Inle lake and Mandalay

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Posted by Giom | Posted in Myanmar, On the road, South East Asia | Posted on 01-02-2014

I arrive by bus at Nyaungshe, the town situated north of Lake Inle.

I had telephoned about 10 guest-houses and hotels at Nyaungshe, to book a room, as I had heard the prices were prohibitive, and it was the middle of the tourist season… The problem in Burma is that the tourist infrastructures aren’t sufficient. So the travel agencies book everything, and the independent traveller has to find other solutions.

Then, I decide to take a boat to the southern shore of the lake : while here, I might as well witness the famous Intha traditional fishing methods.
The lake is surrounded by mountains which reveal themselves to my eyes, little by little, as the heat of the day is rising.
Enchanting panorama ! Indeed ! But for how long ?…
The government charges each tourist arriving by bus, 10$. Of course, not a single dollar goes to help the locals, or to help preserve the exceptional environment of the lake. Pollution is omnipresent.

But how could we criticise this generation of parents who – up to 10 years ago – have seen the food arrive from surrounding villages, wrapped up in banana leaves ? And when it has been eaten, the banana leaf is thrown away in whatever environment. Yes, but nowadays, the banana leaf is made of plastic. Not mentioning the tourists : THEY know that plastic is polluting, but they still throw their plastic bags anywhere.

So, it’s beautiful today, but the pending question is : how long for ?
Once at Inn Dein, on the southern shore of the lake, I make my way up along the lake towards Kalaw. I have been told I’ll find a monastery where I might be able to sleep…OK ! Let’s go ! A little climb in the mountains around the lake : The view is rather pretty. Nobody on the track ! Brilliant ! Silence, the singing of birds…
Some Pa-O people, the local natives are harvesting the wheat with scythes. The bright red scarves on the women’s heads look like huge poppies.

I arrive at the monastery at the right moment. One guide and two tourists from Taïwan arrive at the same time. The guide tells me it’s full, but I can come with them to stay with a family 20 mins walk from there. Great !

I am delighted to be able to stay with a family, even if it’s organised. It’s much better than the hotel !
A typical meal prepared by the family, quick shower at the well and a 15 min walk around the village.
Evenings are cool here, around 18°C. I have only cycled 20KM today, but I have taken all my time to admire, think, eat, ponder, make the most of the silence that surrounds me.
The next day, I pass through an agricultural plateau. Again it’s very peaceful, because there is little traffic. The road is in almost good condition, in parts… I relish being alone with my thoughts, my ideas which need time to develop. Silence is a luxury which few people are lucky to enjoy.

One night at the hotel at Ywangan, and the next day, I head towards Mandalay. I cycle across a mountain where the roads are in an appalling state. Luckily, the panorama makes up for it.
I then arrive in the valley of Myoggi , where the Chinese are building a huge hydro-electric dam.
Fertile valley contrasting with the dry landscape of yesterday. It’s green with banana trees, wheat, rice, oranges and other fruit trees.
There, like a slap in the face, I realise the importance of water . This water is Life, freshness. Without it, there is nothing but stones. This landscape explodes into life thanks to the water.

Once in Mandalay, the next day, after a night at Kyaukse, I come across Wai Tun, a 45 year-old man who literally takes charge of me, directing me to the least expensive hotel in Mandalay… Well, that’s what I was told ! In fact, it’s not cheap at all ! Then, he takes me to another one a few yards away. And I end up sleeping in the meditation room for 10$ instead of the 18 advertised. I had slept for 2 months in the temples of Thailand. If I could, I would do the same here, but it’s more complicated with the Burmese government…

Wai Tun takes me to visit his boat along the Irrawady river which begins its course in Tibet. He lives in a sort of house boat with his brother. Today, his uncle who is a monk is paying a visit. A monk with a happy, toothless smile. He is reading the paper, which is a very normal ordinary activity you might say…
Well, not so ordinary actually ! Because the papers independent from the government and from censorship have hardly been authorized for 6 months. Therefore, this gesture which appears so normal, approaches political activism ! I remember well what he told me : « It’s all about politics, I don’t understand any of it, but I take an interest ! »
Brilliant to hear that, after 50 years of dictatorship, still in place, but it it has started to open up a little.

Mandalay…I have seen nothing of what the guides offer. Wai Tun came to fetch me the next morning, for a little ride. We literally rode around the whole city, visited his favorite monasteries, his meditation centre, the sacred mountain he reveres, called on his mum, his friends, and here is the night falling. Sunset at Amarapura bridge made of teak wood. Wai Tun leaves me at the hotel after a day on his scooter, my bum hurts. I am looking forward to my bike !

This man was incredibly kind to me. He spent his day taking me around his city on his scooter, without even accepting any money to pay for the petrol. I still can’t believe it.

I am delidted by this country and disgusted by its government.
By the way, is there a single country in the world where the government is liked ?

Translated by Marie-Louise DAVIES

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