Bagan my love

Just a last batch of Bagan photos, from this year, and last time four and a half years ago, because I like them.

The Ayeyarwaddy (should be spelled Ayawaddy, but the former is the standard spelling) is definitely the widest, most magnificent river I have seen. Which now includes the Ganges and the Mekong. And that’s not simple national pride, it’s the local beer brand :-)

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You can best see the structure of he brick pagodas at Pyathada, a rare one that’s nice and big and can also be climbed. It has no paintings, but the walls have not been whitewashed, and it also has the biggest viewing platform, if you wanna call it that way. Down a dirt road where my e-bike struggled in the ankle-deep sand, I had it all for myself for hours, except for a brief spell when a group of rich guys from Yangon came to snap a few photos. The header is also from this temple, and the view as well.

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And to bid farewell, our trusty horse Rambo from 2010 (who was anything but!) A horsecart for 3 should still be cheaper now than 3 e-bikes. But of course the real perk is that the horse cart drivers will make your itinerary even if you have no idea, and they do know their stuff, they can build up the experience and make sense of the maze of thousands of temples. I was still following the itinerary that we got back then (I was taking notes and highlighting it all in my guidebook back then, which I still had with me), but as I was out all day without a lunch break (which was essential in April, but not now), I saw more temples, I pulled up at random places just to see what’s going on, and I managed to get further afield as well.

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I hope I can go back one day again, I’m already missing it, I had no idea how much I was missing upcountry Burma until I got my shit together and went back…. and still so many places to go to that are barely on the maps. Living there almost killed it all for me. And now I’m grateful to the people who screwed up my luggage affairs…. because if I hadn’t had to go back, I might have stayed away forever and never got the chance to reclaim my old Burma.

At the moment, I’m back in Indonesia, and it feels like home, and it’s actually a place I was thinking so hard about for years, do I want to come here, could I live here, what are the chances I could manage. But actually after Yangon I can manage anything now. This would be considerably happier. And now I’m at peace, but any moment, it could be blown apart to tiny little pieces. I’m trying to keep my composure and wait to find out what’s behind the corner. In any way, I will get answers now and even in the worst case scenario, some kind of closure to what’s been two and half years of tremendous happiness and tremendous suffering.

Maybe sometime, one day, I will tell you about my life and what’s happening and where I am and why.

Now I wish I had taken photos in the past couple of days, but I just wanted to be there in the moment, with the blue seas to the left and the volcano to the right, the kids playing around in my hammock flapping in the wind, pretending it’s my life, that I belong there, in a way, even though I cannot. Never forget. Always in my heart.

 

Smile in my heart

After more than a decade, it is easy not to remember anymore that it is being in south-east Asia that brought me back to life, and gave me another chance to relate to people and the world. I learnt to smile, trust, ask, accept, forgive and just be together again, piece by piece, step by step, like a child.

Most pictures are new, and I still remember taking them. But I could have picked any other country or any other year, I would still remember so many pictures and people.

Eternally thankful, even when I don’t look like it.

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(In the middle Aung San Suu Kyi, of course.)

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More prayers

I got a bit carried away with the photos from Bagan, but what else is there to do with these images?? And it’s still only day two :-)

In the header, and here and there elsewhere as well,  the cursed pagoda that still holds some mysteries inside, collapsed bits and statues that had to be closed in surrounded by rubble just to keep the structure upright. Gloomy, creepy, magnificent!

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Small Ruby

It’s my favourite one, Sulamani temple. Had to be restored many times after earthquakes over the centuries, but still, lots of original brickwork and paintings from the 12th century. Bright afternoon lights. Lots of detail. Many temples, horribly whitewashed and any character obliterated once you go inside, not this one. You can see the structure and the beauty of the bricks. And if you wait five minutes for a group to leave (really? five minutes??), it’s all yours.

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The name? The king chanced upon a ruby on this spot, and that’s how he knew what he had to do. Some say it’s “crowning jewel”. Some go for the ruby one.

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There are better paintings in many other places, but photography is usually forbidden. These are the biggest paintings anyway, I think.

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Burmese customs demand shoes and socks off even in the temple yards, and my feet are still sore, one week later, but they never stopped me from going round each and every one of them, inside and out as well.

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Prayers into the skies

Bagan is simply one of the best places in the world.

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It’s like having all of York or Köln cathedral all to yourself. A thousand times over.

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It’s peeking into hidden corners with a flashlight to discover nine-hundred-year-old monsters, Buddhas, Boddhisattvas, demons.

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It’s touching bricks and carvings that have witnessed so much.

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It’s breathing in the power of a million souls who have been there before, spellbound, terrified, or simply spiritual.

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It’s the echo of your prayer bouncing off the tall brick corridors.

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It’s the sweeping views, the lazy bells, the glimmering sun.

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It’s magic. It’s the stunning details. It’s the sum of all. It’s the past. It’s the present.

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I know I could or should be more specific. And I can recall three dozen temples with the details, and I could make a perfect 3-day itinerary for you, building up the tension and the awe.

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But nobody is reading this blog anyway, and nobody cares about the stories of feud, treason, captivity, regicide, bloodshed, chopped off limbs, curses that are still hanging around, the mysterious caved in corridors and covered up statues, or practical tips about the e-bikes and restaurants, or whatever.

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So all that matters is that I was happy there, three bright, sunny days, just keeping going until I dropped.

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And yes, I was missing you. But even you will never ever care about that, I know. And much less anyone else.

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I’m just scared that even in the happiest moments of my life I will be broken, because I will never stop missing you and wishing you were there.

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Nothing I can do. Pray more.

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Think of the hti that fell and miraculously didn’t hurt anyone.

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Or anyone else who walks around with much bigger pain.

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But I’m still stubbornly refusing to accept that this is all I’m left with, the Bagans, the reefs, it’s my fate to hover and smile and take pictures and carry the burden of unbearable magnificence and beauty.

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What’s the point?

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Time for a nap

Time for a nap…. pretty much anytime, anywhere. I’m becoming an honorary Asian in this respect. I can sleep on any airport floor now :-/ and have even tried the odd temple or pagoda for an afternoon siesta, yes. No problems lying on the floor. None at all.

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Also important: nobody’s gonna steal your shop to pieces while you are asleep. Reminds me of the story of a colleague who was selling newspapers on weekends to support his hobby of being a teacher, and his profits were easily wiped out by thieves if he was not careful. While awake….

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And that’s some Archeology Department staff after lunch, not in a big hurry to finish excavations.

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A younger sibling on a school floor.

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Choose your favourite place and position :-)

 

Jasmine, teak, sand, and the like

I’ve had a few rough days, struggling with a full schedule, illness, and changing countries again in the meantime…. and got left behind with blogs, yet again….

But at least, when I’m busy, I don’t ask too many questions.

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I’m so scared about what is ahead of me, and the little details I’ve been looking at are just as important now as they were when I was right there. Keeping things in perspective. Or provide some kind of distraction. Live the moment. Whatever, there is always an excuse.

Why are you taking a photo of the water jugs? His eyes were asking. You don’t have water in your home?  -  Nope, it is not customary to share drinking water all the time, everywhere, for free, with anyone on the road. Yangon airport is the only one I remember that has free water…. not the usual 2-dollar ripoff.

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We must be hilarious, sometimes, the kinds of things we take photos of.

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Sometimes I wish I could feel more, understand more, how we are being perceived.

I’m guessing I should have learnt something. Some enlightenment, overarching life lesson, something that resonates and echoes for years. Nope. It’s just distractions, big and small. Stunning and trivial.

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I’ve only just left, but I wish I could go back for more. So many areas still remote and inaccessible, not used to foreigners, or beyond reach. So many people still struggling for basic human rights, being exploited, hidden. I know it’s not all a golden story…. still a long way to go. Very long. But whatever it is, it’s a place that grabs you tight and never lets you go.

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There are these sandpainters in Bagan. Some of them are truly a pain in the ass, chasing you down on a motorcycle, or following you to the tops of pagodas. Some of them show hidden staircases and views and paintings on the ceiling, and are a wealth of information. However annoying they may be sometimes, I really admire their art, and it’s a shame they don’t realise that their approach is chasing a lot of people away from ever listening to their stories. They painstakingly learnt to copy the ancient murals from the temples. We are talking 900-year-old designs here, quite unique, can’t see anything like this in Thailand or Cambodia, nothing even comes close. Lots of Hindu and pre-Buddhist elements, everything has a meaning, every colour or brushstroke has centuries of tradition. I could sit and watch and listen for hours, too bad they want me to shop :-)  Now I wish I had bought more. Quite a few are in a box somewhere…. waiting for me to have a home.

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(The monks with umbrellas and the landscapes are of course modern designs.)

Bagan is of course is one of the best places in the world, and quite the opposite of “the little things”, I don’t even know how anything I can show and say will ever do it justice.

 

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