The monastic system in Burma is a critical foundation of the social safety net. Both males (monks) and females (nuns) rely exclusively on public support by way of donations for their survival. However, the nuns are far more restricted in when they can move freely about to obtain such donations. Many years ago, at a very early age, a young Burmese fisherman named U Aung Than Sein recognized the plight of these women and girls. As soon as he began to generate income from his fishing, he started donating to the nuns on a regular basis. Over many years, as his businesses grew, this generous practice has also steadily grown into what is now a massive assembly of more than 3000 nuns who converge of the streets outside his home to receive a cash donation once every fortnight; the day before the new moon and the day before the full moon. U Aung Than Sein is now one of the most generous philanthropists in the entire country. During my last visit, several of my companions and I met with him and arranged to teach basic hygiene and hand washing to many of these nuns who assembled along the streets near his home. He and the nuns were highly appreciative of the gesture and we were fulfilled that we too could provide such a simple and practical gift.
During a recent trip to India, I had the privilege to visit of the most famous and most often photographed sites in India, the Taj Majal. I had seen many fantastic photographs of this place but was somewhat skeptical if it would be as impressive as others have stated. However, I am happy to say that this place is truly one of the world's most amazing sites. This massive marble structure was built between 1632-1643 as a mausoleum by the emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal who died in childbirth. He poured massive resources in its construction and vowed that the world would never forget his loves name. The Taj Mahal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The surrounding gardens are massive and were intended to symbolize the four flowing revivers of Paradise. It is challenging to photograph one of the most photographed places on earth. Regardless, these images will always remind me of the awe I felt during my visit and I hope that a few others might appreciate the strong cultural beauty and impressiveness of this truly unique site.
I arrived to enter the Taj Mahal at 5:30 AM with only a handful of tourists during the extremely hot low tourist season. While the heat was almost unbearable by 7:00 AM, it allowed me to photograph undisturbed with only minimal number of tourists and I could include only the people I wanted in my images.
Unfortunately, this awesome tomb is now challenged from severe pollution that is discoloring and etching the marble, extreme climate conditions and dropping water levels in the nearby Yamuna river which are shifting the underlying soil. These have led to dire predictions for a loss of structural integrity to the Taj. Tourism and vandalism also pose serious threats.
This beautiful red sandstone mosque sits next to the Taj Mahal and was completed in 1643.
I hope you enjoy these images of this spectacular site and just might inspire you to someday witness the awe of this incredible place for yourselves.
The Suri (or Surma) practice a stick fight sport which is known as Donga. Donga is also the name of the straight hardwood stick that is used in the sport. Men take part in this sport settle disputes, challenge one another for fun and to win the attention of girls. This is not an event often witnesses by outsiders due to its remoteness. This may change as a new road finaced by Chinese investors is being constructed deep into Suri country, but for now, few tourists venture this far into the back country.
The lifestyle and persona of the Surma people is wholly aggressive and proud. Both sexes are raised to be assertive and self-reliant. The living conditions are harsh so this makes some sense. This is not an area served by food aid, medical care, suitable hygiene or water treatment. Droughts are frequent and extract huge tolls on the people. Dislocation is often done at the hands of the government looking to expand the national parks and assert more control over a lawless countryside. The Suri have always been a warring tribe, fighting to protect their cattle and land from their enemies. The civil war in South Sudan has unfortunately resulted in ready access to Kalashnikovs that are not only a significant status symbol but also a serious competitive advantage.
Donga is a ritualized fighting sport for young men to prove themselves to the young women. These fights are held between different Suri villages, with as many as 20 or more warriors on each side. Men fight naked to show their bravery. While some head and joint protection can used, it is minimal and the the risks are high. Stick fighting is dangerous and people do encounter injury and sometimes die. We witnessed many serious soft tissue injuries and at least one significant concussion. While warriors may proudly display their blood and wounds, they do not exhibit pain or discomfort. There is no medical tent.
Referees are also present to ensure the rules are followed, which is necessary to prevent violent reactions from the side that might feel wronged. Not that there are a lot of rules, except that you cannot hit a man when he is down. Doing so would be a serious infraction that could result in a more serious reaction from the family and friends of the wronged. The large audience of a true Donga further increases the chances that violence will escalate. If rules are broken and a village feels cheated, shooting can easily break out in an attempt to settle the argument. There are a lot of automatic weapons so such a development is potentially highly dangerous.
After a match, the winner may proceed to the girls that are always there observing. If the girls present the man with a beaded necklace, it signifies that she will date him. If he accepts the necklace, he also agrees. The popular champions swaggered about with huge collections of necklaces.
Access to a true stick fight requires careful negotiation with the elders who expect a sizable fee for the privilege of witnessing their traditional sport and especially when taking photographs. Disregarding this requirement could also result in violence so needless to say we paid up. Even after taking these precautions, we there was a disagreement amongst the participating villages that resulted in much shouting and waving of sticks and automatic weapons. It is apparently common, but it was a relief when our car finally pulled away.
WARNING: This post contains photos that are graphic and may be unsettling to some. It depicts the tribal ritual of bleeding cattle for food. However, the cattle are unharmed. They undergo minimal discomfort and survive to roam and be bled another day. This is normal life in the Suri cattle camps of southern Ethiopia.
The Suri tribe lives in small villages made up of a couple hundred people each which is mostly made up of women and children. Here they tend meager subsistence gardens comprised of basic foods such as corn, cabbage, cassava, squash, and beans. Men spend most of their time at cattle camps that are located some distance from the village. In fact, the location of the camps is moves frequently as these pastoralists move to find available forage for their cattle. Life in the cattle camps is highly traditional and they still practice many rituals centered around the cattle and donga (which I will discuss in a separate blog). The care of cattle is primarily the responsibility of men and young boys although sometimes young girls can also live and assist at the camps. Men often come and go from the camps sharing responsibilities with their close male relatives so they can occasionally return to their wives and families in the villages.
Cattle are the Suri’s most prized possessions and an important centerpiece of Suri culture. Cattle ownership in fact equals wealth. Suri do not typically eat cattle, although they can be sacrificed for specific ceremonial reasons such as a funeral. On a more routine basis, they do drink milk and blood as important food sources. While milk can be removed and/or drank by women, it is forbidden for them to drink cow blood. Fresh blood is only removed in a specific corral constructed for this purpose and drinking involves a highly ritualized ceremony that involves chanting, dancing, and blowing a horn fashioned from cattle horn. A fire is first fueled with green brush and dung to create plenty of smoke to discourage flies and mosquitos.
While present day Suri cover their bodies with a woolen blanket which they wear over one shoulder, men generally do not wear any clothing while in these camps. The cover their naked clean-shaven bodies with ash and often add striped marks of soil and/or cattle dung across their bodies.
The cattle are then corralled and the ones to be bled are marked on their horns and/or hides with ash, dung or pigments from stones and minerals. The selected cattle are restrained, and a tourniquet is applied around the neck before a bow and arrow is the used to puncture the jugular vessel. The blood spews forth quickly and forcefully into a receptacle such as a gourd or cup, from which the blood is immediately drank. These men have a close emotional bond with their cattle. The wound is superficial and the cattle are unharmed.
Drinking of blood can also be followed with drinking of fresh milk, either from a vessel or directly from the cows udder. The heartiest of warriors may also attempt to drink the blood directly from the spewing artery itself.
This highly ritualized ceremony of drinking blood is for men only and it is forbidden for women to partake in its consumption. The blood is shared amongst the group and even with the dogs who assist in herding and defending the cattle.
After all the preparation, cattle marking, body painting, blood letting and drinking, the men celebrate by dancing and singing.
While a good number of relatively hearty travellers have made a visit to the closely-related Mursi tribe on the eastern bank of the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia or a number of years, the western side of the Omo Valley to which the Suri call home is significantly less accessible and therefore far less travelled. Visiting this tribe from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa requires a full three days of driving over often-rugged roads. The group I joined elected the relatively faster route utilizing a charter flight from Addis to the town of Mizan in southern Ethiopia followed by 5-6 hours of driving on mostly unimproved roads to reach our mobile camp. To put the number of visitors to this area in perspective, every year more people attempt to summit Mt. Everest than take the steps necessary to visit the Suri. This may change soon as the Suri become better known and major road construction underway will undoubtedly bring easier access in the coming years. More and more frequent visitors will undoubtedly accelerate changes to this unique way of life. Despite external influences, the independent and strong-willed Suri will likely ensure it all happens on their own terms. While a part of Ethiopia, the Suri only nominally recognize the government has any function or authority in this region. A visit to this area requires a full team of local guides and armed protection to ensure safety and an insightful understanding of Suri life. Soldiers have historically been frightened in this area due to the massive number of automatic weapons held by the locals who have "law and order" in their own hands. Kalisnakovs have become a new form of currency, wealth and status. An automatic weapon can be purchased for the equivalent of $1,000 USD or roughly 4 head of cattle.
For now and the foreseeable future, a visit to the far western Omo provides an opportunity for an up-close look at a truly raw and primitive tribal tradition. My impressions of this amazing experience I will share in the coming weeks in 3 separate blogs.
Body Adornment and Creative Capacity
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, body painting and/or display of various decorations for photographers has become a serious source of revenue for the Suri tribe.
Others have written how photographers have “spoiled’ the Suri and created this ‘problem” through their willingness to pay increasing sums to secure beautiful photographs of their elaborate body art which is no longer “authentic”. While photographers are undoubtedly the driver for this cottage industry, the Suri have seized on this quickly and aggressively, so has been to the mutual benefit of both photographer and subject. Also, while Suri body art has evolved rapidly to be ever more elaborate, it does have a strong root cultural basis.
The Suri are artistically creative and males and females excel at body painting and is still done for ceremonial purposes (during events such as donga, weddings and blood drinking). This perchance to create beautiful and sometime elaborate painted and decorative designs celebrating the physique of their bodies (especially of adolescents).
The ear and lip plates with their sometimes intricate designs have been practiced for hundreds or perhaps thousand of years. Ear piecing begins at about 8-9 years of age which lip piercing does not begin until the girl is closer to 15 or 16 years of age. The larger the lip adornment, the more cattle her father is said to be able to obtain from the grooms family when she is married. Despite this, many younger girls are beginning to abandon the practice of lip piercing (which also requires extraction of the two lower front teeth).
The Suri possess an inherent creative capacity combined with a uniquely adaptive, aggressive and independent nature in the face of limited resources. A unique combination of cultural characteristics sets them apart to result is a uniquely beautiful expression of body and nature.
There have actually been a relatively small number of photographers (or tourists of any kind) who have ventured to the western part of the Omo where the Suri live. Nonetheless, the Suri quickly matured their decorative body arts to more and more elaborate patterns while engaging in creative positioning amongst wild plants to attract the eye of the photographer with the goal to out compete his neighbors for the resulting currency.
The body and face painting and other adornments have their origins in tribal ceremonies and is a legitimate form of creative expression. This artistic form has rapidly evolved to more and more elaborate displays for the primary objective of generating revenue. So is it authentic? I argue yes it absolutely is. It is what the Suri “do” even if they have been strongly encouraged and inadvertently taught to push the boundries by photographers looking for unique images. The Suri used their core strengths and capabilities to deliver a quality product to a willing buyer. Like it or not, it is now how it works when you visit the Suri.
Regardless of who is to “blame” for the current situation, Suri body art is indisputably beautiful and unique. It requires a serious commitment to capture such images and they cannot be created anywhere else. The Suri are masters who have developed a uniquely fantastical capacity for body decoration and human artistic expression.
Nuerland lies within the swamps along the Nile of South Sudan and extends into bordering Ethiopia near the town of Gambella. It is remote, hot, humid, insect-filled and experiences frequent conflict between tribal groups. Because of this range of factors, this culture is rarely visited or photographed by foreigners. These villages are small, remote and lack standard accommodations so along with my six hearty travel companions, we arranged for mobile tents to be pitched immediately next to one of the larger Neuer villages. After first flying to the Gambella airport from Addis Ababa, we drove more than 2 hours on marginal dirt roads to our camp near a sizable Neur village. As these people rarely see outsiders, they greeted us warmly with tribal singing and dancing and was widely attended by the villagers. They rarely see photographic images of themselves and exhibited child-like delight for the opportunity to see their image on the back of the camera for a couple of brief seconds.
The villages are constructed as a series of traditional stick and straw huts arranged in a circular manner to surround the cattle. Cattle are staked at night within the village so they can be protected from wildllfe and marauding tribes. Dried cow manure is burned in smelting fires and cattle are further rubbed in the resulting manure ash to ward off mosquitos and other insects. During the day, cattle are grazed on available grasses alongside nearby swamps.
The Nuer are culturally related to the Dinka tribe and while both are primarily pastoralists they both also rely on limited subsistence farming. Conflict between these tribes was a major element in Sudan leading to civil war. Occasionally these conflicts spill across the border into Ethiopia. While not as heavily armed as some other tribes in southern Ethiopia, AK-47s were ever present in each camp. While the situation has apparently calmed in recent months, Aljazeera reported in April 2016 that Dinka from South Sudan moved into Ethiopia to attack Nuer villages in the Gambella region and killed 208 people, abducted 108 children and stole more than 2000 cattle. Sadly, such violence, famine and poor nutrition are frequent.
The Nuer are extremely poor and live in marginal conditions with little outside support to clean water, proper hygiene, or effective healthcare. They seldom eat their cattle, although they do utilize milk as food. Their diets consist mostly of millet, sorghum and the abundant catfish found throughout the swamp land. Through the presence of missionaries, large numbers of Nuer converted to Christianity at the end of the twentieth century, but the majority remain followers of traditional religions worshipping ancestral spirits, and various deities. The social structure is patriarchal and polygyny is common. Women provide the majority of labor in the village, cleaning, caring for children and the elderly, milking cows, grinding grain to make a bread-like mash. Men fish, tend the cattle and protect the village.
Within the past decade, Chinese developers have invested significant sums for the purchase of surrounding lands on which to create large commercial farms for cotton and other water thirsty crops. Many of these ventures were ill-planned and proved unsuccessful. As a result, a large amount of farm equipment and many shipping containers have been abandoned across the country side. Many miles of electrical poles have been erected but the wires never arrived. Electrical power is not present in these villages. Some farms and processing facilities have provided economic opportunity for some of the villagers, but with grazing land disappearing, it is likely a matter of time before the traditional pastoral way of life will be abandoned for modern farm and factory jobs. Already they have largely replaced their traditional clothing that consisted of nominal coverings of animal skin in favor of a western style of dress manufactured and imported from China and elsewhere. The Nuer are famous for the scarring men and women perform on their faces and foreheads. This too is rapidly disappearing while young people opt to forego these adornments for more modern ways.
Improved roads and greater access to the outside world is rapidly changing the traditional way of life, although unfortunately, there is little evidence the Nuer will obtain many tangible benefits of a modern society in exchange for their pastoralist lifestyle. The environmental damage created by large scale farming operations and the current political situation in Ethiopia is unlikely to provide a good deal of improvement for the Nuer. Lacking adequate hygiene, clean water or access to health care, the Nuer face a meager and rather desperate future, where the health of young children and animals continues to be marginal at best. It was a personal privilege to interact with these proud people for a few short days. I was enriched by the opportunity to witness their pride for their waning pastoral traditions and the strong will of their spirit to endure and find happy moments even in the harshest of conditions.
Encyclopedia of World Cultures Supplement, The Gale Group, Inc. 2002
https://www.tesfanews.net/ethiopia-south-sudan-gambela-murle/ Aljazeera, April 17, 2016
Banana is an important crop throughout Asia and plays an important role in Myanmar cuisine as well as religious ceremonies. This plant (actually an herb) grows extremely rapidly (up to 20 feet in a year) in the rich, damp Irrawaddy river delta. Burma produces as many as 25 varieties of banana in a range of textures, flavors, shapes and various shades of red, green and yellow. Burmese bananas often assume the exotic sounding names of the places they are produced such as Tangwoo, Twante or Pechan.
Because of the lack of technology development and modern methodologies, most bananas produced in Burma are transported as quickly as possible for domestic consumption. China does invest in Myanmar banana production, purchasing fruit well in advance as well as providing oversight to production and harvest to ensure the fruit is suitable to survive the longer journey abroad.
Bananas are manually harvested and transported while still on the stalks by truck or small boats to the major markets and distribution centers in Yangon and Mandalay. As bananas are unloaded, they are sorted and stacked by origin, variety and quality. You can see the mark of a particular farm carved directly onto the stalks.
Following a 6+hour boat ride up the Kaladan river in a loud but relatively comfortable diesel-powered boat, we arrived late to the ancient city of Mrauk U. This area is home to some of the most significant archeological sites in (Burma) Myanmar. It is smaller, more ancient, and significantly more remote and less visited by tourists than the larger and more famous city of Bagan. Mrauk U’s hilly topography and misty fog from the nearby rivers gives this area its own unique and exotic beauty. The ancient capital of the Dannavati Kingdom was believed to have been established here more than three thousand years ago, with the more recent city of Mrauk U beginning about 1430 as the capital of the Arakan Kingdom. It remained a very important trading port in Southeast Asia until the 18th century, serving as an important transit point for rice, ivory, elephants, slaves, cotton, spice and textiles. It is popularly believed that a powerful Arakan kingdom once stretched from the Ganges to the Ayerwaddy River in central Burma and included more than half of what is now present-day Bangledesh.
Buddism is intricately woven into the fabric of everyday life across Burma but the Rakhine claim a special place among the first followers. The ancient city is believed to have been visited by Gautama Buddha himself more than two millennium ago. It is said that Buddha agreed to allow them to create an image of him for them to remember, which was treasured by the local people for centuries.
What is remarkable both to myself and others that have witnessed it, is the indefatigable spirit of the Myanmar people. This place is very poor and life is hard. Despite the many challenges they exude optimism and hope balanced with the realism that societal change is a slow process.
On January 2, 2016, I flew from Yangon to Sittwe, the largest town in Rakhine State. This place provides a unique window to the many challenges facing a Myanmar that is not fully prepared to deal with its turblent history and rapidly changing present. Sittwe lies at the confluence of 3 rivers on the Bay of Bengal. Originally a fishing village, it has played an important role in maritime activities and commerce for centuries. Things are changing quickly as a deepwater port is being constructed here by India to facilitate shipping to international markets. The smaller vessels (which are so interesting to photograph) will soon be largely replaced by larger and more profitable ships and docks.
Street markets in Burma traditionally open very early in the morning, long before the sun rises. We found a long line of these markets on our way to shoot sunrise at the docks. They start long before sunrise and they were completely packed up and gone by the time we headed back for breakfast. These locals have traditionally displayed their wares in the pre-dawn illuminated only by candlelight. Despite attempts to stop the practice because of the fire risk, it has continued long after the arrival of electric light to deal with the (still) inconsistent and unpredictable power supplies. More recently however, the vendors have adopted the use of small hand-held LEDs, so seeing candlelit pre-dawn markets is now practically a thing of the past.
This city is most famous internationally because of serious riots in 2012 between the Rohingya muslims and Rakhine buddhists which resulted is significant destruction of property and claimed many lives. It is a difficult social problem and chronic humanitarian crisis. The city’s mosques remain boarded up with the Rohingya confined to a refugee camp while they await a political resolution to their fate. Like the rest of the world, I too could not bear the thought to look upon these desperate people that are now largely forgotten. I did not visit this camp. Myanmar shows positive signs of progress in many areas, but sadly there are no signs of this particular situation being resolved anytime soon.
Sittwe was the stepping off point for a 6+ hour boat ride to Mrauk U. It is a very long, slow journey, albeit significantly shorter than the 24 hours to get there by road (even longer in the rainy season). More about the trip to Mrauk U in my next post.
My favorite experience during my most recent visit to Burma this January was the day we spent at two small Chin villages in the far northern part of Rakkine State. It was a 2 hour boat ride up the river from Mrauk U (after the 6 hour ride from Sittwe to Mrauk U). This is the most southern range of the Chin people. Chin State itself is sparsely populated and remains one of the least developed areas of Myanmar. Several of these women we met were not healthy and suffer chronic and likely terminal disease. Sadly, like their entire villages, there is minimal chance of them accessing health care of any kind.
The most exciting reasons to visit these villages is to witness their very simple way of life, to interact with and photograph the elderly women with their extensive facial tattooing. The Chin traditionally practiced tattooing of girls faces around the age of 15. While the origin of the practice is not actually known, common lore is that these marks were used to discourage them from being stolen by other tribes. The practice was banned in the 1960s following assumption of power of the military regime, and has also been discouraged by the Christian missionaries. I have heard that the practice does continue sometimes in the most remote Chin villages, but nonetheless the practice is rapidly disappearing. I used an infrared camera for most of my portraits as it enhances the vibrancy of the tattoos that you cannot capture with a regular camera. I have attached a couple of color photos below so you can compare. I am so very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet these kind and beautiful women and to share their portraits, their stories and their disappearing culture. I will never forget them.
Shanghai (上海) is the largest city in China and the largest population center in the world, now exceeding 24 million people. These 24 million inhabitants are comprised of 14 million permanent residents and almost 10 million migrant residents who provide much of the cities manual labor and services. Shanghai has been a major hub for shipping and trading for centuries but grew substantially in importance in the 19th century when Europeans recognized its potential for economic development. Following the First Opium War and the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the Shanghai International Settlement was established and the city began to flourish to become the preeminent financial hub of the Asia Pacific by the 1930s. While development slowed significantly through the period following World War II, the economic reforms in the 1990s led to intensive redevelopment as evidenced by the emergence of Lujiazui.
Lujiazui is the new financial district located in Pudong on the eastern (“Dong”) bank of Huangpu (“Pu”) River and sits directly across from the old financial district of the Bund in Puxi. The rapid and aggressive growth of Lujiazui is nothing short of amazing. See the photo below for what you would have seen at the same location across the Huangpu River in 1987. This area was comprised only of farmland, residential houses, warehouses and factories. The first major landmark to be built was the Oriental Pearl Tower which was completed in 1994 (just over 20 years ago!). The skyline today bears absolutey no resemblance whatsoever as evidenced by photos taken here during the 1980s. Unbelievable.
Lujiazui today is filled with many tall and impressive monuments to modern architecture. The tallest 3 mega-buildings are the Shanghai Tower, the Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center. The Shanghai Tower was completed in mid-2015, but as of the time of my visit in October 2015 was not yet open to the public. Construction on the Shanghai Tower started in 2008, is 632 metres (2,073 ft) high and has 128 stories with a total floor area of more that 4 million square feet. It is the tallest building in China and the second tallest in the world after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Shanghai Tower has many interesting and modern features essential for such a massive building in these conditions. The curved shape and rounded edges are designed to minimize the impact of typhoons common to Shanghai. The massive concrete core and steel super columns were designed to speed construction and provide stability in an active seismic zone on clay soil. There is also a 1000 metric ton tuned damper in the top of the building to minimize sway for the comfort of the occupants. For many more interesting facts and design features of Shanghai Tower, check out the link du.gensler.com.
The Temple of the Tooth is located in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy and is famous of the relic of the tooth of Buddha. The relic has played an important role in local politics because it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country. Kandy was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings and is a UNESCO world heritage site mainly because of the temple. Flowers are the main offering at the temple and the street outside the temple if lined with flower vendors.
While in Sri Lanka in early March, I visited the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala. It was established in 1975 as an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding faclity. They are supposed to have the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. While there has been some controversy regarding this facility, the elephants are taken daily from the facility to the nearby river for bathing and environmental enrichment. They did seem to enjoy their time being washed and wandering about in the water with their friends.
The Ayeyarwaddy river that flows from north to south through Myanmar is the country's largest river and has been the most important commercial waterway since the 6th century. Rudyard Kipling referred to the Ayeyarwaddy as “The Road to Mandalay”. It was to have been dammed through an agreement with a Chinese power company in 2007. Fortunately, this controversial move was subsequently reversed in 2011 when construction was halted, preventing significant ecological and environmental damage.
Kipling loved this land and its people. He wrote “I love the Burman with the blind favouritism born of first impression. When I die I will be a Burman … and I will always walk about with a pretty almond-coloured girl who shall laugh and jest too, as a young maiden ought. She shall not pull a sari over her head when a man looks at her and glare suggestively from behind it, nor shall she tramp behind me when I walk…She shall look all the world between the eyes, in honesty and good fellowship….”
One of the most famous sites in Myanmar is the ancient city of Bagan. Bagan is generally believed to have been built largely between the 9th and 13th centuries but went into decline following its defeat at the hands of the Mongols. At the height of the city, it is believed that there existed more than 10,000 temples and pagodas, of which more than 2,000 remain today. They spread for miles and are truly amazing from either the ground or from the viewpoint at the top of the temples themsleves.
Padogas and temples are everywhere in Myanmar. This striking setting in southern Myanmar near the Thai border features a mushroom shaped rock with a pagoda at the very top. The trip is for the very adventurous across dilapidated and ill-maintained bamboo bridges. No, I did not attempt it. I am confident the view from below was superior. We next visited several of the areas very religious temples built inside caves many centuries ago. It was refreshing to see such amazing things without hawkers of tourist kitsch. These caves are clearly not for tourists (lack of cleanliness and no facilities) but represent very holy sites that very important to the people of Myanmar.
Hpa An is an area famous for its limestone deposits and cave temples. On the way, we spotted these young monks hard at work along the highway. They were very excited to get their pictures taken and they took the chance to enjoy a break with us and eat some watermelon which is now in season in Myanmar.
Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar with a surface area of almost 45 square miles. The native people of the region live in several small villages around the lake in houses raised on stilts. Almost all transportation on the lake is done using boats. Unfortunately, because of population growth, global climate change and environmental destruction, this way of life will soon disappear as the lake is anticipated to be completed dried up within the next 100 years. Here are a couple of images I captured over the past few days of the fisherman rowing their traditional boats on the lake.
The Paduang tribe is also found near Inle Lake. These “long-neck” women practive the unusual custom of applying neck rings beginning at about eight years of age. They are subsequently lengthened as the female ages and are applied for beauty and a symbol of status. As you can see in these images, they are still applied to your girls and are commonly worn in the villages even today. It is curious that this is largely an optical illusion as the necks are actually in fact no longer, although it is difficult to believe especially when you see the large rings worn by the older women.
Today we did some street shooting and visited 2 monasteries near Yangon where we photographed the monks eating lunch and studying. We head to Bagan tomorrow where internet service could be a bit sketchy. Might be a few days before I can next share photos. Hope you enjoy.
I have finally arrived in Yangon after an incredibly long journey. Most of the group arrives today, but the first three of us that arrived yesterday took the opportunity to get warmed up and visit the most sacred of temples in Burma, the Shwegadon Pagoda in downtown Yangon. This gilded pagoda was built between the 6th and 10th centuries and is 99 meters high. The size and amount of gold is awe inspiring as is the multitude of devout Buddists who revere this holy place. We will go back a couple more times but here are a few shots from last night and this morning of the pagoda and some of the devoted.