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A drive up to Mt Popa provides some perspective on the countryside surrounding Bagan. The landscape is no less arid. Brahman cattle and goats are the only stock visible. You wonder how they manage water supplies here until you see an abundance of large ceramic storage pots. Eroded water courses look ready to receive the rains when they come, and will no doubt lose more soil come June.

As you approach the top of the range, you begin to see the rich red volcanic soils. Bananas, mangoes, flowers and other nursery products seem to thrive here. Mt Popa (a volcanic plug) holds significance to the Buddhist community as a home to spirit beings or nats. A shrine on top of the mountain can be reached via 770 covered stairs.

I stopped at a half-way drinks station and sat near a woman who had also opted not to complete the climb. Together we watched the looks of climbers as they caught sight of the next steep leg ahead. It’s hard work even without the heat.

The women of Burma have black hair, usually long and straight. I guess it’s unusual to see someone with short gray hair. That can be the only explanation for me appearing in many photographs with local people as I sat there, bemused and contemplating the number of steps down to the bottom.

As I write this back in Nyaung U, it’s 4.00 pm and some clouds are gathering. A 30% chance of a storm is forecast in the next couple of hours. If only.

Mt Popa summit - 7 May 2015Mt Popa - long walk upMt Popa - drinks station on the way up

 

Mt Popa - Monkey and babyMt Popa - Mother, child, Buddhaentry point - Mt Popa temple stepsMt Popa - loading the truck

We visited a dozen temples around Bagan on a day when the thermometer reached 43 degrees C. Everywhere you look in this region, there’s a pagoda to be seen. The interiors provided some level of comfort from the heat, with the occasional breeze wafting through some corridors.

The people selling local crafts, drinks and mangoes were doing it tough today. Rob bought two mangoes and delighted the women by borrowing their knife and demonstrating the easy way to cut and eat the flesh (with a blunt knife). They declared it ‘very clever’.

A few of the temples didn’t allow inside photography. It was almost impossible to make out the frescoes at Gubyaukgyi. As I was leaving, an elderly woman, whose face was richly adorned with thanaka paste, insisted I go back in. Some local people had arrived and a guide had activated the lighting system. Think light globe on a selfie stick, only with a very, very long cord.

The paths to the temples were so hot today, people were running to get to a cool spot to land their bare feet.

I’ve pared down the photographs to give you some idea of the diversity of temples, architectural styles and decoration.

 

Shwezigon Pagoda

Shwezigon Paya - zedi

Shwezigon Paya - zedi and tree decorShwezigon Paya - tree decoration detail

Pyat Thut Gi

Pyat Gi Thut exterior

Sulamani Pahto (my favourite, largely because of the detailed frescos and decorations)

Sulamani Pahto - entranceSulamani Pahto - exterior detailSulamani Pahto - vaulted ceiling detailSulamani Pahto - fresco 2Sulamani Pahto - interior frescoSulamani Pahto - fresco 4Sulamani Pahto - pedastal detailSulamani Pahto - fresco 3

Dhammayangyi Pahto

Dhammayangyi Pahto - exterior

Dhammayangyi Pahto - Sleeping BuddhaDhammayangyi Pahto - marionettes for sale

Ananda Pahto (under considerable restoration)

Ananda Pahto - exterior - stupaAnanda Pahto - grounds - restorationAnanda Pahto - restoration work

Ananda Pahto - scaffold around Buddha

Lunch at Moon Restaurant (Be Kind to Animals) – a cool spot to rehydrate.

Moon Restaurant - garden parasols

Than Daw Ga Pagoda

ThanDawGa Pagoda - Buddha - lava stone - earthquake restoration

Nagayon Pagoda

Nagayon Temple 2Nagayon Temple

Late breakfast for one,

Just Sprite for the other.

Watermelon and hot tea,

toast and water.

A trip to the pharmacy.

– over the counter.

Choose your own meds.

Small change prices.

Drugs dispensed,

Sleep until mid-afternoon.

Walk to town.

Cold lime and ginger drink

Recovery of sorts.

Sunset at the temples.

Htilomilo TempleThatbyinmyu TempleBagan temples 2Old Bagan - temple at sunsetSunset at BaganSunset gazing - 5 May 2015B&W red comic effect - Bagan templesparasol shop - Nyaung U

Where?   Just outside Mandalay, near the town of Amarapura on Taungthaman Lake.

What?     The U Bein Bridge – the world’s oldest and longest teakwood bridge

When Burma’s capital city was moved to nearby Mandalay around 1859, U Bein, the mayor who served under Burma’s King Bodawpaya arranged for the dismantling and recycling of teak from the palace of Amarapura to construct this 1.2 km long bridge across the lake. With the exception of some more recent replacement concrete pylons, the bridge’s columns and planks are made entirely of teak.

The bridge serves commuters in the area, particularly during the peak hours around dawn and dusk.

Today was a Saturday, and a significant day in the Buddhist calendar. Everyone was out for the day and a gentle jostle was had by all as we crossed over the waterway and came back facing into the setting sun. Look Mum, no safety rails!U Bein Bridge 11U Bein Bridge 10

U Bein Bridge 9

U Bein Bridge 7U Bein Bridge 6

U Bein Bridge 5

U Bein Bridge 4U Bein Bridge 3U Bein Bridge 2U Bein Bridge 1

 

Saturday was waking to the sound of chanting, bare feet and temples at Mandalay Hill, stairs and stairs down through shrines and stalls. It was Mandalay Palace and a longer stay there than planned. It was further unsuccessful ATM attempts with the travel card, then reading the fine print on the bank documents to discover that Myanmar is one of the countries where its use is restricted. It was heat and more heat with no sign of rain. It was keeping hydrated with water. It was burnt feet as we ascended concrete steps to an ancient monastery in Amarapura. It was a walk across a lake on a teak bridge and tired legs and feet to bed.

Mandalay Hill - Sat 2 May 2015 - 2Mandalay Hill - Sat 2 May 2015 - 5Mandalay Hill - Sat 2 May 2015 4Mandalay Hill - Sat 2 May 2015 - 1Mandalay Hill - Sat 2 May 2015 - 3

For the first couple of nights in Nai Yang Beach, we ate in an open air restaurant on the beach. Last night, with a storm on the way, we chose a place with undercover options. The lightning show did not disappoint.

It’s been a relaxing day today. Breakfast on the beach with a lizard as companion, a ten-minute trip to Nai Thon beach for lunch and a change of scenery.

Tomorrow we will be on our way to the airport by 5.15 am to travel to Mandalay via Bangkok. This afternoon, we’ll take another beach swim in water so salty that it’s impossible not to float in it.

Evening storm - Nai Yang - 29 April 2015Lizard - Nai Yang beach - 30 April 2015Frangipani - Nai Thon BeachNai Thon Beach - 30 April 2015