So, I simmered on a gentle heat like something you simmer in a pot (totally forgotten anything I cook that I leave simmer?) while Katherine played with the air con all night. We didn’t realise that I was too hot and she was too cold. Oh the joys of being so sleep deprived as to not even talk to each other.
Up and motivated for a trip to one of the three sites in Myanmar listed collectively as ‘The Ancient Cities of Pyu’ in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Sri Ksetra (Fabulous City) or Thayekhittiya (as one might find it in the lonely planet or a map) is by far the easiest of the three sites to reach and with our rule of visiting over half of the monuments in a group listing to make it count, this place was definitely on the itinerary.
However, we were not about to miss an opportunity at seeing the early morning market. We left the lodge at 08:45 and the sun was already casting long shadows and raising the temperature to the low thirties. But, hey, wow! The stalls along the river were selling teak wood and plastic containers and baskets The latter being purchased to bring in to the shaded market stalls to purchase… Anything you bloody well wanted or needed!!! There were rows upon rows of fruits and veg, then household goods, toiletries, DIY materials, bedel nuts & tobacco, baked goods, rices/flours/nuts/lentils, spices, pottery clay, drinks and clothes. Then we wandered down the main street parallel to the river having exited the shady bit, to see much of the same, but also flowers and a lot more fish & meat markets. The place was a dream come through for anyone wanting to partake in MasterChef and the atmosphere (and smells) was electric.
We caught a local bus/pick-up truck to go to the outside of the city and convinced the driver to take us the rest of the way to Sri Ksetra for 5,000 kyat (pronounced “cat”) which is a little over £3. We thought we were doing really well having practiced our Burmese, bought plenty of water, sun cream and a route for the ancient city. Oh the torture! Oh the heat! Off we went in the now 42*C heat to explore the area. Never again shall we make such a mistake. We passed by what was thought to be a palace and a recent unearthing of what is they think a tower and passed the Rahanta Gate to the Rahanta Cave Temple. It is thought to date to the Bagan period and last repaired in the 1920s, with eight Buddha images lined along the south wall. Next to this temple was a big pond, not mentioned in the lonely planet, but should be there as a ‘this place can be used to top up a life straw for idiots who are walking in the blistering heat’. The water was incredibly clear, had beautiful lotus plants growing in it, fish swimming around and local lads swimming under the shade of an overhanging tree – a welcome relief after an hour of walking. One of them waded out to the other side of the pond to find some lotus pods and having seen them on sale in Yangon yesterday we hand-gestured if we could try them. They are very much like peanuts once you bite in to the fleshy pod. And off we went, with the next landmark visible through the trees. The Bawbawgyi Paya (Big Grandfather Stupa) is Thayekhittiya’s most impressive site: a 45m cylindrical stupa with a hti on its top. It’s amongst the oldest and least renovated Pyu sights, dating back to the 4th Century. It’s the prototype of many Myanmar pagodas. Thus, we sat down and enjoyed some cookie dough while looking at it. What cookie dough, you say? Well, being like royalty in the market we were having people bring out their babies as if our mere presence would bless them and we were offered tidbits all the while. We tried some of this sweet bread. A massive slab of it is cut in to narrow slices and has candied coconut pushed in to the scoured surface. The texture is like soggy weetabix with the elasticity of fresh dough. Really nice, we bought a packet (small sequel) and we nibbled on it as we enjoyed the shade of a tree and the respite from the heat.
North East is the smaller cube-shaped Bebe Paya, which has a cylindrical top and a few Buddha images inside. It is thought to date to the 10th Century. They don’t seem to be too sure about a lot of the discoveries at the ancient cities. Just north is the squat Leimyethna Paya, which has a iron frame keeping it together. Inside four original Buddha reliefs (a big cracked, some faces missing) are visible. We didn’t see, or go looking for any of the brick moats that are supposedly visible just off the edge of the road.
Another bit to the north is a cemetery, the 6 cylindrical burial urns being stacked together and then covered up. There was no info at the site or in the book about the place, but Katherine reckons they are very similar to the ones in Peru that had people and wares in the graves.
We retreated our way back down the road and headed right back towards the museum. Passing through a gap in the 3m thick city walls, which has become a gate, we still weren’t coping with the heat very well. We passed through a farming village, as there was a gambling match of dominoes going on, and topped up our Life Straws before continuing on.
We took a left after a house and barn stuffed to the rafters with onions and headed to the 13th Century East Zegu Paya, a small four-sided temple which used to have overgrown walls and (usually) locked doors. But, it wasn’t locked and we saw not only the lovely domed roof, but enjoyed the breeze through the design of the building while in the shade, as an owl flew back and forth above us trying to decide if we meant him harm or not.We were almost back to the museum when we spotted a gentleman whom we saw earlier in the day. He seems to be going around collecting glass bottles from homes. But, we were full sure we saw him selling ice cream to two gentleman on a tractor earlier, so we asked. Two very content travelers enjoyed a milky ice cream as we sat behind the last temple we were going to visit that day. We wandered in to the town by the museum and found ourselves a mode of transport back home. It was quite amusing to the locals as we explained what we wanted and they were unsure of what to do in the situation. It was on the back of a solar-powered thoun bein (Thai tuk tuk) that we rode back in to town and sanctuary from the elements. Or so we thought…
After about 5minutes of arriving in an air conditioned room the electricity went. Why? Because some idiot thought it would be a good idea to cut down some branches in the tree on the street and knock out the power to a few buildings. Katherine is now absolutely dying with the heat – the obvious signs of heat exhaustion very worrying in a country that’s still not used to tourism. Fluids, ice lollies, walking around every so often for a bit of a breeze and we managed to survive long enough for the power to be returned. Except the change in electricity supply was playing havoc with the voltage supply to the room and the air con kept tripping out and needing to be reset.
We managed to fix the electricity issue and headed out for dinner – relived that we wouldn’t be cooking during the night. Grandma’s Cafe, recommended in the Lonely Planet for exceptional Korean Food was closed. So we headed to the karaoke bar/restaurant on the river to see what they had to offer. The views were fab, the bats were the size of dogs, the menu had 17 A4 pages with no prices and the singers were dreadful. So we left!
We went to a restaurant near the lodge and ordered the Burmese Curry. We were served a selection of herbs and veg, mango pieces and aubergine, chilli paste, chilli sauce, chicken, ocre/pepper dish, chick pea dish, and the customary soup that comes with every meal, but this one was a very weird green herb and bean mix with stalks and everything else. It was not the meal we needed and we felt a little bit sick after it.
The day was long and full of mini adventures and we struggled at times, but wow, so many memories in just a few short hours. It can scarcely be believed that we are in Myanmar and travelling to such remote and isolated places. It’s fab!
Saturday 14th May 2016