Travelling through the unspoilt landscapes of Myanmar makes for an adventure unlike any other.
“This is Burma and it will be quite unlike any land you know about…”, commented Rudyard Kipling in 1898.
Although Kipling only spent three days in Burma (now officially called Myanmar) it captured his heart, as indeed it will of anyone who visits this beautiful Golden Land, a place of great beauty with lush green paddies, noble teak forests and elegant pagodas.
Half a century of oppression by a brutal autocratic military regime has finally ended, as Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the elections November 2015. Although constitutionally barred from becoming President, Aung San Suu Kyi will assume a prime ministerial role in the new government and there area signs of cautious optimism for the future.
This era of change makes it an exciting and interesting time to visit Burma. Starting in Yangong (Rangoon), a former colonial commercial city dominated by the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda, there is so much to see. But the discerning traveller will soon want to venture beyond its faded charm and head northwards to discover the former capitals of Amarapura, Mandalay, Saigang and Bagan. All were constructed in the name of Buddhism, which permeates every aspect of Burmese life; and all are situated beside the magnificent Irrawaddy river, which Kiping called “The Road to Mandalay”.
The Irrawaddy travels down from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean, bisecting the country and it to Burma what the Nile is to Egypt; the lifeblood of the country and the cradle of civilisation. To float lazily down the Irrawaddy, one sees life unfolding along its banks and it s the best way to feel the country’s pulse. On one particular bend is the extraordinary sight of Bagan, where there are today nearly 3,000 recorded brick monuments – temples, stupas and monasteries stretching as far as the eye can see.
Originally it was said to be home to over 10,000 buildings, constructed in a frenzy of Buddhist devotion from the 10th-13th century and it became the world capital of Theravada Buddhism under the remarkable ruler King Anawrahta (1014-1077).
To decide what to see with so much choice is tricky, but one should definitely visit the elegantly proportioned Ananda temple for its ancient stone sculptures portraying the life of the Buddha.
The Ananda is one of Burma’s most revered shrines and one sees pilgrims chanting prayers, lighting incense or just pausing for reflection. The Kubyauk Gyi at Myinkaba is another gem and has some of the earliest recorded pictorial art in Burma. The murals of scenes from the Buddha’s life are outstanding and have been sensitively restored by UNESCO.
Finally, to watch the sun set over the Bagan plain is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the world.
No journey to Burma is complete without a couple of relaxing days spent on the vast and serene Inle Lake, home to the Intha people. Travel by narrow boat to the Indein pagodas and see the Intha stilt houses precariously balanced on the water.
Visit the floating gardens and the numerous workshops devoted to different crafts; two of the most interesting being lotus fibre weaving and cheroot making.
Another joy to see is the local fishermen with their conical nets and their distinctive one-leg rowing technique. Around the lake are villages belonging to the Shan, Pa’O, Danu and Kayah, which provide an insight into the ethnic diversity of Burma.
Burma is an enchanting land, but perhaps its chief beauty lies in its timelessness – a quality admired by Kipling and one which you will experience when you visit this magical Golden Land.
Magical Burma – Encompassing
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