Last night was a disaster in so much as sleep was concerned. At the turn of midnight I gave up trying to sleep. My body was aching and the bowels would not hold up either. I could not fathom why. I short listed the reasons as the dinner at the Hot Pot diner or the ‘traditional massage’ I had been to last evening. May be it was a combination of both. The young girl at the massage centre did such funny things to and with the legs, shoulder and neck that, after some time, my entire body went numb. I lay there helpless for the most part as she went about completing the one hour session. May be it is the technique they employed to ensure that clients do not act funny. Now you must be wondering why I asked for a girl to do the massage, if intentions were honourable? Well, not only should intentions be honourable to you, but to the service provider as well. At the hotel where I stayed in Mandalay, one of the services they claimed to provide was massage of various types from traditional to oil to aroma therapy. I went to the designated centre on the first evening of my stay and asked for a male masseur. They looked kind of queerly at me and asked me if I was gay! Now you know why it will be girl masseurs for me; it has to be them, at least to make clear which side of the wicket I play! Well, as I came back from the massage and had a hot wash I felt a few aches. The two tall glasses of Avocado juice and Strawberry shake may have juicily shaken up my insides to warrant frequent visits to the corner room. However, I believe that everything that happens, happens for a good reason. I sat up and did my posts and finished all documentation. I had completed 2 weeks of the expedition and all had gone off well this far during the 5520 kms I had covered.
When I was almost at the end of breakfast I saw a very Indian looking gentleman walk into the dining hall. I had seen him in the lobby of the hotel last evening too. I went up to him, as he was helping himself to the breakfast fare, and introduced myself. He identified himself as Capt J. Verma of Ocean Sparkle, a company based in Hyderabad, while he himself was based in Mumbai. We exchanged professional notes and I left him to enjoy breakfast, hoping to catch up later in the evening.
Tun Tun was at the hotel just as I came out of the dining hall. He had chosen to leave at 7.30 am for local sightseeing for two reasons; to beat the traffic rush and the intensity of the Sun. As the morning wore on I realised that he had chosen wisely. It became so hot by 11 am that I had to virtually drag myself around. I could then imagine what the weather would be like when I returned to Myanmar on the return leg in May. Statue of the reclining Buddha was the first to be visited. Tun Tun told me that this one in Yangon is the third largest in the world at 70m by 18m. The original statue was of the seated Buddha and was built in 1907. Since there was no roof over the statue weather played havoc over a period of time and the structure had to be pulled down in 1959. This was replaced by the current statue of the reclining Buddha, where one can see all the 108 inscriptions on the feet.
The Shwedagon pagoda is the most sacred pagoda in Mynamar and is reputed to be more than 2600 years old. The 114 acre site on Singuttara Hill in Ynagon is an experience not to be missed. Entrance fee to the Shwedagon pagoda is $8. As I entered the premises exiting the elevator my attention fell on the massive Bodhi Tree with a golden statue of Buddha at the base of it. Tun Tun told me that the sapling of the tree was brought from Bodh Gaya. The stupa was raised from 8 m to the present height of 100 m over the past few centuries. It is today the second tallest in the world, the first being in Bagan. The stupa contains relics of the Buddhas like the hair. The base of the stupa is made of bricks covered with gold plates. Gold plates can be bought in the premises for $700 per plate. I saw proud donors posing with the gold plates they had donated, which is meant to earn them good deeds for the next life. The crown of the stupa is encrusted with over 5000 diamonds and 2300 rubies. The top of the pagoda is adorned with a 76 carat diamond. The pagoda is an agglomeration of colourful temples, stupas and statues that reflect art, culture and religion over 2500 years. The four entrances leading to the pagoda have vendors dispensing various books, charms, offerings, images of the Buddha, gold leaf, etc.
Tun Tun took me to the Scott market, which is a favourite place with rich Chinese who trade in gems such as Jade. I took a round of the shopping complex and saw the large number of gems and jewellery shops, artisans vending their craft, intricately handcrafted wooden pieces for sale, traditional clothes and western for women and souvenir traders enticing prospective customers with descriptions of the ‘antiques’ they had on offer. Next on the list was the St Marys Church established in 1899, which laid claim to being the largest Catholic Church in the whole of Myanmar.
Yangon River was muddy at the time of visit. River cruises are offered to enjoy the sunset. A 5000 kyat river cruise has food and beverages attached to the deal. The river is the confluence of two others and is an important trading port. The container terminal of the port, the container freight stations and inland container depots are operated by the Myanmar Industrial Port authority.
Botataung pagoda is on the banks of the Yangon River and is believed to be as old as the Shwedagon pagoda. The pagoda is hollow within, as against the solid brick Shwedagon pagoda, and contains the hair relic of the Buddha. The pagoda is itself styled as a maze.
The hot, hot weather called for a local ice cream just after the Botataung pagoda and a cool drink just before enjoying the City Hall and its precincts. The cool drink contained, floer stems, bread, coconut milk, sabudana and vermicelli. It was so refreshingly cool that I had to summon all my will power to resist a second helping. However, I did not refuse when the vendor offered to top up the vanishing portion with coconut milk. The City Hall is the seat of the municipal council and has been the focus of many demonstrations, sometimes violent. Therefore, the Park that overlooks the Hall is severely fortified and all except one gate is closed. The Park has the Independence monument in its confines and has many colonial buildings around it like the High Court and the Main Post office. The Sule pagoda, almost a replica of the Shwedagon pagoda is within a stone’s throw away from the City Hall and the Park. Tun Tun told me that colonial buildings are slowly, but surely, making way for the real estate developers from Singapore and Korea. Examples do dot the central Yangon landscape.
I returned to the hotel after fuelling and washing the car. While waiting for the car to be washed Tun Tun took me to a small eatery in the neighbourhood for a cheap, but extremely tasty, lunch of fish curry and rice. It is customary for a soup to be served along with the meal. The pumpkin soup was exceptionally yummy. My slurps attracted the attention of the lady who ran the eatery and she gave me a second helping saying, ‘free’! After I had done full justice to the meal jaggery balls were placed before me to wash down the fat.
I barely dragged myself back to the room. The heat had sapped my energy to the last, especially since I had not slept well the previous night.