Pagodas, Stupas, and a River Cruise
The hot air balloon lifted off just minutes before the sun rose over the plain of Bagan, Myanmar. Emerging from the night below us were 2200 Buddhist pagodas (temples) and stupas (spherical structures usually housing sacred relics associated with the Buddha) scattered across the landscape. Built between the 11th and 13th centuries — numbering 10,000 at the height of Bagan’s prominence as the region’s capital — some structures are huge and stand solitary; others are often grouped in clusters of three to ten. A few prominent structures covered fully or partially in gold leaf and paint captured our attention as they glittered in the sun’s first rays. Some are being restored, and others continue to crumble back into the dust. The sky was dotted with 16 balloons sailing over this sea of architectural treasures. A jaw-dropping experience.
After Bagan,we boarded the seven-cabin Princess craft for a two-day trip up the grand Irrawaddy River to legendary Mandalay, stopping along the way at two rural villages. Residents of one are farmers and also harvest the sap from date palms to make gur, a popular sugary confection in South Asia; the other produced beautiful clay pottery. Both villages exported their products nationally and abroad. We visited a one-room school house with six grades; some students were paying attention to their teachers, and others were playing around. Kids are kids everywhere.
The yellow stuff on people’s cheeks and foreheads is tanika, a powder made from the bark of the tree that is applied almost universally to prevent sunburn.