Sunday, April 9, 2017

Avalon Waterways - Myanmar - Part VIII (Sagaing to Bagan)

With our journey on Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Myanmar shortly coming to an end, our Day 10 started with a beautiful sail into Sagaing with the hillside filled with pagodas and temples. 

Sagaing, Myanmar
Then it was a taxi truck ride up the mountain to the Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda.  While it is kind of becoming ABP…another bloody pagoda (as opposed to ABC - church and ABM - mosque) the views from high above the Irrawaddy River were nice…and many made it another shopping experience.

Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda

From there it was a taxi truck ride back down to meet our air-conditioned bus for a ride to an architecturally interesting Kaungmudaw Pagoda, which is an older dome shaped pagoda.  This is a more ancient shape for a pagoda. 


During our walk around the pagoda (always walking clockwise so that one’s right side is nearest the Buddha) I noticed a clock on the wall by a shrine; something I hadn’t seen before.  Being curious I asked our trusty Myo what the significance was.  With great insight, he replied:  So you know what time it is.  Sometimes things just don’t have a deeper meaning…but we did have a good laugh!

As is more common (ubiquitous?) this far down the Irrawaddy, this circular pagoda was literally ringed with shops selling pretty much any and everything.

Just to make sure there were enough shopping opportunities, we then stopped at a silversmith seeing how they produce some beautiful silver pieces by hand.  I did purchase a little something – and it was little - as my memento from this really enjoyable and enlightening trip.  This Avalon Myanmar cruise has been so good that it does deserve some sort of physical remembrance.


 It was then time for a lunch and then a lazy afternoon cruising south on the Irrawaddy River.  I used some of this time for another fantastic massage. (I did have to miss the cooking demonstration by Chef Saw who made a pickled tea leaf salad and a ginger salad, but the few minutes I saw with Myo explaining it all was quite engaging.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy the ensuing samples.)

Because we were making such good time Avalon Waterways added an additional stop at Semekon, a former British outpost for the cotton and tobacco farms nearby.  


While the idea was to see the wonderful examples of British Colonial architecture, a family of peanut farmers stole our day...or, at least, mine.  We had just started our informal stroll through this small village we noticed a picturesque cart with a woman loading it with straw.  



As I approached, an old man waived to me to come closer.  I walked into his yard and there were three lovely women tending to the just harvested peanut crop.  As I was teasing them about taking their photographs another woman rushed into the house and came out with a tray of fresh peanuts for us to sample.  Just another example of the friendly and kind people I have met on this trip.


I then continued my walk through the town, 



taking a moment to walk over part of another ancient bridge (also from about 1849) 


before walking back to the ship holding the hand of one of the village children.


We tied up here for the evening.  It was simply joyful watching the community coming down to the riverside to play, bath, socialize and do their wash as the sun set.




The Avalon Myanmar continued cruising down the river in the morning, heading toward Bagan, Myanmar but made a short stop in the afternoon at Shew Pyi Thar.  This local village is where we learned a bit about the toddy palm sugar production and the simpler village life integrated with some recent modern improvements including some brick buildings, purified water, electricity and toilets with septic tanks.  The confluence of cultures and the modern versus the ancient was most interesting.




It was then back on the Avalon Myanmar to continue our journey to our final stop:  Bagan, Myanmar.  After dinner there was a traditional puppet show; one of the few things on this cruise I found painful.

The next morning, I started my time in Bagan, Myanmar – home to an estimated that approximately 2,300 of the original temples and pagodas still stand (though many have been damaged in recent earthquakes as recently as last year) - with a 4:30 a.m. wakeup by the Avalon Myanmar staff so that I, and a few others, could climb a temple and watch the sunrise.  Oh, it all sounded very romantic and awe-inspiring until I saw the steep stairs (that get markedly steeper and higher with each tier) and then the 4-foot ledge we were perched on for the next 1.5 hours.  So, while in my youth I would think nothing of it, now all I kept thinking was:  How the hell am I going to get down from here and, please, please, please don’t let me fall over the edge!

Climbing this before daybreak is far more daunting!
Over the next hour a few more people arrived:  A Japanese family, local Burmese folks and backpackers from various countries; about two dozen in all.   Their taking photos sitting on the edge wasn’t very comforting!  But then the sun rose, the view was spectacular...



and climbing down was nearly the ordeal we had been discussing.  Whew!

After returning to the Avalon Myanmar for breakfast and a short rest, our discovery of Bagan continued…but not exactly the way I would have liked.  We headed to the local market for some time shopping.  Ugh for me, Joy for many of the other guests. 

With the richness of its history, I expected the local market to be a bit charming.  However, Myo came to my rescue, pulling me aside and telling me I needed to take some special soy paste home to try (mixing it with onions, salt and a little cooking oil).  After my $1.25 purchase he said, “Oh, I like that brand better.  It is not a sweet.”, so I made another purchase for $1.50.  I am looking forward to doing more Burmese cooking…but now I must find a good Asian market somewhere near(ish) to Truckee, California!

And, let’s face it, you know I am going to find some fascinating things in any local market!

Ancient Herbalist
Antique sewing machines at work

Bagan, Myanmar Local Market
 From there it was to Shwezigon Pagoda. And, while it was close to my getting “pagoda’ed out”, the red and gold, as well as the structure of this particular pagoda made it my favorite.  (It is also the last of the three types of pagoda shapes we have been taught about by Myo; this being cone shaped…which is sort of a transitional form from my perspective.)

Yes, I am wearing a longyi
(My shorts were too short)
For the culmination of the Avalon Myanmar’s shopping experiences, we then went to a lacquer workshop where the “real deal” is made in a painstaking process.  It was fascinating. 

Carefully and slowly making lacquer
An incredibly steady hand and artistic talent etching designs
 And watching some of the other guests enthusiastically make some pretty exquisite purchases was nice to see.   (You could spend $3.00 or well over $10,000 on lacquer objects.)

With the temperature approaching 114 degrees Fahrenheit, it was time to return to the Avalon Myanmar for what our final lunch and well needed shower and a rest.

While the heat kept some of the guests contently back on the ship, we were finally going to explore the temples of Bagan.  Having the ability to walk right up and into some of these ancient structures, and also understanding that these brick buildings were originally stucco-covered, opened up a far better appreciation of the sophistication of the people that built them from the 9th to the 13th century.





It was also clear that Bagan, and its architecture and history is something Myo, our guide, is passionate about.  Myo explained just enough (for example, no names we would forget) about the history, the facts and legends surrounding various temples and even some of the engineering they did.

Sadly, Myo also explained by Bagan, Myanmar is not a UNESCO World Heritage Site which, when looking closer, becomes obvious.  As I mentioned previously many of the temples and pagodas have, over the centuries, been damaged by earthquakes.  When built originally, the bricks were specially formed to interlock and to not use any mortar.  However, in a simplistic and ill-advised effort to rebuilt many of the damaged structures, the former Myanmar government used more modern techniques…and lots of mortar.  So most of the structures are no longer considered original or restored…just modern reconstructions.

After visiting two of the best examples of two massive temples (one by a bad ruler that was poorly designed and ultimately was never finished and the other by a great ruler with many interesting architectural and artistic techniques), 



This Buddha seen from afar greets you with a smile
to bring you in

But the same Buddha, as you approach, reminds you of the
seriousness of your purpose.
it was time for an oxcart ride back to the temple where I had observed this sunrise; this time for the sunset.  (Taking the air-conditioned bus rather than the 30-minute cart ride was taken up by most.)


Sometimes ya just have to laugh and something touristic.
(Fortunately I was in the lead oxcart.  Others were a little dusty by the end!)
 And the sunset was a beautiful way to end my journey on the Avalon Waterways Avalon Myanmar before flying home on a local flight to Yangon and then internationally.  (Many guests are spending the included next night in Yangon and a few are headed to Inle Lake for a three-day extension).


 Next up:  My Reflections!