Thursday, April 6, 2006

Hi all from Nyaungshawe, mid north Myanmar, and the world’s slowest Internet connection.
We arrived here this morning after a marathon bus ride of about 16 hours from Bago where we stayed for less than 12 hours between buses. It was a dismal town, especially dirty, very noisy with more-than–usual pushy moto/trishaw drivers. It’s funny how you can make judgments on places so quickly.
We haven’t even walked around town much yet but we’re just sitting, relishing the fact that for the first time for most of two days we are not bouncing up and down, back and forth watching Myanmar go past in the dark. Getting off the bus for a rest stop at Heho (what a great name for a town!) nearby was a revelation; it was absolutely completely fricken freezing cold! Literally, as we left fog filled the valleys and frost rested on the ground. It was quite beautiful. Dylan will point out that it’s not necessarily below freezing for there to be frost but that’s beside the point, on the ground it was zero degrees and the air temperature would have been about 5 degrees, now it’s probably about 10 or 15 degrees so we are layered up and doing silly things like wearing sarongs on our heads to keep out the cold.
There is a large lake here called Inle, reportedly with lots of villages on stilts around it, a few temple ruins etc. So far what’s nice is that like Moulmien it’s blessedly quiet and relatively rubbish free (whoever invented the plastic bag should have been strung up before they could do such amazing damage IMO). Most importantly, the shower has hot water.
Kids everywhere are flying kites, Mary Poppins would be proud.
There are also heaps of little shrines and temples and stupas here, new ones, old brick ones, ruined ones (I do like a good ruin). We climbed up the top of a small hill where there was a good view before we realized at the top that the ‘hill’ was actually an abandoned stupa covered with earth and only a few neat bricks sticking out the sides.
So anyway as promised we need to go back a few days and talk about Kinpun, the Golden Rock (also known as Kyaiktiyo, another unpronounceable name for western tongues, it’s not said much like it’s spelt at all) and how Dylan and I set our room on fire but well get to that later!
Kinpun is a dry, dusty and yet again, dirty little town at the foot of a few hills, and at the top of one of those hills there is a boulder, painted gold with a pointy thing stuck on top of it, that’s Kyaiktiyo. It also happens to be one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the country. The boulder is said to be balanced on one of Buddha’s hairs. The number of hairs old Siddhartha Gautama handed out to the Burmese to put under rocks and in temples here in Myanmar he must have been practically bald. Perhaps this is why monks shave their heads? Kidding!
We were lucky enough to get there in time for the Kayin (local group) New Year and in the great traditions of new years all over the world, there was gambling, terrible singing, confusing disjointed traditional dancing and about a gazillion people there to celebrate it. There was a sort of fair set up in the valley behind the village. Dylan and I (and a smattering of other foreigners) were like Gulliver in Lilleput. Tiny tents everywhere and tiny people along with them. D and I are not at all tall by Australian standards so it’s something of a novelty.
We waited for eons for a performance to start standing at the edge of a field covered in mats in front of the stage until we were waved over to a space by a woman in a bright yellow trucker cap and an even brighter flashlight. She didn’t speak a word of English but shared her mat and a towel to drape over our shoulders anyway. The actual performance was pretty terrible but we had a good time anyway. The celebrations continued throughout the night, very loud and mostly centered on the gaming mats where drunken men spent their family’s savings. We made our escape at about 11pm but when we got up at 5am the next day the party was still in full voice.
But why get up at 5am anyway? Well D and I had this idea that we could make it up to the top of the mountain nice and early, take some pictures and be back in town in time for lunch. What a nice dream that was.
The deal is that you catch a ride in the back of a truck halfway up and then walk for 45 minutes (according to the LP bible) to the top.What we had failed to take into account was that unbeknown to us there was a light festival about to happen on New Years Eve (a few days later) and about 20 million people had plans to be at the top of the mountain for this event. When we arrived at the truck stop just before 6am for the first truck it was along with the same 20 million people and there just wasn’t very many trucks. When each truck arrived it was swarmed with people like ants to honey. It was complete madness, I’ve never seen anything like it. You know when you watch the news and you hear about people getting crushed to death at soccer stadiums and so on and you wonder how that could happen? Well now I know how that could happen. It was a complete crush for each truck, people climbing up over the sides, over the luggage rack at the back, over each other in the rush to get in, passing babies and bags up into the scrum. We watched completely dumbstruck. There was a rush of trucks and then nothing for an hour and a half (while they went up then back down the mountain). In the end we shared the cab of a truck with another westerner and his Burmese guide, it cost a small fortune but at least we were actually in a truck! There was just no way we were going to make it unharmed into the back of one.
The ride to the top was a bit hair-raising, The road was narrow and very windy and steep, only wide enough really for one truck at a time so a vehicle’s presences was announced by a great deal of blaring the horn (‘I’m turning’, ‘I’m overtaking’, ‘I’m going round the corner’, ‘I have an obscenely loud horn’, horns are seriously under utilized in Australia).
Once at the bottom of the climb we paid to go to the loo (I HATE paying to use a scummy toilet, I really do, it just gives me the sh!ts) and began to climb. What LP had failed to mention when they called it a ’45 minute walk to the top’ was that that is if you power walk up possibly the world's steepest hill without stopping. It took us about an hour including frequent stops and my ankles were burning from being held at such an unnatural angle for so long, ankles only bend so far after all!

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