My friends as usual asked me as May month was approaching whether I had any plans to go on holidays. My reply was a very emphatic “yes” because I myself was very much excited than any one else. I was making plans to visit Burma. Among Indians, vacation means visiting some exotic countries and merry making. Many would like to Go to Thailand or Malayasia or Singapore or even to Hong Kong.
I have no complaint against it. But my choice of place really flabbergasted most of them, “ Burma!?” they said with an exclamation mark and also with a question mark. Many of them must have thought that I had gone nuts. Or else why should one spend huge amount to see a country like Burma which was until 1948 a colonial country like India and thereafter under military dictatorship. But I was not amused by their opinion. Yes, I would also say that it was a strange place for an Indian to go holidaying. But I was bent upon going there and called my German friend to join me. She likes anything which helps us to discover. She readily agreed. I got prepared a customized trip for both of us.
The journey to Burma takes a person to fly from Mangalore to Bangalore to Bangkok to Yangon or Rangoon. A very long journey. I had to break my journey in Bangalore and Bangkok. In Bangkok, I did not feel like going into the city for a whirlwind tour of Bangkok which many do.
Burma was ruled by kings and by British. They introduced English based education in Myanmar. English teachers were got from England to teach. But after 1948, when the westerners left Burma, the Burmese thought it fit to close all schools which are run to teach English. Thus English was thrown out of the Country along with that I think even western scientific knowledge and management methods. There may be people who may not agree with me but I should say that things are changing since when the country started cultivating democratic values under the leadership of Madam Daw Aung San Su Kyi. I have already written on this highly respected lady who always
change brought about by force will not last long but if brought through non violence means it will be everlasting. My admiration for lady can be read in the blog I wrote which you may find if you go back to my previous blogs. ( ref blog – Frail yet strong – Daw Aung San Suu Kyi dated June 30, 2011 ) She is popularly called as Daw or the Lady. The people of Burma have pinned complete hope on her and they say that she will transform Burma as a great nation. She has understood the importance of education and that is why she has seen that each and every village has a government primary school. They have a program called “back to school”. This program is being assiduously being implemented by the Government of the Lady.
I went to see that gate of the gate of the house from where the lady used to address people. Her Party called National Democratic Front. It is written is bold letters on the gate only. I think now the gate si a tourist halt! I heard the atrocities committed by the military. I was told that the military has unpopular. The officials holding high positions have become landlords or builders or business men. Nobody could raise their voice against the military. One person told me that when they wanted to build New Bagan, (Bagan is a very important place in Burma) they asked the people to shift to another place and mercilessly evicted the people so that the military could have a new city. Freedom of expression was completely non est. One guide told me that they are now occupying small house as the military had forced his parents to vacate from the property inherited by them from their ancestors. He said the military sued to torture and even kill people. I did not make any further studies on this. But he told me that the internet traffic speed is so low that they feel like throwing away the PC but it was not so for some privileged few. Burma according to me is a very poor country. The gap between the rich and the poor is enormous. I think from my observation that human trafficking is very high in that country. But the people to whom I spoke said that in another 10 or twenty years the face of Burma will change as sanctions imposed against Burmese government is being relaxed slowly by many countries. Funds have started coming there and shortly perhaps the country will become like any other developing country.
I should say about the dressing habits of the Burmese. I am not new to Lungies. A traditional dress in Kerala. There men and women wear it. They are always spotless white. But in Burma it ahs stripes. That is the national dress. I was wondering why the younger generation does not wear jeans which is now the most popular dess all over the word. He said that if they wear jeans in villages their neighbours would make fun of them. The person who told me this admired my jeans. Perhaps I think he would have been pleased if I had given it to him. That does not mean that they are oblivious of these things. There are malls in Yangon
We went on a six nights seven days trip. When we landed at Yangon it was about early in the morning. We straightaway started sight seeing so to make full use of our time. One thing I forgot to mention is that I am a vegetarian and my friend always eats what I eat. That means both of us were vegetarians. I was wondering whether it would pose a problem for us. But it proved to be otherwise, Of course not that easy as one has to search for such restaurants or make the chef cook special food for you!!
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I came to know that Burmese get their education in monasteries rather than in formal schools. This system has really pushed the entire country to over 100 years back. This is my assessment. I think this is what the military regime which wanted as it helps them to keep the population under its grip. I have nothing against monastery teachings but it should be simultaneously done with modern education. Here many children do not go to formal schools at all. They stop their education once they come out of the monastery training. I was surprised to know this practice. But person who told me this explained that there is no need to get modern system of education because Buddha’s teachings embrace each and everything under the sun. He says that whether of human beings or of plants or for that matter of anything which is in the realm of this world, one has answer in the Buddhist scriptures and teachings He gave me the example of pregnancy among women. He says Buddha has explained how a woman conceives, how the fetus grows etc. How to take care of the pregnant woman and the child. All scientific questions have answers in the Buddhist scriptures. There are research centers where studies are made on Buddha’s thoughts and teachings. They feel one can get answers for any doubt. Let me say here only that there is a place called the Kuthodaw pagoda in Mandalay comprises of a gilded pagoda, hundreds of shrines housing inscribed marble slabs and several pavilions. The pagoda is also called “the world’s largest book”, named after the 729 marble slabs inscribed with Buddhist teachings. Surrounding the pagoda are 729 shrines each containing a single marble slab inscribed in both sides in Burmese script. Together, the 729 slabs are called “the world’s largest book”, each stone slab representing one of its pages. The slabs are inscribed with texts of the Sutta Pitaka, the Vinaya Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka, the three parts that make up the Tripitaka, the teachings of the Buddha written in ancient Pali language. Now Pali language is taught like Sanskrit is taught in India.
I felt that there is great divide between rich and poor. This can be appreciated from the number of eating places found on the road. It was for the first time I saw such eating places. They are almost like coffee houses in the open with menu cards exhibited. Of course these eating houses take encroach on the pedestrians space on the road. But people do not appear to have any objections and the way they take food there chatting is a scene worth noting.
Inle Lake is a very important destination in Burma or Myanmar. To be honest I was not aware of such a place before I went there. A very large expanse of water which we were told was earlier about 13.5 miles long and 7 miles wide but now due to several reasons mostly man made., the lake area is shrinking and there do not appear to be any efforts to prevent it. I would not blame the Burmese Government because they have a bigger battle to fight that is of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy so also health. I will be dealing with it later.
The lake is interspersed with stilt house villages, floating gardens even Buddhists temples, which we did not visit, There are several motor boats fitted with single cylinder inboard diesel engines and flat-bottomed which are called as skiffs to navigate in the entire lake area. I like the sound emitted by one person wide wooden boats fitted with out board propellers emitting noisy whine. I have recorded it for its unique sound. Day I and day out, one could hear that sound. There arehotels, resorts and hotels in the stilt. We took up a room in one of such hotels. It was very nice place and one could have beautiful view of the lake including sun set in the evening. Most important activity to be seen in the lake is the fishermen fishing with the one legged paddling technique. That is standing at the stern on one leg wrapped around the paddle to drive the blade through the water in a snake like motion. This I is not seen anywhere in the world.. The lake contains floating water hyacinth which pleases one’s eyes. They have adapted their agricultural methods to maximally utilize the lake’s fertility byplanting water grown gardenswhich are created by floating beds of the water hyacinth, marshvegetation and soils and anchored to the lakes shallowfloor by way of bamboo rods