Burma, The Land Of Charm And Beauty
The most reasons that people travel is to get away from it all, enjoy a good vacation, and soak in the serenity of a beautiful attraction with a glass of wine in hand. What is my reason? The whole world is my office. I come in every week in another airport, an ideal country, an isolated island, and every town in between capturing the scenes thru the viewfinder of my trusted camera, this is my whole world and I love it. As a Travel Photographer for a well known travel magazine, my life is constantly on the road. I am happy to have my wife, a foreign correspondent who works as a contributing editor for the travel magazine that I serve for more than twenty years now join me in my travel to Myanmar (Burma). Capturing brilliant images, natural compositions and getting to know the charm of the simple people was what comprised the whole length of our two week vacation with leisure in Myanmar.
It was a humid Monday morning in March 2012 when we arrived in Yangon International Airport via Bangkok. After presenting our approved visas at the immigration we head out to enjoy our hotel accommodation. That same day we started our tour with a visit to the fabulous Shwedagon Pagoda which lies in the heart of the city. “Everything that glitters is gold!” saying applies to this attraction. One of the most important religious sites in this city, the impressive large stupa is laced all over with gold. Aside from being enclosed by hundreds of golden stupas it is also besieged by hundreds of faithful and tourists. Appropriate dress code is strictly implemented. Even from afar we can see the large Pagoda which stands in the middle of Rangoon (Yangon). The sheer size impressed me more when I approached it. We reached its main level and set up my camera for an aerial shot of the city from the pagoda’s viewpoint. It is accessible thru its four cardinal points of aligned staircases or lifts. In the evening the whole place is dipped by the sunset colors and then by hundreds of lamps in golden light. While there, we allowed a few minutes to just sit and let time work it all up until dark. It was simply amazing!
The next day was spent visiting a famous shrine of remembrance in Yangon, the Taukkyan War Cemetery. It is a large garden beautifully maintained to preserve the rest of the place. The memorial consists of a granite columns and façade portico. Behind the enticing monument are correctly aligned grave stones for the fallen Burmese heroes during World War 2. A fitting war memorial that is deeply moving and poignant. From here we head next to the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue. It was amusing to see the Jewish Torah in the golden land. Still we find it awesome and worth our time to visit. After our visit a Jewish man inside the site gifted me with a talith a woven prayer shawl as souvenir.
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Afterwards we boarded an overloaded truck that treaded the up and down hills of Yangon to visit Kyalikto (Golden Rock). After an adventurous ride of about three hours passing by pomelo and rubber tree plantations we reached the base camp of Kyalikto, the starting point of our climb to the rock. The temple was a wonderful place to immerse ourselves in the world of Buddhism. It is very spacious and the rock itself stands imposing because of its golden gilding. We get to see the monks and locals away from the more tourist–oriented centers. Women were not allowed to touch the gilded gold leaf and they ask we go barefoot as we explore the temple grounds. The forty five minute pilgrimage to see the golden rock and its temple was worth seeing but exhausting! There were numerous small food stalls on top and a market that sells all sorts of things from walking sticks to dead snake skins which they say helps people with heart problems. Because of the high location of the temple it was colder after the sun sets. Along with the fragrance of incense and candles we took great photographs of the place and stayed overnight at a local hotel outside of the temple. From dusk onward the rock was exceptionally beautiful!
The following day we had a unique experience of admiring rustic tourism in the communities and bordering areas of Yangon by riding the Yangon Circular Train. It is an off the beaten path from the usual touristy palaces, sacred temples, and religious sites with massive crowds. One of my best photos was taken from here, a wide smile of a Burmese teen that sells his wares of bottled mineral water and snacks in a funny way by shouting out the brands of his products. Cheerful despite being surrounded by the harsh reality of life! It is a good way to understand the real culture of the place. Most of them transport fruit and other products. The views we saw outside were rows of shacks, thatched huts and rice paddies. Burmese people are very kind offering their seats when they see an elderly. Inside the train I made friends more than anywhere else in the world, they try to communicate even in broken English.
The next day we got enchanted by a famous reclining attraction in Yangon, the Chaukhtatgyi Paya. A visit to the 72 meter Buddha is essential while in the city. Appearing in a relaxed and peaceful pose, this Buddha is revered by hundreds of faithful visitors who offer prayers, flowers, and fragrant candles. The statue was really imposing as it occupies the whole pagoda. His eyelashes were so beautiful. The face is richly covered with a crown of diamonds and enormous stones while the feet extended are richly decorated in Burmese dialect. The pagoda also houses small temples and complex monasteries. Across from here we visited the Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda, where we get to admire a pearly white sitting magnificent Buddha. The murals about Buddhism at the northern corner of the pagoda are equally interesting. From here we head to the city center to check out the Botataung Paya. This hollow golden temple houses a maze of mirrors inside and relics of a Buddha. This makes it different from all the other temples we visited. Ideally located near the river it is more peaceful around as there were not many tourists making a visit to this place more relaxed. Within its hall stands a large Buddha once stolen by the British and brought back successfully on this pagoda a decade after.
Next we checked out the abode of the famous heroine of Burma, The Aung San Suu Kyi House. Picture taking is only allowed at the gate topped with a large portrait of his father and lined with the flags of the Democratic Party. Entrance is not allowed inside, so we chose to enjoy a meal of the traditional Htamin Le Thoke at one of the restaurants around this area. It is a sour soup mixed with rice and vegetables. Before the day ends we had the great opportunity to watch a cultural exhibition at the Karaweik Palace. We were fully entertained and enjoyed the sumptuous buffet of regional Thai dishes plus a good view of the Lake Kandawgyi. The exterior of the palace bears the image and likeness of Garuda, an Asian mythical bird. The details were made in concrete and fine woodwork. We took pictures beside the entrance guards who were garbed in their national costume. The puppeteer show was funny and entertaining. We also enjoyed fine dining on this barge floating restaurant. At night the atmosphere becomes more magical as the moon illuminates the lake and the cold breeze delights our tired senses. We enjoyed the romantic moonlight by strolling hand in hand within the barge lighted poles.
It is with great pride that we were able to see a magical country that was secluded from the world for almost thirty years. Myanmar can not be described in just words. It must be experienced!