...

01 November 2012

many-buddhasI am chasing a few friends who are discerning travellers and who have been to Burma in the last couple of years for their thoughts...

IMPRESSIONS OF MYANMAR [excerpt] - Geetika Jain, freelance travel writer

I’d stopped to take a photograph of local men playing a game of chinlon, with a cane ball, when our otherwise relaxed guide, Mrs. Kyi Kyi, ushered us away. “The party’s headquarters are here, we must not linger.” Earlier, she not only dissuaded us from tarrying near the barricade outside Aung San Suu Chi’s house, she wouldn’t use her name, always referring to her as “the lady,” because “even walls have ears.”

That was just over a year ago. Although hundreds of other opponents are still awaiting release, the ruling junta has succumbed to external and internal pressures and freed Suu Chi. We had debated visiting Myanmar then, but after experiencing the warm welcome of the people, we know now that they would rather see us than not. If and when the junta’s stranglehold is loosened, Myanmar could change rapidly. For a traveller keen to see an Asian way of life that has remained unchanged in eons, to experience the intense charm of a place untainted by the excesses of modern living, now is the time to go.

RELIC FROM A BYGONE ERA

Myanmar’s essence is that of a teenager experiencing a prolonged childhood enforced by draconian parents. Whispers arrive of her neighbours’ free ways, their adoption of western comforts and lifestyle and she awaits her moment.

For now, Myanmar has six digit phone numbers and the mobile network does not reach beyond the border. There are no ATMs, very few credit card facilities. The internet is censored, sometimes even the mail. There are very few foreign visitors, so notes are seldom exchanged. On the streets, blue jeans are a rarity, people wear tops with cotton longyis wrapped around their waists and the women pretty their hair with scented flowers. Small street kitchens, hawker stalls and tea shops are where people huddle close, share meals and words. Myanmar cuisine is varied and delicious. It surprised me to see how many vendors, rickshaw pullers and merchants read their books as they waited for customers. Rather unselfconsciously, most people smear their faces with a wood paste called “tanakha.” What might seem rather clownish makeup to us, is a completely accepted skin protector to them.

The Buddhist path and the earning of merit in this life is a preoccupation. Barefoot monks and novices do the rounds early in the morning; housewives have enormous pots of cooked food ready for handouts. Impressive gold clad temples, pagodas and shrines are everywhere, contrasting with often dilapidated streets and ageing buildings. The exquisite Shwedagon Paya in Yangon is filled day and night with worshippers. They release birds from cages, clad images of Buddha with squares of gold leaf and bathe idols with cupfuls of water. This is a world where material wealth is subordinated to spiritual wealth, elders are respected and holy men and women are revered more than the wealthy and powerful.

GROUND AGENT- Tour Mandalay 95 (o) 1 540475/543801

Yangon GUIDE – Mrs. Kyi Kyi Khin +95 (0) 9204 2000 Bagan GUIDE- U Min Han +09 204 3018

Most popular destinations- Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay and Ayrrawaddy River cruise.

VISIT- Shwedagon Paya, the most revered temple. Karaweik Barge, Bogyoke Aung San Market- to see and buy all things Burmese, visit Art Only for decorative carved panels, pagodas and son-au lacquer boxes. EAT at-Feel Garden where you can try a large variety of Myanmar dishes. 55, Min Ye Kyaw Road, Ahlone; Monsoon Restaurant and Bar, 85 Theinbyu Road. COFFEE- Black Canyon cafe. Antiques and quality lacquerware- By appointment with Daw Mya Sein, a former Shan princess 542 505

 

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