With crossing the border into India we had also crossed from a muslim majority region into a mainly hindu community. Aside from India Hinduism was also the main religion in Nepal even though Lumbini is the birthplace of Buddha. After first encountering the buddhist culture in the Nepalese mountains we have now arrived in Myanmar which has a culture that is deeply defined by Buddhism. Not only the culture around us has changed but crossing the border also started a new forth chapter of our journey. After first Europe, then the muslim countries of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan followed by the hindu nations of India and Nepal, we had now arrived in Southeast Asia. This chapter as a whole will be the last part of our journey to the East and in the months to come we will decide where to go from here.
When we were still in India the road quality already had started to decline in some places. Some roads were still paved or at least most of the potholes had been patched up and others were gravel roads or dust roads. In the border region the roads were still good but in the hills some parts were in a terrible condition. We cycled through a long valley in between two mountain slopes passing by pretty little villages, green fields and forests. Even though the nature was beautiful it was unfortunate that the road didn’t lead through the flat bottom of the valley but followed the ups and downs of the hills. These climbs combined with the bad road quality demanded a lot of energy and patience which we did not always have. Finally we had made it across and we were delighted to leave the hills and bad roads behind us and picked up some speed.
Like in every new country it took some time for us to find out how to manage our basic necessities like finding water, food and a place to sleep. In the sparsely populated northern area of the country camping had been very uncomlicated. In between the little villages there were always quiet corners with little agriculture but we are curious to find out how that will change in the South. Camping or staying with locals is forbidden in Myanmar. Officially we are supposed to only stay in licensed tourist hotels. Until now we did not encounter any problems by ignoring this rule but we’ve heard from other touring cyclists that they had been caught by the police and had been forced to move to such a hotel. The people here are cheerful and happy to help. Even passing policemen gave us thumbs up and showed their approval. Only few people speak or understand English so we finally got the chance to bring out our sign dictionary which is filled with symbols to point at as well as communicating through gestures. Gas stations turned out to be safe bets for asking for drinking water, otherwise we filtered some from the roadside clay jars. These clay jars seem to be a lovely tradition here providing people passing by with a cup of water to drink. Finding food was a bit of a challenge at first. Our taste seems to be a bit different from the local cuisine and therefore it took us some time to find something ‘safe’ that we liked and would also fill us up. This safe bet is fried rice with vegetables which we have managed to find everywhere up until now.
We were excited to reach Bagan, an ancient capital with well over 2000 temples and pagodas. In fact we had spotted many sites like these all the way from the border and every village seems to have at least one pagoda. Often there were people next to the road with big silver pots to collect donations for the temple. Even in seemingly remote areas we passed by monasteries and heard music or prayers in the night. Bagan is a mystic place with its temples. Some are new, others old and worn by age and weather. We spent one day exploring the area and were astonished by it, especially when the sun set and soaked everything in a golden light.