Burma – November 29

Tomorrow we leave Bagan, and it has been an amazing experience. There has been a huge jump in tourism since Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest last year. Everyone is guardedly excited about the upcoming election in 2015, hoping that it will happen and that it will be a fair and honest one.

My friends and fellow adventurers, Boby and Gage, stayed in Old Bagan, about a 20 minute taxi ride from my hotel, Thante Nyaung U in Nyaung U Township. Their hotel, Hotel at Tharabar Gate, was our place of refuge. Old Bagan was the ancient capital of the Burmese Empire. The hotel is surrounded by more than 3000 ancient temples and stupas. It was beautiful, relaxing and the food was wonderful. Gage and I discovered penny wort salad. I have yet to find penny wort in Los Angeles.

We spent our few days here climbing around the 3000 temples and taking pictures. I swear we climbed all 3000… The temple ruins are almost all Buddhist so you take off your shoes at the entrance to the site. It means climbing and walking around barefoot. lots of dust, but fun and very tactile! The trick is to wear sandals you can quickly slip on and off. No one ever takes anyone’s shoes. The first day we visited the temples within walking distance. Second day, we rented bicycles and rode around on dirt/sand roads. Nothing like trying to ride through sand on a bike, occasionally through herds of cows and goats. The goats move, sometimes the cows just stand there. At dusk we climbed a temple facing the Irrawaddy River, and with hundreds of locals and tourists, watched the sunset and that infamous mist over the rice fields. I was thrilled just to see the river. And yes, here is Kipling’s poem:

by Rudyard Kipling

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ eastward to the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat — jes’ the same as Theebaw’s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
Bloomin’ idol made o’mud —
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd —
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo an’ she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!”
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin’ my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.
Elephints a-pilin’ teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

But that’s all shove be’ind me — long ago an’ fur away,
An’ there ain’t no ‘busses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”
No! you won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay . . .

I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and —
Law! wot do they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be —
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

The third day we broke down and hired a car and driver. We tried to tough it out, but we were tired, hot and unable to make any decisions for ourselves – smartest move we ever made. Our driver took us to temples we had missed, to a delicious traditional restaurant in New Bagan for lunch, overlooking the river (sort of) and got us back to our respective hotels knowing we had experienced as much as we were capable of that day.