Myanmar – First Impressions
The traffic snarls as we drive into Yangon, even with the ban on two wheelers within city limits, are reminiscent of Bangalore. But the roads are surprisingly wide and well laid (mostly). And they are garbage free! Pristine lakes and gardens abound. Splotchy red betel stains on sidewalks are familiar. Spotless public toilets, not.
Vehicles with right hand steering ply on the right side of the road! Why? Because an eccentric general decided one 1970 day, to change the (colonial) direction of traffic from left to right. Imperial units, eschewed by most ex British colonies however, still remain in use.
Wallets are boldly stuck to the back of men’s longyis (traditional wraparound attire) in an assertion of safety while the multiple coils of barbed wire adorning high walls of affluent (military?) homes belie the claim.
It’s been five days since we landed in Myanmar. We haven’t visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, and we are not due to reach Bagan until the day after tomorrow. And yet, we are blown away by everything we have seen and experienced so far….quirky contradictions and all.
We just had a half day in Yangon before hopping on a flight to Heho and continuing onward to Inle lake, ringed by the greenest hills and with enough to keep us captivated between one legged Intha fishermen, a large farmers market and some stunning ruins to rival those in Cambodia.
Mandalay, the former capital, feels more crowded and grittier. Its market strikingly different from the farmers gathering in Nam Pan (Inle). We are now on the Irrawaddy Explorer, on a slow cruise downstream back to Yangon through a magical pagoda studded landscape.
It is most definitely not all exotic romance. Domestic airports are stark evidence of stalled progress. As is pathetic internet connectivity. A vast majority of the population is very poor, but the poverty is accompanied by unexpected (by me) grace and dignity. And faith.
Poised on the cusp of momentous change, the hope and excitement is palpable. There is much expectation from ‘Ameya’ Su (Kyi).
Stay tuned for more from Myanmar.
In the meantime, wish you all a merry Christmas and a wonderful new year!