Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Golden Land - on my 1st and last days in Yangon

The arrival

The plane has been approaching the flat plain of Burma (Myanmar) for some minutes, now. The air is hazy, and the branches of river Ayeyarwady's delta reflect the light in an ever changing pattern, braking the the massive greenery of the vegetation. I am keep wondering about what the next few minutes will bring... It is a very poor country, ruled by military junta. Deliberately I am carrying as much money (no banks or ATMs in Burma, so, I ought to carry all my cash), that if anything turns bad I can pay for an outbound flight to Kolkata or Bangkok.

The first surprise hits me just before landing. Well organized buildings everywhere; in the close victinity of the airport, the apartments are simply luxurious, even to my western eye. The next surprise is the airport itself. It is not too big (though bigger than the Hungarian Ferihegy), nevertheless, one of the most modern airports I've ever visited -and I have been in many places! Wow - am I in the right country, or took the wrong plane?!

Customs - there they must show their true colors! My ultimate source, the Lonely Planet guide says that earlier everybody was forced to change 200 USD to local currency, kyat, to feed the government's hunger for foreign currency; that they might take away mobiles (well, I do not have), and if one carries, one has to register his camera (what it exactly means that is not quite clear to me). So, when approaching them, I am indeed a bit nervous. Hang on! I am shocked once more! The officers are smiling young ladies. Beautiful young girls, for that matter! OK, now I am even more nervous! :) Before I arrived to India I was expecting the Indian girls would be tempting - well, they are not (sorry India); However the Burmese... Smooth, creamy skin, lean, yet muscled body, nicely angled dark eyes, jet black hair, and some cool happy-shy smile... Well, let me get back to the customs; They are very polite, the procedure is very smooth; actually I am just over the smoothest enter to a country-I face more hassle when entering home! Amazing...

Anyway, I am outside now, and the air is hot, for that matter it is even more hot than in India. The Sun is fierce. God, and they call this winter! Some locals are hanging around, males are wearing the traditional longi, kind of skirt; some look quite impressive in their skirts with long black hair and lean bodies. Among them I recognize the guy sent by the monastery; we leave the airport.

On the way we pass by a huge golden statue arcing over the road saying: Welcome to Myanmar; Then another: Welcome to the Golden Land; Then at least two more - well, maybe less would be more, but thank you, anyway! The roads, parks are perfectly clean, well taken care of; What a relief after India (sorry India)! I get the clear impression that someone -guess who- wants me to get the impression that this is a nice country where everything is all right. That is not quite the case, though. I do not intend to raise any political issues here, but one should not forget that in this country there are still forced work camps, that there are miraculous disappearances among the opposing party members, that the organized view of Yangon was achieved by forced relocation some decades back, and that there is a heavy army presence everywhere on the streets - soldiers are well equipped, carrying modern machine guns and wearing bulletproof jackets.

In Yangon, and elsewhere. We now are already heading to the monastery that is located about 60miles from Yangon in the jungle. Soldiers are present everywhere, with discretion, though, generally in the background, but often holding checkpoints. Yet, sensing the reactions of the locals I do not feel threatened, and soon forget about them. I am sitting in the back of a pick-up, sharing the place with three nuns, who are also going to the forest monastery today (monks and nuns are separated in the monastery). I was told that we are on a highway -well... The road is very bumpy, I have been hitting my head into the roof already countless times. The situation gets even worse when we leave the road, and take the so called forest 'road'. Probably during monsoon it becomes muddy, so someone solved the problem laying rocks on the road; and not small ones. They are at least the size of my fist, and the Toyota jeep keep jumping like a crazy goat, and what is even more unfortunate that I am doing the same, trying not to hit the roof, and not to fall off.

-the story in the jungle TO BE CONTINUED...

Last day - Swedagon Paya

...One month is gone. On the same road back among gum trees. The villagers are harvesting them, and the parallel V-cravings make surreal patterns in the early morning light through the mist. The highway, that seemed calm one month ago after the Indian and western speed of life, now seems to be filled with busy people, running up-and-down like disturbed ants. I feel calm and detached.

I will have one full day in Yangon, before flying back to Kolkata tomorrow. I am considering just to sit in my room continuing the meditation. However, that very kind nun who welcomed and hosted me a month ago, encourages to visit the world famous Swedagon Paya, the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage in Burma. I am hesitant; I have never been keen to see buildings, they just leave me cold. Nevertheless, it is only about a mile away, and the nun offers a letter from the monastery stating that I am a yogi (heh?), thus providing free enter to the stupa (otherwise there is 5$ entrance fee, plus 5$ for camera).

All right, I think, if the flow takes me there no problem. I can meditate on the way, and there as well. I have to cross a big park, and climb a hill. On top of the hill I am stunned. The huge Paya (stupa) is already in sight, hiding among the trees. This is huge, blindly shining gold in the sunshine. I am getting suspicious that this building is gonna be different. I enter through the northern gate to the raised stage of thetemple, and... I am just speechless! I do not like buildings, and especially do not like overdecorated ones. But this is just amazing, mind-blowing. Every single direction I look, there is something plain beautiful. Monks and pilgrims alike fill the main square around the stupa, and after some distance the countless smaller stupas and temples are standing in wild cacophony, yet, radiating some kind of contemplative atmosphere. People are praying, meditating, chanting there, or sleep, hoping for prophetic dreams. I do something that I've never done before; After the first two shots I leave, go back to the monastery, and change my film in the camera. I decide that if anything, this should be captured in color. I wait a few hours for the mild light of sunset, then I return. I deliberately wait until the Sun goes very low. The space between the buildings is already in shadow, and the white marble reflects the deep blue of the sky. Meanwhile, the golden peaks of the various temples are lit by the dark orange setting Sun. The mixture of the original color of gold and the red-orange light produces unbelievable glittering - almost unearthly.

According to tradition, after Buddha's death two merchant brothers brought Buddha's three hear to Burma, and built a stupa above the chamber where the hair was enshrined. Accordingly, the original stupa (which is about 50-100m aside from the main stupa recently; you can see it just in the right photo, and in the 1st BW pic, the smaller one) was built nearly 2500 years ago! Then, for about two centuries the stupa was forgotten, it almost disappeared into the re-growing jungle. When the great Buddhist empire of India, Asoka came to Burma, he barely could find the stupa in the wild vegetation. He restored the building, and the stupa has been taken care of ever since. The present form of Swedagon Paya is roughly 1500 years old. My God! Tell me, where we Hungarians were 1500 years ago..?

There are four big stupas around the main one, marking the main cardinal directions (and the four gates). Four middle-sized ones mark the four corners of the raised, square shaped platform. Beside these, there are sixty small ('small', well, you can see on the pictures...) stupas. These are shrines for the various Buddhas (the previous ones, and the coming Maitreya); for the planetary posts, where you can find good resonance according to your ruling planet in astrology; posts for the days; for zillions of laying, sitting, standing huge and small Buddha statues; for prayer and meditation halls. Just at sunset, however, pilgrims sit on one of the main squares, and meditate-or pray-or chant there, while watching the brilliant plays of the last strongly colored sun rays on the surfaces of tons of gold, rubies, and diamonds. Good Night, Buddha!


viri said...

beautiful pictures! i'm curious about the jungle story,i can hardly wait to read it!:)

qualcosa di bello said...

welcome back!...what serendipity you have encountered. i cannot wait to read more...

DMartini said...

Hi, it is indeed nice to "see" you again! Well, the next pats are reviled... ;)

Fida said...

Wow - while reading I forgot to breath! And the photos - stunning.
A few years back I had the chance to visit Burma, but I refused because of the situation there. Nontheless, I hope I can go travel there one day!
I am just back from my meditation, so I can't wait to read about yours. I am going to do that right now.
Oh, and thank you for becoming my follower. I hope I won't disappoint you!