buddhism

INDONESIA PART 2: BOROBUDOR

INDONESIA PART 2: BOROBUDOR

Leaving behind Yogyakarta we headed towards nearby Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument on the world.  It's the kind of place like Angkor Wat or Bagan, when you first see photos of it, it seems like it's the set for some movie about a lost world. It's a vast stone mandala-like structure built around the hill in a jungle over a thousand years ago. 

By now though it's firmly established on the tourist trail and thousands of Indonesians travel from all over the country to visit it. I wanted to photograph it at sunrise, which I knew would mean a very early morning and difficulties in getting a clean shot as I expected the place to be very busy for first light in the way that Shwedagon Pagoda in Bagan was. Indeed both of these things were firmly on my mind as we arrived at Borobudur as I knew that it marked the beginning of four mornings where we would get up at 4am or earlier in both Borobudur and then Mount Bromo, and that both places would be incredibly busy with tourists making photography with a tripod sometimes a little challenging.  When we'd planned the trip I'd tried to ensure that we visited Bromo away from the weekend hoping that would mean slightly smaller crowds, but also because we also wanted our time in Ubud, Bali, to coincide with a full moon festival.  However, we hadn't realised that this would mean this part of the trip taking place in a week that began with a bank holiday to celebrate Indonesia's independence. The traffic as we left Yogyakarta to get to the temple was incredible and I started to realize how busy Borobudur was actually going to be.

MYANMAR PART 6: BAGAN

MYANMAR PART 6: BAGAN

After spending three hours at dawn on the top terrace of Shwesandaw pagoda we were hungry and ready for breakfast.
The terrace had been packed for sunrise, but immediately after the sun came up a lot of people had disappeared and it was easier to move around and take in the views across the plain in different directions.  By the time we left some local kids had come to the top of the temple and were hustling the tourists, selling postcards and posing for photos 

We saw more kids hustling in Bagan than anywhere else in Burma, which isn't surprising really as it's one of Burma's most popular and long established tourist attractions.  On leaving the hotel after breakfast to explore the temples a young girl immediately approached us and after (very sweetly) asking us if we'd like to buy some postcards, proceeded to pull a brand new Penguin paperback of Orwell's Burmese Days from her dress and ask us if we'd like to buy it.  She said it was "very good" and I asked her if she'd read it, to which she smiled in a kind of you-know-I'm-not-being-strictly-honest kind of way and said "Yes, of course.  It's very good."
In all the time we were in Burma we never found these encounters tiresome or awkward.  The kids were always polite and not particularly persistent, and it never felt like a pressure, but at the same time it is sad that the kids don't go to school because they can make money selling to tourists.

MYANMAR PART 4: MANDALAY

MYANMAR PART 4: MANDALAY

Mandalay.

The name itself evokes images of exotic places, far away lands.  It's one of those magical names like Sahara, Amazon and Himalaya, which when I was growing up seemed to belong to places so distant and foreign and alien that they couldn't really exist.

Of course, as I got older, and as my fascination with travel got stronger and deeper, I realized that these places are all real and that with a little will power and dedication it was perfectly possible to actually go there and see them.  Even so, Mandalay is a place name that everyone knows (thanks mostly to Kipling's poem, Road To Mandalay but I knew very little about.  As I researched it for the trip, I began to realize more and more that it would be a fascinating place to spend some time, the spiritual heart of Burma, more monks and nuns as a ratio of the population than anywhere else in the country, three former capital cities in Mandalay, Amarapura and Inwe (two suburbs/towns to the south) and a city with a huge amount of traditional craft and trade.