Bagan is the most known place in Myanmar. Pictures of air balloons towering over the remains of thousands of temples and pagodas have become a standard for the many tourists who visit the ancient city. Even those not in the habit of waking up early will find the experience of catching the sunrise worth it.
The place and the atmosphere are no doubt unique. The never-ending temples open themselves up one after another along the plains. It can make you wonder how much energy and commitment has gone into the construction of over 4,000 sites between the 11th and 13th centuries. Not surprisingly, that energy and where it came from provides a strong sense of pride for many in the country.
Owing to the nascent stage of the country’s tourism industry, one can still find a sense of harmless adventure by zipping around on dusty roads in a rented e-scooter. Several years of living in Myanmar have taken me to Bagan multiple times. But only a few weeks ago was my first visit properly equipped with a camera and an above-average sense of curiosity. This was also the first time I took my new wide camera lens out for some air, which was pretty handy in tighter corners in between temples. (For those interested, the lens used for the wider shots is the 12 mm Rakinon).
The city of joy is how the locals repeatedly referred to their hometown as I was chatted up by friendly Kolkatans. Some refer to it as the city of firsts, for pioneering a number of achievements in India, or a city of palaces, for its wealth of architectural beauty. Kipling described it as a “city of dreadful night”, “magnificent”, “the many sided”. I can’t remember visiting a city with so much characterization attached to its name. Kolkata is probably all those things to different people.
During the day, its streets are filled with constant hustle and bustle, smells and car roars continuously compete for attention – often against the backdrop of architectural awe, creating a scene rarely replicated elsewhere. Buildings too, compete for attention. While some are nursed to withstand the perils of the city’s humid climate, others – full of history and culture – stand crumbling, waiting for better days. Some streets provide a moment’s rest before spitting you back out. Amidst chaos and the high-paced environment people always found ways to gracefully slow down, eager to strike a conversation – tell a story about a neighbourhood, their job, a cultural event, and of course, no conversation is complete without a mention of cricket. If couple of days is anything to judge by, Kolkata is all those things they call it.
Earlier this week I went on a work trip eastward to Kayin (Karen) State. A significant chunk of it was spent in a car, about 6 hours each way. Apart from being reminded of how big and diverse Myanmar is, traveling on land is also a good reminder of how dangerous roads can be. Myanmar is the only country I can think of where the majority of cars are right-hand drive (steering wheel on the right) driving in a right-hand traffic. So whenever someone attempts a takeover on a 2 lane highway, it isn’t really supported by the driver’s view of the oncoming traffic.
The drive nonetheless was scenic in parts, especially as we got closer to the capital Hpa-An. It’s surrounded by grandiose tall beautifully shaped mountains. We were crossing a bridge during sunset on the approach to the city when a view opened up with great colors and mountains stretching across the river. People weren’t allowed on the bridge, however, so I had to shoot out of a moving vehicle, across the seat through a window with the camera aimed in between window stickers and bridge support columns. To my own surprise a decently framed shot showed on my camera screen as I looked down expecting a picture of a blurry metal columns. Next time I hope for more time on foot.
Last week celebrations were on for the Thadingyut Festival (သီတင်းကျွတ်ပွဲတော်). It’s a Burmese Lighting Festival that takes place on the full moon of the Burmese Lunar month of Thadingyut. Celebrations are spread over a number of days with a downtown street blocked off from traffic and absorbed by a wave of people every evening. Vendors pay for a spot to set up shop offering all sorts of goods and services; from tattoos to underwear sale to a bucket of insects to munch on just a stall over.
I unfortunately, didn’t have much time out with my camera and would have to limit this post to a few random shots of some of the street vendors hard at work.
It’s been so long since my last post I almost forgot this website is still up and running. There’s been plenty of material to post, though unfortunately not as much in motivation or discipline to do so. As I’m starting a new adventure all of the mentioned should be in large supply.
I took this photo on an old train line that wraps around the city of Yangon. The train travels at a leisurely pace, not in any rush to get anywhere fast. That doesn’t seem to bother the passengers who are all smiles, and some even peak out the window for a light breeze.
First of all, thank you to those who shared my previous posts on Bolivia as it did bring some new visitors to the site. I’m always happy to share photos with more people 🙂 For now I’ll take a little pause from Bolivia (I will get back to it with more). This one is from northern Chile. An alternative title to this could be “the dumb luck”. I arrived late to Antofagasta without a particular plan. The city wasn’t of particular interest to me and I wasn’t in the most energetic state to look for a bed in the middle of the night. Instead I went to the bus terminal to see what’s out there at night that goes along the coast. The bus to Arica presented itself with perfect timing.
Isla del Alacrán. Competitors surfed “Ole el Buey” and “Ola el Gringo” on the southern side (left of the picture)
Shortly upon arrival I overheard that there is a surfing championship taking place. I’ve rushed towards the southern part of the city to la península del Alacrán(or isla del Alacrán) where the better surfers ride the waves. I’ve only managed to catch the preliminaries of the event, which were still massively entertaining. Even more so given that none of this was planned and I stumbled upon all the fun thanks to some dumb luck.
My exposure to surfing doesn’t go beyond the occasional trips to gorgeous Tofino in British Columbia. Generally speaking, I don’t have a lot of experience with board sports beyond snowboarding. Looking at surfing with that reference point makes it an interestingly unique sport. What I find special is the dynamism and the fundamental need to respond to your environment. Mountains do vary and the conditions do change from day to day, from hour to hour. While it takes a lot of experience to be able to read the mountain and keep safe, the response to your environment is not as dynamic. Sure every part of the mountain presents a different obstacle and that’s part of the charm but in the moment the mountain is static (unless you get hit by an avalanche or something). This is not to say snowboarding isn’t dynamic (that would be wrong to say), different dynamism would maybe be a fairer description. Both sports present a rousing combination of patience and energy. Trying to read a wave is a challenge for me, it dictates the setting and prompts you to respond that very moment. It may not mean much coming from me, given how bad of a surfer I am. And surely reading waves becomes second nature to those who practice but I imagine the thrill of responding to them would still remain for many.
Watching the pros in real life has turned out to be a special experience. It’s an addicting environment and even in these cold rocky waters it’s easy to see how one can get sucked into this lifestyle. Waves in this particular spot break onto rocks which keeps beginners out of the waters. I thought they were large enough to keep a saneperson out. A week later towards the middle of the country I’ve met a guy from Arica. I showed him these photos and he partially unimpressed by the size of the waves replied that these aren’t all that special; that at times things get even more violent. He mentioned an incident a few years back when a brazilian surfer got sucked onto these rocks and seriously injured his head.
P.S. To end on a positive, I’ve come across this visually stunning surfing video that might be fitting with the post.