When Madhvi Chandra discovered that her parents were going to Myanmar, she wanted to make the trip a large family vacation. So she, her husband and their two children joined in. It turned out to be the right move, and the school principal was amazed by this mesmerising, culturally rich country. Here’s what she wanted to share with You & I.
While my parents were planning their trip, I started reading up on the country. The more I read, the more fascinated I became. Soon enough, I had convinced my husband that we needed to go too! Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is a fascinating destination with a rich heritage and plenty of sightseeing opportunities. To top it all off, the country is still not yet developed as a tourist hub.
We arrived in Yangon (earlier known as Rangoon) to a traditional brunch. The sights and smells were interesting, and we were excited to see the variety of dishes on display. It was a less-than-pleasant surprise when we discovered that the Burmese speciality khao suey was unavailable (thankfully, similar noodle and soup dishes were), but quite a pleasant one to learn that most places have a few Indian dishes on the menu. Upon landing, we also noticed that many of the people wore a kind of paste on their faces. Our guide told us that the paste, a product of the Thanaka tree, is believed to improve the complexion and reduce the effects of tanning.
On our first day, we visited Chauk Htat Kyi, famous for the gigantic (72 metres long) reclining Buddha – a fascinating statue. After this, just in time for sunset, we headed for Schedagon Pagoda, one of the most spectacular monuments I’ve ever seen. The towering mass of gold (donated over the years by several people) makes for quite a stunning sight at dusk. As legend has it, a few strands of the Buddha’s hair are believed to be enshrined in the imposing structure. Of course, we were left in complete awe of its spectacular beauty.
A trip to Yangon is incomplete without a visit to Bogyoke Market, still known by its earlier name of Scott’s. Tiny shops sell a plethora of knick-knacks, from handicrafts and paintings to jewels and clothes, all housed in a typically British building. It was a great place to browse for jade and silk souvenirs.
The next stop was Bagan, and our first impression was that we had landed in a village; everything from the airport to the views as we drove to our resort reinforced this. However, our accommodation changed our minds. The resort was luxurious and had heritage monuments on the premises. We learnt that Bagan is a Unesco World Heritage Site, spread across a large area and containing a few thousand monuments and structures. Everywhere you turn is a stupa, a pagoda or a temple. With its thousands of 11th century temples, Bagan has not lost its spiritual nature; in addition to being a popular tourist site, it remains a place of worship for Buddhists.
Paya means ‘belonging to the Buddha’, and since every monument belongs to the Buddha, they are all paya. Burmese temples have four entrances – north, south, east and west – and each has a figure of the Buddha, to which people offer fruits and flowers. My daughter loved exploring this place, so we spent four lovely mornings visiting temples. It wasn’t until my son very firmly told our guide and us, “No more monuments,” that we stopped! But the kids’ favourite was Ananda Paya, which had an idol of the Buddha that seemed to smile and welcome you in from afar. But when we got closer, it looked very solemn and serene.
I especially enjoyed the horse cart ride through Old Bagan, while my parents would pick the scenic cruise on the Ayeyarwady as their highlight. My husband Naval seemed to enjoy the evenings, when we relaxed by the pool with cold drinks. On the whole, Bagan was tranquil – sightseeing and even a little shopping included (Bagan’s lacquerware is famous, and our visit to a factory was rather informative).
Owing to its relaxed lifestyle, a trip to Myanmar is like a step back in time. There’s so much to see and do that one trip isn’t enough. But mine was one of the most amazing holidays I’ve been on. I just wish I had had more time to experience the extent of the country’s enchanting beauty and magnificence. – as told to Saloni