Tag Archives: goats

Day 12 – Mons, Monks & Monkeys

23 Mar

For some reason, my mind thought that 5:30am was a good time to wake up … two days in a row, does not make a pattern.  As the real start was due at 8:00am, this meant plenty of time for breakfast!  The made to order waffles and honey were fantastic, and went nicely with the bacon and toast.  I couldn’t get more un-Burmese than that!

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The view from OK Kyaung

We headed first to the temple of Ok Kyaung, which afforded spectacular views of a large number of other stupas and temples, after climbing only a short flight of stairs.  George’s “cousin” from yesterday was nowhere to be seen, but plenty of others had filled her spot.  I started a photo taking competition (starring me and some bricks) in which Karen, Albery and Ethna all took part.  Results will be announced later.

A short hop to the Dhamma Ya Zi Ka Pagoda, which stood in front, saw us do the now traditional clockwise tour of the outside.  This one had a large golden dome, shrouded in bamboo scaffolding, and lots of smaller golden stupas sitting on strikingly red bricks.  Instead of having the traditional 4 Buddhas, this one had space for 5 – in preparation for the coming of the next Buddha – due in about 2,600 years time. (Every 5000 years – the last Buddha was born in 600BC).  Now that’s future planning!  Also around here were a camera crew and a French presenter practicing her English speech.  That doesn’t sound like a great combination.  And it wasn’t.  Inside, next to yet another Buddha shrine, was a glass object bejewelled with rubies and sapphires, which would normally shine at the very top of a pagoda.

We moved on to the local village of West Pwazaw and met with the former village chief who was obviously a wealthy farmer.  He employed 8 people and seemed to enjoy not having to do much himself!  They farmed sour plums and we witnessed how they crushed and separated the kernels which are then sold to the Chinese for £6/kilo for unknown reasons – they really don’t know what they do with them!  They also grow peanuts, sesame, beans, pumpkin, corn and cotton.  There was a demonstration of how to spin the cotton into yarn, and of course an opportunity to purchase the final product.  Despite the rest of the village owning enough cows to keep Tesco in beef burgers for months, this family only owned two cows – because they also owned a tractor!  With 5 children, 2 sons were still at home, two daughters are nurses (one still in the village) and the fifth was obviously not important (or I didn’t listen).   Lacquerware production was also on show.  It’s made from bamboo, horsehair and the sap of the lacquer tree.  I wondered why all the horses had short hair.  Funnily enough, it’s “lucky” to buy two, rather than one.

After being offered some rather tasteless tea (or maybe it was just my cold), we walked around the village – highlights included a man painting a wall without moving the bricks in his way, or indeed, finishing building the wall; a pen full of goats who wanted to like my hand – little do they know what I have in store for their friends on Saturday; a woman with the largest cigar on the planet; and a man who made bamboo cages that confuddle George – apparently they were rubbish bins.  We saw bamboo being split, some friendly cows and a cactus hedge.

Leaving the village behind, we attempted to document any remaining stupas that we’d not yet seen.  This started with the tallest (Thatbyinnyu Temple) and then Nanpaya Temple – with a very hot tiled floor outside, I was back to doing the Burmese Waltz across the ground in bare feet.  They should at least have a bucket of water on standby, if not a full first aid team. Inside were four columns with intricate Hindu inspired carvings and a missing Buddha on the raised middle platform.  This is different from most temples, in that they normally have four Buddhas facing every direction.

Outside the temple were some ogres and haspa (sp?) “curvings” (sic), as well as a good assortment of children trying to flog some postcards.  “Very nice, but I don’t need any” was a standard John2 response.  They’ve got to try refining their technique, as the bargaining reached $1million at one point.

In the next door temple, we had four large Buddhas, who looked like they had forgotten the dimensions of the building they were in.  As a result of their size, they look down on the visitors, apparently in reference to the sorrow of the king and queen that had them built.  Saving on the traders here, they had a large gold pot where you could just throw your money away.  Unfortunately, I was suckered in on the way out – another sand painting bought!

Back at the hotel, I had a chance to freshen up and eat (chicken and cheeseburger and fries) before heading off to Mount Popa with Tom and John.  We ducked the Explore version for a local taxi (saving $17 each!).  The journey took an hour, but it completed all possible methods of transport during this trip.  And it had working air con!

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Not the real Mount Popa

On arrival at Mount Popa we faced a 777 step covered climb – 1/3 in shoes, and 2/3 in bare feet.  The steps were full of local tourists and macaques (monkeys).  Fortunately the tourists had been toilet trained.  The macaques had not.  The monkeys were scavengers and would happily grab any food from your hand.   They also didn’t respect the Buddhas.  A team of cleaners managed to mostly keep the tiled steps clean and a group were feeding the monkeys at the bottom to try and encourage them to stay there, rather than pester tourists all the way up.  This didn’t work.  There were two sections of steep metal steps which had obviously been frequented by the monkeys more than the cleaners.  Razor wire was used to try to keep the monkeys away from key areas, but they didn’t seem bothered with it at all, using it to climb up and through.

At the top, it was a bit confusing, as there was a collection of shrines, no open space, lots of plaques and lots of people.  We worked our way around, admiring the views from all sides and were asked to star in a few photos by a monk.  We then persuaded a monk to take part in the photos as well.  Fair’s fair.  Anyone can sponsor anything for any reason – a few restaurants had plaques – from Beijing and San Francisco!

As a side note, we didn’t actually climb Mount Popa, but the rocky outcrop, half its height, officially called Popa Taung Kalat.  But known to the casual tourist as Mount Popa.

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Monks slapping monkeys

Descending and using all the available wet wipes to clean the monkey pee and monkey poo off our feet, we rejoined the taxi driver for the trip back to the hotel in Bagan.  My Pringles and Haribo were cracked open and eagerly finished off by traveller Tom.  I may have helped a bit.  The road back had some roadworks, the men making the tar and the women carrying it to the road for it to be applied by hand by more men.  Time consuming work!  In the middle of nowhere, we also ran the gauntlet of some people, mostly young, begging along the road.  They did this by trying to run in front of the cars to get them to slow down.  We sped up.

After dressing for dinner (well everyone else did – I put clean socks on), we met in the hotel foyer and the group flag photo was done.  Hotel staff are better photo takers than I am!  Disappointed to find that I’d been sold a dirty flag though!  George seemed to have a problem knowing which way up it went!

For our final group meal, we headed to the Star Beam restaurant, and after the meal Graham led the group thanks with a speech he’d spent all afternoon preparing for.  George replied.  “Yes. Yes.”  I hadn’t appreciated this was his catchphrase until this moment.

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Cassandra then led us on an ice cream hunt ending, very easily, with a peach and guava variety.  Delice. An early night as we all have planes to catch tomorrow – some of the group are heading to the beach extension option, and the rest of us have a couple of days in Yangon before our flight home.

Still plenty to come from me …

Day 10 – Valley of the Assassins – Alamut Castle

16 May

Toast and jam again.  Life is good.

So was being able to fit the carpet in my bag and still close it.

First stop today was the Azadi monument on Azadi Square. Actually it’s  a roundabout (translated for the non Dundonians) with 5 lanes of traffic circulating. George and I braved the crossing by stepping boldly out into the middle of the moving traffic – right behind our guide.  I narrowly avoided getting my legs crushed on several occasions but made it to the safety of the grass verge to frame a photo of the Liberty monument,  the mountains and the Milad Tower (432m). The monument was built in 1975 ish by the last Shah and renamed after the revolution (1979). We made it back to the bus with legs intact but several horns blaring, even though we used the zebra crossing this time.  Apparently they mean nothing.

Joining one of the many expressways out of town we soon left the traffic behind although the 36°C wasn’t going anywhere quickly.  As shorts are strongly discouraged here I ended up melting into the minibus seat.

Discovered that the reason for this was that the air conditioning was broken and we stopped off at a small town garage in Karaj to get it fixed.  In the hour that we waited, the farmers were keen to visit the local agricultural engineering college.  We didn’t manage to get in at the first gate and gave up walking down the main street to find another entrance.  Caroline was distracted by the smell of lavender and found a picture of her own Kent lavender farm in a book offered to her by the seller. She took some oil and other samples to have it analysed at home for quality purposes. Also found that you can get lavender ice cream, and that it is one of the ingredients of coca cola!

Fresh dates and bananas kept us going until Caroline brought out the marijuana seeds that she’d bought locally, and a homemade flapjack from Kent. You can guess what went down best.  Slightly salty, the local birds apparently like the seeds as well.  Max and the bus driver remained as the control group.

Aydin described the Hashshahshins (try your best Sean Connory on that one) as we climbed and then descended into their valley – the Valley of the Assassins. Also gave their name to hashish. (Still no affect.) Worryingly, 2% of modem day Iranians still belong to this Ismaili religion who believe in only 6 imams.

Many, many hairpin bends later we arrived in the village of Moallem Kelayeh for lunch. One chicken kebab (skewer) and yet more rice later and we decided to walk through the village allowing the bus to pick us up.

The village wasn’t in the best condition, and a large hole in the mud above the village gave a bit of a clue that it wasn’t the most stable. One of the shops sold cowboy hats!

Next stop was Alamut Castle.  Started with a walk up a big hill with lots of steps that were too big for the average person. The hill itself looked like something out of the Lion King, but I avoided bursting into song. Almost.

Various gates, fires and towers later and we reached a large hole in the rock which gave a view on all sides and was nicely shaded. Fantastic views down the valley really gave the impression that this was the chief stronghold of the Assassins.

Further up meant climbing some wooden rungs held together by rusty scaffolding. I have developed a new phobia. However the top was well worth it. Although completely in ruin, the basis of the 200 soldiers that lived here could be easily seen.

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However we spent most of the time on top taking photographs of ourselves and the other two (count them) tourists who were there. The mountains, castle and valley also featured occasionally.

Walking down we passed a photogenic goat and goat herder, his argumentative woman and a white donkey. Back at the bus we also met a shepherd with a gammy knee and a kettle.

One hot chocolate and another flapjack later and we were off retracing our steps down the valley again. This time to the village of Zarabad. A quick dash through the town for the photos before the light left the sky, resulted in a visit to a beautiful golden shrine, before returning to find that the bus had gone.

Thankfully it wasn’t so far away and I joined the others in our homestay for the night. Two rooms – one for male and one for female, although the driver and local guide managed to find a room to themselves.

We were fed with the same stuff we’d been eating as a starter the rest of the nights, but also including the rather tasty bottom-of-the-pot rice.

Max had to apologise for a pink silk liner. Only £4 from Blacks in a sale (for ladies).

An early night.  Hopefully the gauze over the windows will keep the bugs out and the draft in. Sweating already.