Burma - Burmese Days, by Peter Jones (1975)

Among memories of Burma that I treasure was a visit to Mandalay and to the temples at Pagan. Three of us flew on a Burma Airways turboprop from Rangoon to Mandalay. At Mandalay airport we commandeered the only taxi in sight, which I recall was a pre-World War Two Hudson. The door catches were broken, and as we swung out of the airport car park all four doors flew open. The driver engaged second gear with a crash and held it in place with a forked stick, and we were on our way.

Mandalay is the old royal city, rich in pagodas, temples and palaces. The main form of transport consisted of bicycles and heavy logging carts drawn by oxen. We visited the main tourist attractions – logging operations with water buffaloes dragging huge teak trunks out of the river; manufacture of gold leaf which is attached to tissue paper in little booklets so that the faithful can rub extra gold on to golden Buddha statues, thereby gaining favour in the afterlife; elaborate Buddhist shrines; wood and stone carving; lacquer bowls; hand loom weaving and colouring of silk and cotton cloths. Everything was made by hand – there was no mass production.

It was like going back 200 years or more in time. There were no shops as such – everything from tins of beans to bicycles changing hands in ad-hoc open-air markets.

And then there was Pagan. Since our visit an earthquake had heavily damaged much of this thousand year old site. My memory is of a huge dry plain on a curve of the Irrawaddy River, with several thousands of Buddhist and Hindu temples and stupas rising 2-300 feet high out of a deserted field – no current human habitation anywhere nearby, no roads or made up paths, no tour guides, guards, ticket collectors or indeed any visitors apart from ourselves.

There were once over 13,000 pagodas, built during the golden age of the eleven great kings between about 1050 and 1250, but abandoned on the threat of invasion by Kublai Khan.

We had hired a donkey cart for the day – the only transport available to get us to and from and around this deserted wonderland. We climbed on some of those temples we were able to – many were in ruins - and took many pictures, amazed that there could be anywhere in the world so majestic and yet so totally isolated.


Image: Pagan temple in Myanamar

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