From Yangon to Mandalay from Bagan to Inle lake, through Bago and Mingun, here is the portrait of Myanmar. A modern country, that maintains its roots and culture solid, a country of majestic temples, a country of loving people.
In Yangon, I uncovered the most magnificent temples, where the atmosphere is of great tranquillity and peace, where the only sounds are the prayers around the main stupa and the melodic tinkling of the gold leaves on the top of the main stupa. I could spend hours there, just enjoying the moment and listening to the sound of silence, surrounded by the strong smell of incense and flowers. In this amazing town, we also discovered the history of the Portuguese who settled there centuries ago and the Portuguese roots that still remain there.
I drive in Bagan knowing that I was going to be smashed with the grandeur of the largest temple complex. But I found so much more than that. I found silence, cut here and there, by electric scooters. I found a storyteller and photography lover, who guided us along the best trails among thousands of temples, shared with us the best places to take pictures (taking into account the framing and light) and some secrets, such as the best place to watch the sunset. I found the most amazing Sundays.
In Inle Lake, in addition to a strange way of life, built-in its calm waters, I discovered a small family industry, weaving from the fibre extraction of millions of water lilies, the cigarettes production and silver jewellery, where some pieces were true works of art. It is a region with a unique atmosphere, with small villages, temples, restaurants and tourist resorts built on piles, where tradition and tourism mixed, in a soft balance so far.
From Mandalay, the former capital of Myanmar, before Yangon and Naipidau, I bring memories of the fabulous temple of Kuthodaw, which holds the most impressive book ever created. 729 engraved stones, kept in small white stupas, with a page from the sacred book of Theravada Buddhism. Mandalay was also memorable for its magnificent sunsets from the iconic U Bein Bridge in Amarapura. No matter how many times you watch it, whatever angle you choose, it’s a moment of total interior silence, that I would like to prolong forever.
Ah! I was forgetting. Have you ever seen domesticated ducks being driven by boat as if they were a common flock of sheep? I haven’t seen it either, before visiting the U Bein bridge. I just couldn’t look away, fascinated. I couldn’t help but laugh. In such a way that I didn’t even remember to photograph that unusual and unique vision. Nobody will believe it, but I swear I didn’t dream.
The visit to Bago and Mingun was another memorable moment. Bago because of their monumental reclining Buddhas and in Mingun, everything has dramatic dimensions, starting with the giant unfinished temple Ayeyarwady (how, I wonder, did they manage to raise such an enterprise? How?), two lions now destroyed that marked the entrance (and whose eye socket that fell next to me left me “crushed”, not literally, fortunately, but at all other levels), the giant bell of more than 90,000 tons, the only one in the world that still sings, and the Hsinbyume temple, one of the most beautiful, all in white and full of nooks, outlines and shapes that would lead even the most indifferent person to take out his cell phone to snatch a few dozen photos.
Wandering around Mingun, I was able to get a closer look at the life of more rural communities and their contrasts, like a modern “villa” with satellite dishes just in front of a typical bamboo house with an ox cart in the garden.
During this journey I also saw ox carts there were not only local tractors but also the local taxis. interestingly, and as I noticed, they also suffer from undesirable technical problems. The most uncomfortable wagon ever, on which we travel the trails that took us from temple to temple, from what was the Burmese capital for more than 8 centuries, Inwa. That order a low spicy dish means “just a handful of chillies”. Saw dogs, puppies, cats and kittens everywhere. Golden temples, bright colours shrines, giant and ornate Buddhas. walk all day barefoot and the freedom it gives. Amazing people like the girls who took the most beautiful photos, passionate and full of life. Notable people, willing to know us, to talk to us, especially the younger ones who approached us in different places to train their English.
Myanmar is not yet a known destination, at least here in Europe, or perhaps it is, but due to recent news, there are still few who venture out. But things are changing in Myanmar. The military regime continues and there are still areas where tourists are not allowed to enter, but people feel free to smile again. It is these smiles and affections that take us away. Myanmar, it is a country that, despite tourism, still manages to remain authentic. Terrible will be the day when tourism takes over completely and undermines the authenticity of these people.