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The Burma Experience – Day Five

Today was the BIG DAY – the day that we visited Bagan, one of the major sites of Myanmar. Bagan has over 2000 pagodas, many of them dating back to the 11th century, and the vast majority are stupas, not temples. If you remember from an earlier post, a stupa is a solid building that you can’t go inside. A temple is a pagoda that you can enter.

As we left the ship we had the usual wait while the men built a bridge across from the boat to the land.

As we left the ship we had the usual wait while the men built a bridge across from the boat to the land.

Because of the popularity of Bagan as a tourist site, there were more than the usual number of girls selling clothes and jewellery at the coach window. They were unfailingly polite, but they were unbelievable at remembering names. They ask for your name and say ‘maybe when you come back’ and then when you get back, there they are! I confess to buying more than my share of baggy trousers with elephant patterns on, longyis – several, and goodness knows how many jade necklaces.

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You may have noticed the chalky face paint on some of the people in the images. This is called Thanaka and is made by grinding the bark of a very specific tree. It has been used in Burma for more than 2000 years, and is believed to promote healthy skin and protect from sunburn. One girl applied some on my face in the market, and to everybody’s huge amusement, I got a massive spot! I don’t get spots!!! Anyway – it only lasted a day.

The first part of the journey to the stupas of Bagan was by coach, and we were taken to the highest stupa and saw the whole of Bagan displayed below us and around us. It was quite an amazing site. Each stupa is built to honour Buddha, but sometimes in memory of a family member.

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That was the end of riding in style. To get close up to some of the stupas, we transferred to ox cart. In itself, this was quite a pleasant way to travel. However, Burma in winter is hot as far as we Brits are concerned, and so copious quantities of water had been consumed. The wonderful ox cart journey was rather ruined for me by wondering if I was really going to make it to the next not very salubrious Burmese toilet. (I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to hear that I did.)

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And of course, after the trip around the stupas there was the inevitable visit to a temple – and yet another Buddha.

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Tonight I have to go to bed early because tomorrow is the day of the balloon ride. Sunrise over Bagan – so I have to be up at 5 am (I thought this was a holiday?). And then later we visit a school, which I am really looking forward to.

But first we need to go to the market to buy some useful presents for the school – more of that tomorrow, if I survive the balloon flight. We have been told to wear natural fibres because they don’t burn so easily. Nice thought!!