The Royal RoadExperience one of Central Asia’s great journeys from Tashkent to Shiraz along the Persian Royal Road.
Mr Soe Moe, our gentleman minder during our travels in his quirky but hospitable country, has kindly interpreted our birthdates and days by the Buddhist calendar. This has to be done on a one to one basis least sensitive personal information should slip into unintended ears. Its the sort of information that enables one to find their ‘corner’ at a pagoda so that homage can be paid to the guardian of the corner. Seems that I’m a Sunday corner kind of person watched over by the Garuda. I’m not sure if this is a good symbol but on our evening perambulation at the Shwedagon Pagoda the Sunday corner was sparsely attended while I was loitering. When I enquired if this was the right spot for my kind of person an elderly gentleman took me aside and explained that Garuda likes to fight with serpents. I was obviously in the right spot.
On the subject of said mythological beast I noted that Garuda is also the symbol of Indonesian Airlines. That too seemed auspicious given that the next destination on our travels in Myanmar required a flight north to Bagan where there are a great many pagodas and presumably lots of Sunday corners for me to loiter at. As it happens Myanmar seems to have taken to airlines with a passion that would be unheard of anywhere else. At last count 8 domestic carriers were said to ply the fly ways of the Golden Land. To someone like me who lives in a land of price gouging airlines and laughable competition this all seemed as mythical as the Garuda. But one should never judge a bird by the colour of its tail feathers and there truely are 8 different tail feathers flying the friendly skies of Myanmar.
We have been travelling with KBZ Air. I’m sure that in Burmese this stands for ABC. We were in steady hands tho, the company slogo is ‘fly beyond your expectations’. We could equally have had a ‘Royal experience’ with Yadnarpon Air or ‘arrived safely’ with Yangon Airways. The other options all featured subtle messages about arriving safely so I suppose if your expectation included that then KBZ was probably a good choice. The journey up country from Yangon was smooth and clear. Our whole ATR 75 load of foreigners was delivered safely and our expectations were met. But Bagan is one of those rare places in S.E. Asia that will exceed your expectations every time. Here the tamarind fields are littered with red brick pagodas and stupas of every shape and size. Over the course of 350 years the Bagan Kings and their descendants industriously built +/-10,000 stupas and pagodas on an area bout the size of a smallish city. It is a truly surprising place in a land that holds many surprises for travellers like ourselves.
Things began to go badly for the Bagan kingdom when Kublai Khan took an interest in the source of the ‘jade for silk’ trade from which his rivals in the Dali kingdom of Yunnan were doing so well. The story goes that he sent young Marco Polo down to have a chat with the Baganians. It turned out that negotiating a way into the trade was a lost cause. Better just to march down there with the Mongol horde and make them an offer that they couldnt refuse. After the Mongol invasion of 1287 Bagan never fully recovered but history treated the artifacts kindly and several thousand have survived intact. Today regiments of modern day invaders are having their expectations exceeded and being ‘deliver safety’ by the ATR load. Tomorrow early for us its going to be off by KBZ to Inle lake as the sun rises behind the pagodas.