Marvellous Anshul ChaurasiaMyanmar

Travel tale

Burma or Myanmar is a place lost in the pages of history. Many of us remember it as a part of the British empire and for its strong ties with India. However, after years of military dictatorship, the nation’s wonders were closed out from the rest of the world. Luckily, times changed by 2010. The government relaxed a few travel policies and offered visa on arrival.

Pictures of the ancient city Bagan filled with temples and its hauntingly beautiful skyline tempted us to plan a trip. Four of us — Arun, Ahilya, Shruti  and I — went to Myanmar in August.

Our first taste of Myanmar included taking in a large helping of its national dish, ‘Mohinga’— a rice, noodle and fish soup. After all, what better way to understand the culture of a city other than the food! I spent a day in Yangon, which was the capital of Burma under the British empire and till 2006. I spent the first half of the day by visiting the grave of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, which was turned into a shrine. During the other half,
I walked around the older parts of Yangon which reeked of a colonial hangover. I explored buildings from the British rule such as the telegraph office, river shipping corporation and old banks.

One of the biggest cities, Yangon stands as the smorgasbord of Burma. I also visited the most sacred site in the country — Shwedagon Pagoda — which is supposed to hold eight hair of Buddha and three sacred relics of Buddha’s previous incarnations. I sampled local delicacies too. Downtown Yangon is known for its seafood. Small stalls selling ‘Satay’ sticks with meat and sauces dotted street-corners and locals sat around, enjoying them on low stools.

Although many find Yangon drab, it felt like a history buff’s paradise to me. It sparkled of an old-world charm of a long lost era. Taking an overnight bus from Yangon, I landed in Mandalay, which was the seat of power of Burma’s last kingdom. This would be apparent to every visitor as the city is built around the palace, which is now a military cantonment. Only the main area is open to visitors. Nevertheless, the city  abounds with Buddhist ‘Pagodas’. Many speak of a history such as the world’s biggest book ‘Pagoda’. Mandalay Hill provides the best view at sunset.

We went around three heritage villages in Mingun, which has the world’s biggest ‘Pagoda’ and bell. We also went to Amarapura and saw the U-Bein bridge, the longest wooden bridge in the world. We took an overnight bus from Mandalay and  reached Nyaungshwe, which sits right on the shores of Inle Lake. The lake was a sight from a fairytale. Small villages and stilts were built all around it.

A boatman took us around the lake for 8 hours, for $18.

That night, we stayed at Nyaungshwe and took a bus next morning to Nyaung U town. The whole route has hairpin bends and curved roads through majestic mountains. Nyaung U is the ideal base for exploring Bagan.

I spent three days here, zooming around in an e-bike, from one Pagoda to another and found outrageous murals.

Burma glimmers of cultural nuggets, religiously and historically. People looking to travel back in time should head there as the world is slowly changing in Myanmar.


(The author can be contacted at yhpans@gmail.com)

How to get there
*I took an AirAsia flight from Bengaluru to Yangon, via Kuala Lampur. I was able to get cheap tickets, for Rs 16, 000 as we had booked three months in advance. Visa for Myanmar can be bought online for $ 50.
*From Yangon, we commuted on road by buses for around 10 days. Bus rides would cost  from $12 to $15.

Where to stay
*SMART Hotel in Mandalay. A double room came at Rs 2,300.
*Grand Nyaung Shwe Hotel in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake. (Rs 2,100 for a double room).
*Bagan Empress Hotel in Nyaung U (Bagan). (Rs 2,500 for a double room).
*Clover City Centre Hotel in Yangon. (Rs 3,200 for a double room).

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