Traveling with an ambition to explore a land which is hidden and lost, I found Myanmar (Burma) overwhelmingly fascinating and unique. In a short trip to Myanmar, I explored Bagan – The land of pagodas, Inle Lake – The land of leg paddling fishermen and Yangon – A historically cosmopolitan town. Myanmar is often considered the hidden gem of South-East Asia which is far less known and yet to be traveled than its famous neighbors. Strategically located between two giants India and China, bordering Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar has had a turbulent past of invasion and internal struggle which dates back to 11th century and ironically still continue in some form or other. Yet it survived with its distinct culture preserving its history and heritage. Myanmar is now ready to take the small leaps of faith greeting & embracing the new world with open arms.
Myanmar garnered my attention when Indian government opened its border for road travel to Thailand via Myanmar. Being a road trip junkie, I planned an epic trip from Delhi to Vietnam via Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. During this planning, Myanmar took me by surprise and then when Air Asia announced its cheap flights for Myanmar, I just grabbed it.
I love history, heritage and authentic-native culture which is less influenced by western or commercial ways. After independence from British rule, due to political crisis, Myanmar went in to a self-isolation mode and that ensured that time hasn’t ticked much in this part of the world. Still, you find people in traditional Loongy wear (Sarong) which used to be a dominant dressing style of Indian Subcontinent due to hot and tropical weather. Still, you find people’s face layered with soothing Thanaka. Still, motorized motor boats could not outpace leg paddling boats of Intha Tribes in Inle lake. Still, you are allowed to climb sacred Pagodas to click Sunrise and sunset shots. Soon, however, all this will change. Winds are blowing and transformation is in the air. Precisely, for this reason I went there NOW so as to capture this last lost world.
In my fast paced journey across Myanmar which also happened to be my first solo trip abroad, I did Pagoda hopping in Bagan, stayed in iconic Ostello Bello Hostel with co-travelers, captured amazing shots of sunrise and sunset, met with famous Intha fishermen, witnessed riot of colors during Annual Festival on Inle lake, met with generous Burmese people, discussed Bollywood movies with locals and roamed around the lanes of downtown Yangon unearthing treasure chest loaded with stories of history and humanity.
Let me give you a quick view of my whirl winding trip to Majestic Myanmar which will be followed by many intriguing stories from the lost land of Myanmar.
Solo Trip to Myanmar – Pagoda hopping in Bagan:
At 140 KM from Mandalay on the Banks of river Irrawaddy, ancient city of Bagan is Myanmar’s heartland and its biggest attraction. It gives immense opportunity to explore ancient ruins and get enthralled by expansive view of pagoda laden horizon. After having seen, numerous amazing pictures of Bagan’s landscape with scattered pagodas, I was really tempted to finally get to see it in person and what I saw left me speechless.
Marco Polo visited this city at its prime and found it to be a vibrant, magnificent and cosmopolitan city bustling with trade and the rich arts and craft that befitted a growing empire. He gave the first description of the city to western world:
“The city of Mien (Myanmar) was a noble city and in it were ‘towers of stone’ covered with gold and silver and bells at the top inasmuch that whenever the wind blows among these bells they tinkle.”
For many centuries, Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, which would later become Burma and then modern-day Myanmar. During its prime, Bagan had over 8000 Pagodas, Buddhist and Hindus both, and big monasteries. After an unfortunate earthquake, today, there are about 2,000 temples and pagodas left. During my pagoda hopping on E-bike through this open air museum, I could visit few.
Solo Trip to Myanmar – Boat Ride In Inle Lake
Inle Lake with a surface area of 100 square KM is the second largest lake of Myanmar. At 890 meters from sea level, it is wedged in between hills and surrounded by rural farming landscape. The best way to explore this natural place is by hiring a long-tailed boat and just get lost. I enjoyed the boat ride for good three hours and every minute was filled with thrilled.
Solo Trip to Myanmar – Leg rowers of Inle Lake
The lake is famous for native Intha tribes which has mastered the art of rowing with one leg which is so distinctive and unique. The art is to stand on one leg, use other for rowing, one hand for nets and other for fishing tools – a delicate balancing act.
Solo Trip to Myanmar – Annual Pagoda Festival of Inle Lake
During my boat ride, I also witnessed sunrise festivals which was a magnanimous display of skill and art of Intha People. Hundreds of skilled people on beautifully decorated boats pulled the gilded barge across Inle Lake as a part of their annual 2 week festival – Paung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival.
Solo Trip to Myanmar – Living the charm of Yangon
My first memory of Yangon is associated with its earlier name Rangoon. There used to be an old classic Hindi Bollywood song – Mere Piya gaye Rangoon wahan se kiya hai telephone (Being sung by wife whose beloved husband has gone to Rangoon for business purpose and has called her from there conveying how much he misses her), which validates ancient and medieval connection between India and Burma. This song also recognizes the enterprising nature of Indians, for Yangon (Rangoon) was once heavily populated by Indians and trade was mastered by Indian merchants.
Yangon was a thriving city rivaling Karachi, Kolkata and Mumbai during erstwhile British Raj. It was one of the true cosmopolitan city of the east in 19th and early 20th centuries and also one of the important trade points. Still, downtown has many structures which represent various faith and culture validating its glorious past. It has Hindu temple, Islamic mosques, Jewish synagogue, Buddhist temples, Jain temple and British era heritage building spread within a walking distance from Sule Pagoda which is the central point of Downtown.
Being a Delhiites and a lover of Delhi’s historical heritage, anything related to Mughals excites me. So, while planning my trip to Yangon, I was more interested to visit Dargah of Abu Zafar Mohammad Bahadur Shah II, popularly known as Zafer from his nom de plume, the last emperor of India, who was sent to exile by Britishers after failed first struggle of Independence in 1857. I wanted to see the very last building which belongs to Mughals who were once the richest and strongest in the world.
I planned a two-day stay at Yangon, however, due to continuous rain and ever-present traffic I was badly stuck in my hotel room and whenever I could, I ventured out to take a glimpse of this city which has a certain charm of our slow pacing Kolkata and vibrant Mumbai. I took a quick city tour on uniquely styled rickshaw and covered Merchant Road along river Yangon, Anawrahta Road which was earlier known as Moghul Road, Little India, Gandhi Hall, Jain Temple, few Hindu Temple, one Shia Mosque and also discovered a shop selling Golgappas – The undisputed the best Indian Street Food.
Imagine a country which was once a great kingdom and then lost in the whirls of time, survived a self-exile from its neighbors for better half of 20th century, acquired the stature of a unique dream land christened as Golden Earth by Norman Lewis. Yes that’s Myanmar the erstwhile Burma, which has recently been opened freely for travelers. This, yet to be spoilt piece of land, is for the adventurous traveler who wants to explore new vistas and seeks for authentic traveling experiences. My five days were full of excitement as I could see still snailing old world. I urge everyone to Go Myanmar as soon it will be transformed into any other South East Asian Country.
Will I go back?? Certainly, I will. That road trip from Delhi to Vietnam will happen someday for sure.
Here, I conclude my trip to Myanmar. This blog post will be followed by many more interesting detailed account of solo trip to Myanmar.
Myanmar is safe to travel
At this point, I must address safety issue amidst Rohingya problem. Myanmar is safe place to travel. I did all my inter-city travel in night buses and found no issue at all. The Rohingya issue is limited to one and small part of country bordering Bangladesh. I was advised to avoid political discussion when in Myanmar and follow traveling guideline of your countries foreign affair department. All important places like Inle Lake, Bagan, Mandalay, Yangon, Kalaw etc are extremely safe. People are friendly and peace-loving. For Indian friends, let me add, they have special affinity toward India and Indian people as Budhha was from India. So, go Myanmar and explore the country.
If you feel motivated, please share this blog post with your loved ones so that they can break the mundane cycle of everyday life and explore the world.