Capes, Culture and Cruelty to animals

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Flag of Myanmar  ,
Monday, July 19, 2010

We woke at 4am still feeling utterly knackered and perhaps having had 1 pint too many for a 4am start. We wandered out into the darkness and found our horse and cart out on the road. We were happy with the fact the horse was a lot more sturdy looking than those on our previous tour, it was a beautiful horse and looked very well looked after. We boarded the cart, me and the driver up front and Erica taking up the rear and set out into the dark unlit streets towards the Bagan Archaeological zone. We soon left the roads and were headed down dirt tracks unable to see anything at all. The driver stopped the cart and told us to climb a very steep set of steps to the top of the temple, Buledi, which we did with the aid of his torch.

We probably spent about an hour and a half up there and as the sun came up over the horizon all the temples came into view across the plain. It was beautiful, the sunrise was not great because it is the monsoon and it was cloudy but what an introduction to Bagan. Unlike Angkor you can just about see all the temples from an elevated position and while probably about the same area this has many multiples of the numbers. Probably none as impressive as Angkor Wat or Angkor Thom but in terms of numbers it was incredible. Erica informs me that there are over 4000 temples and temple ruins here ranging from the very small to very large they were built over two centuries by countless kings hoping to achieve a higher standing in their next life. We then nipped back for breako and to give the horse a rest (although the driver assured us the horse didn't need any rest).

We then started the trip proper passing through Tharabar Gate and the nat spirits and the driver dropped us at another temple, Temple 2, with a fantastic view so he instructed us to climb to the top. While Erica waited chatting to a local woman some fool with a pink cape scaled the top of the temple to the slightly dangerous and very hard to climb area. With a strong breeze it made a peculiar scene. Just 3 people at the temple, 2 at the bottom and one up top. The local lady appeared to find it funnier than Lady E and I could hear her laugh from up there.  After Erica joined me and we enjoyed more views.

Well we continued to 'temple bash’ which was far more enjoyable than we expected, taking in amongst others the fabulous Ananda Pahto with its four 31 ft Buddha statues, Bupaya with its gleaming gold stupa on the banks of the river, Dhammayangyi Pahto the mysterious ‘bad luck temple’ with its rubble filled voids, and the ‘Crowning Jewel’ Sulamani Pahto with its beautiful murals and huge frescoes.  The temples were a varied and interesting selection and we were speed touring so didn’t spend too much time looking around, it’s a shame as there are countless other temples that we would love to explore but we just don’t have the time. As normal we got chatting to a local lady at Mahabodhi Paya, who offered to do the local make up / sunscreen to Erica so she had her face painted. ‘Thanakha’ is a yellowish paste that is ground from the logs of Thanakha trees and most of the women in Myanmar and the children wear it daily as it acts as a sun cream and moisturiser.  Well what a transformation, the locals couldn’t take their eyes off her for the rest of the day and kept shouting "beautiful" at her.

By lunch we started to get to the stage where we felt tired, and looking forward to trying to get a lie down before the final night bus of Myanmar, something we just wanted to get out of the way. We were travelling along a sand track when the horse appeared to slip on a steep piece of sloping rock on the path, and then disaster, the horse having lost its footing just collapsed falling over sideways snapping the arm of the cart. We were simply mortified thinking it was all our fault, especially the obese one in the front. The horse did not try and get up and some locals came running out of the fields to help. We detatched the cart and tried to lift the horse back up (after our experience in Mongolia this is the second time I have had to do this), however on this occasion there was no budging the horse. Despite Erica protesting I made her take a picture as however unpleasant the experience was we wanted a record of just how plain crazy it was.

We essentially thought the horse was dead after about 5 minutes the locals would not let us close to it and it was not moving at all, we were absolutely devastated. After about 15 minutes though we had another go at lifting her up and she got straight up. The locals had used a piece of timber and some wire to put the cart back together.

We asked the driver where the nearest road was so we could get a lift home on the back of a motorbike and all the people were absolutely insistent that the horse was fine to carry on. We basically had an argument for about 10 minutes with everyone telling us to get on the cart and us trying to find out the quickest way to a road which may have motorbikes or cars passing. In the end we agreed to get back on the cart as long as we went back home. The driver agreed and took us to three more temples agreeing to go straight home each time. We eventually got back despite stopping to put more wire around the cart about every 10 minutes as it kept splicing apart again.

Well we were glad to have the horse back and able to have a good rest (although we didn’t trust the driver not to get straight back out trying to pick up more customers). We had a quick hour back at the room before getting picked up for the bus. We boarded at 3:30pm with a bag of tomato sauce flavour chipsticks (not originals as they can’t be imported) each for lunch and tea and boarded what we now saw as a luxury coach. We had the worst seats on the bus on the back row, and as the first bus the seats hardly reclined but for us it still seemed luxurious. The man next to us said it would be 8 hours someone else said 16 but again nothing surprises you here. Of particular note was one of the rest stops. I went to the uniquely Myanmar version of the toilets but they were filthy. The place to wash your hands outside was essentially a standing plastic pipe with a push fitted tap on top the water flowed straight into another water but with an overflow pipe and somehow the water was pumped round (which probably means you are washing your hands with dirty water). The tap was switched on so I put my hands and arms straight into the water when I finished I stood in front of the tap and turned it off. The tap stopped the flow of the water then the pressure built and just fired the tap across the dirt yard. The water went all over my t shirt and shorts from belly button downwards and I was drenched. Essentially I had to walk through a busy restaurant looking like I had seriously wet myself. Absolutely humiliating but Erica and I were both in tears.

Today had been ‘Martyrs day’ a national holiday and the day the British embassy had warned us about increased levels of violent protests. We seemed to be marched off the bus about every hour to pass through security checkpoints marched through by men with guns. We eventually arrived in Yangon at about 4:30am so it took 12.5 hours, I probably got about 30 minutes sleep and Erica a bit less however we had a good rave on the back seat to the I-plod and managed to refrain from our ‘sleeping tablets’ aka bottle of rum in the bag.
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