Connect the dots

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Stupa-fied: Part 1

Getting from one place to another is a bit more complicated in Myanmar. Just because a plane flies in one direction from one city to another, doesn't mean that it makes the trip back. Also, in the case of getting to Mrauk U via Sittwe, transport by road is strictly forbidden to tourists (something about a military base on the horrendous roads).  Yes, a plane ride followed by what could be a long boat trip (as in our case, 7 hours). Not to mention, the hassle of hiring a private boat. The touts get you right as you land at the airport. We initially refused, but anxious to save time and just get there, we haggled him to a price that we thought was reasonable and left almost immediately. But before you give up, know that your efforts will be rewarded. The difficulty in getting to Mrauk U means that not many tourists venture here - approximately about 3,000 per year! 

Established as the capital of the Arakan kingdom in 1433, Mrauk U was an important trading hub for goods within Burma such as elephants and rice and Persia and India for textiles, spices and cotton. As the kingdom prospered, they were able to pay homage to their faith by building countless temples and stupas (or zedis) that dot the Rakhine hills. What makes Mrauk U even more charming is the fact that daily village life continues between these striking structures.

You can explore by bike, but in April, when the temperatures can hit 40deg C, a bike is an invitation for heat exhaustion. Take a horse cart instead! This served two-fold: one, we had a nice shady spot for Alex and two, she had twice the number of companions (human and animal) to amuse her when she had had enough of the temples. 

The big Buddha at Shittaung Paya

Spiral through the Buddhas in this massive temple

Acrobats at the Mahamuni Paya

The colorful tiles decorate the walls of the Laungbyanpauk Paya

Kothaung Paya's stupas lined up like pawns

The best place to eat is at Moe Cherry where side dishes, enough to feed an entire village, accompany your main as well as unlimited heaping spoonfuls of rice.

If you can, try to schedule the trip so that you can take the speed boat at least one way. Instead of 7 hours, it's a trim 2. Unfortunately, we had a breakdown on the way back which only added more time on the already painfully slow journey. A bamboo pole had gotten caught in the propeller of the boat, causing the engine to come to a complete stop. Lucky for us, a French couple, also on their way back, spotted us and invited us to continue with them to Sittwe. And as there were touts in the beginning, so shall they be in the end - we were asked by the French couple's boat "representative" to pay extra for riding in his boat! After explaining that we had already paid our boatman and that we were just being rescued by this couple, he still insisted that we pay extra for a boat that was already fully paid. We finally refused for the millionth time and headed into the tuk-tuk to make our message clear.

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