The Best of Burma: A Photo Tour
All tours of Burma (also called Myanmar) begin in Yangon, the country's gateway and largest city. The premier sight of Yangon (and many say of all Burma) is Shwedagon, a great Buddhist temple complex. Crowning a hill, its golden dome rises 326 feet atop the 168-foot promontory; it's eternally visible - lit by sunlight during the day and spotlight after dark.
By Cynthia Dial
This 2,500-year-old testament to religion commands a reverence akin to the Catholic Church's Vatican, and during any visit, you'll be amongst old and young, tourists and locals, monks and nuns - all paying homage. Before my visit, I read: "There is more gold plastered onto the sides of Shwedagon than in all the vaults of the Bank of England. To this you can also add all of the diamonds, all of the rubies and all of the emeralds." Can it be this awe-inspiring? I wondered before becoming a personal witness. The answer is "Yes." And I found the darker it became, the richer the scene. My favorite time: after dusk when a deep navy sky provided a most dramatic backdrop for the gigantic golden dome, Shwedagon.
Student at school operated by monks
Burma is a poor country. So many whose parents can't afford school supplies and other education-related expenses, attend schools operated by monks. This is a student in such a school in Paleik. The classroom was open-air, the students were very well disciplined and as you can see, loved the camera and loved giving the peace sign.
Nuns on U-Bein's Bridge
Giggling nuns walk crossing U-Bein's early morning.
Women on U-Bein's Bridge
The 200-year-old, 1300-yard-long teak footbridge across shallow Taungthaman lake (translation: one easily stands in the water) is the center of local activity: nearby residents bicycling home to Taungthaman village, monks carrying alms bowls between monasteries, straw-hat-attired women crossing to shop, school children going to class. The best times to visit are shortly after sunrise and before sunset; and a popular viewing perspective is from the water on a hired boat.
Having hired a boat at the western end of U-Bein's Bridge an hour before sunset when the light is best, our exploration of Taungthaman Lake discovered a woman fishing with her homemade net. The background of stupa silhouettes serves as a reminder that this is Burma.
Fisherman at sunset
While visiting the makeshift community at Gawwin Jetty on the Ayeyarwady River, we spotted a man casting his fishing net for an end-of-the-day catch as his wife paddled the boat. Though the netting was heavy, embedded with weights that allow it to sink faster and trap more bait, he cast it again and again.
After taking a ferry from Mandalay, we explored the ancient city of Ava (Inwa) by horse-drawn cart and came upon a man in prayer - a common sight when in Burma.
Again on Ava we visited Meimu Monastery, home to this monk.
Woman carrying clay pots
The Burmese way of carrying items is by balancing them on the head. Observed at a pottery workshop in Mandalay, this woman easily managed the balancing act. It was a different story when she attempted teaching me the same talent, though I'm happy to report there were no broken clay pots.
Bagan at sunset
Known for its more than 2,000 pagodas (at one time 4,000), the best times to experience the serenity of the surroundings are dawn and dusk. After climbing atop Okkyaung Temple complex to await sunset, this was our colorful reward. We returned down the interior of the temple's stairs well after dark by the assistance of a local lighting the way with his dim flashlight.
Head shaving ceremony
The novitiation ceremony is one of the most important events in a Buddhist's life in Burma. Novitiation means allowing boys to enter the Buddha's Order as a novice monk after shaving their heads, donning robes and asking permission to become a novice. The fresh novices have to stay in the monastery for a retreat of at least seven days under the care of the residing monks, following every set of rules and studying Buddhist scriptures. We were invited to the head shaving ceremony at Myinkaba Monastery in Bagan, and this boy was one of the youngest to have his head shaved so his father held him during the process. Without the benefit of a mirror, many of the boys reached up to feel their heads, sans hair.
Girls at novitiation
While Burmese boys are novitiated, the girls (usually sisters of novices to be) also have an important ceremony in which their ear lobes are pierced so they can wear earrings. Unlike the novitiation ceremony, this is more a social than religious occasion.
Monklet with red umbrella
While at Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan, we photographed this young monk in route to the temple.
Fishermen on Inle Lake
Inle Lake is 13.5 miles long and seven miles wide and like Venice the means of transportation throughout the area is by water vessel - with visitors typically exploring by motorized longboat. The local Intha people use traditional flat-bottomed skiffs maneuvered by a single wooden paddle and propelled by a distinctive technique of leg-rowing - where one leg wraps around the paddle. And in this manner, they fish. The signature Inle Lake photo op contains the fishermen.
Traffic Jam in floating village
Boats are the sole means of transport throughout Inle Lake's stilt-house village, Ywama. This scene is the closest thing to a "traffic jam" that I saw.
Known as the country's famous "giraffe women," they are from the Paduang tribe and the heavy brass neck rings initially decorated their necks to make them less attractive to raiding parties from neighboring tribes. Today the jewelry serves to distinguish their tribe. Many long-necked women work at Inle Lake souvenir shops.
Scorpion whiskey with its distiller
While in route from Yangon to Bago, we stopped at the roadside scorpion whiskey stand to purchase a bottle. The woman is the "master distiller" for the family business.
Monks eating last meal of day
Our stop in route to Inle Lake at the noted wooden monastery in Heho was a meal time for the monks, who eat only two daily meals. This photo, taken through a window frame, is of the second and last meal of the day, always eaten before noon.