Up before dawn
We are both at sixes and sevens regarding what day it is and whether it’s morning, noon or nighttime. Today’s travel arrangements did nothing at all to alleviate that as a 6am flight demanded a 4.30am pick up from our hotel, and that meant a 3.30am alarm. I slept very little but needless to say was asleep when the alarm went off. We packed our bags, collected our boxed breakfast and met Sanda to drive to the airport. Since there were several flights leaving around the same time, it was a busy place at 5am this morning.
We said goodbye to her for now – she’ll meet us in Mandalay – and waited by gate 4 for our plane to board.
It was a small to medium turbo prop and around half full for the hour and a bit flight to Bagan. Some were going on further, though most seemed to be getting off with us.
We had a breakfast tray with a fruit salad and a couple of pastries. The cake was a little dry, like a Victoria Sandwich without the jam, and what I thought was a croissant turned out to have meatpaste in the middle. Odd, that.
We thought we were to sample another oddity when the cabin steward handed around some sweets by the name of “Pizza Candy”. Well, you never know, do you? I spotted mine had the magic word “mango” on it and sure enough, the only pizza characteristic was that it was shaped like a triangular slice of pizza.
Unfortunately the journey time wasn’t long enough to sleep and we were soon coming into land over a dry and dusty landscape.
As we made our way into the terminal building, we eyed those suitcases. Were our two amongst them? If they were, then please, don’t mix them up with those which are being loaded for the next leg.
There was no need to worry. After a short wait, a young man appeared carrying our two suitcases and calling our name. He handed them over personally, checking the baggage receipt against the number on the label. I guess there were days when baggage handling used to be like this everywhere?
It took little more than ten minutes to reach the riverside and our home for the next three nights. Before we could turn around, our cases were gone from the boot and we were following after the two gentlemen who had swung them onto their shoulders like they were weightless (mine isn’t!)
The neighbours were going about their business as usual, meanwhile.
It’s now a little past 7.30am, though it feels like lunchtime. Our room isn’t quite ready, so we hang around in the bar for a while and take the opportunity to look around before anyone else arrives.
As well as the comfortable bar, with rather interesting cushions on each chair, there’s a pleasant sun deck outdoors.
There’s a very small swimming pool too! (Did you say you’ve seen bigger bathtubs? Surely not!!)
The whole ship is elegantly furnished and very peaceful. There’s interesting passing traffic, too.
Meanwhile, a few others have come on board, we’ve met the manager, Tim, and settled into our room nicely. At nine, we go to reception as suggested and head on out with the guide, Aung, to explore a temple and to visit a lacquer workshop.
As we drive through the small town of Bagan, we remark on how different this is from Yangon. The rapid developments haven’t quite reached here yet, though it won’t be long, I’m sure.
The whole countryside around here is littered with stupas, Some are really small but others, well…
The Shwezigon pagoda was very much like the Shwedigon pagoda in Yangon (not only in name) and once more we were walking around open mouthed and wondering just what the best photograph could be to capture the magnificence of the place. Unfortunately, we were without our Sanda, who would have explained things so clearly and given us a first class background to it all, but never mind. We listened hard to Aung, our guide from the Ananda, who did his best against a little competition as his group got to know one another.
Those stones were pretty hot on which to walk barefoot and so we did our best to hurry from one cool spot to the next, having learned from Sanda that the white tiles were the coolest to stand on.
Once again, we needed to be reminded to look at the entrance hall and not focus completely on the Buddha; there is always so much to see here.
Some had come by horse and cart – yes indeed, life here in Bagan is very different from Yangon.
Our next stop was a lacquer workshop and one of those places we don’t enter willingly but are generally taken by some tour or other. This one wasn’t too much of a hard sell and was genuinely interesting. The young man making the coiled bamboo framework which was to be the foundation for the lacquer process was keen to show us the principles and we were a willing audience. He was very skilled.
In fact, watching the young men and women complete the various stages of a fine piece of lacquerwork was key to understanding why this is a pricey and very time consuming business. I watched this particular young woman and marvelled at how she could sit like that for any length of time!
A great deal of skill was needed to refine the design ready for gilding and this team of women were completing the finer points of the pattern. Each one was using a pencil-style tool to scratch the design and had a small stone on hand to maintain the sharp point.
Whilst they were working on that aspect of the design, across the way, another woman was carefully applying a layer of lacquer to an object using her fingers.
It’s a messy business isn’t it – and some of the items have more than fifteen layers of lacquer applied, which explains why the best pieces are so expensive.
In between each layer, in this workshop the items are placed into the temperature and humidity controlled cellar, which we were able to see from the top of the stairs.
The finished objects were on sale – now there’s a surprise – in the shop adjacent to the workshop. I really liked this arrangement of cups on the stand by the till and much preferred them to the more elaborate items further in.
We weren’t really interested in making a purchase but were pleased to look around and admire the fine craftsmanship on view. I appreciated the arrangements of the shapes too, for after all, we don’t always have to bring one of everything back home with us, do we?
Having finished there, it was lunchtime and time to return to the boat which was anchored on the riverside. As we did, we said hello to the neighbours again, who were hard at work as always.
We’ll continue the story of the afternoon and evening will continue in the next post.