More temples and a lovely meal with our new friends family
16.08.2011 - 16.08.2011 28 °C
En route to the local Post Office, our guide Phohtaoo takes us to see his modest family home. With a single room and a large elevated sitting area in the front yard Phohtaoo lives with his mother, father and three sisters. Embarrassed by the palm leaf roof that leaks water he proudly shows us a prized monk painting and invites us to an unexpected supper, with his family, that evening. Charmed we readily accept and begin questioning what we need to bring to such an occasion. Stupidly our comments on whether we need to wear ‘black tie’ require significant explanation. Dinner jackets are not readily seen in Myanmar.
Postcard stamps purchased for the nearby Post Office we are once again heading back to the temples. With New Bagan a relatively small town and Old Bagan a shell of itself after the Governments forced relocation of the village in the 1970s (to what became New Bagan) Nyaung U is the only town of any size in the area.
On the outskirts of Nyanug U we stop to visit one of the most visible Stupas in all of Bagan with its glittering down. Visiting the beautiful golden zedi of Shwezigon Paya we are reminded of a similar sounding namesake in Yangon. Importantly the zedi is also home to the thirty-seven pre-Buddhist nats that were officially endorsed by Bamar monarchy. Phohtaoo purchases gold leaf in order that we can make an offering to the temple. Placing the thin leaves upon the Stupa we are reminded of our visit to the gold leaf workshop in Mandalay and that each leaf has required six hours of pounding to achieve this thinness.
In the centre of Nyanug U the main market has a wide variety of fresh food and household ‘what-nots’ for sale. With plenty of vendors trying to sell us unwanted postcards, souvenirs et al we soon cycle on to a boozy but expensive lunch on the edge of Ayeyarwady.
With plenty more temples to visit we eagerly return to the now familiar sandy, dirt lanes, cycling between temples such as the 12th century Dhammayangyi Pahto – the largest in Bagan and Sulamani Pahto built at the latter end of Bagan’s height of power in an increasingly sophisticated style that provides for more light inside the temple and arguably the best brickwork in Bagan.
En route we revist our statue carver from the day before. Statues carved and dry he now demonstrates the aging process were the statues are once again fired, covered in a green pulp made from a special leaf and then covered in ash. Phohtaoo explains how tourists are never shown this process as the end result are sold as 'antiques'. The experience provides a fascinating insight into this curious endeavour as the secrecy around the process is emphasized. We were never to learn the name of the leaf used to create the all important green glue!
By late afternoon we have visited all the main temples of Bagan. Approaching something close to temple overload we say a brief adieu to Phohtaoo over yet another beer before changing for dinner with his family that evening - a meal which turned out to be delightful.
With his entire family in attendance we decide upon pink and sparkly stationary for his two year old sister and cold beers for the adults, as a small gift. Certainly, for Phohtaoo this proved to be ideal, with neither his mother nor father drinking. Indeed, Phohtaoo confirms later in the evening that this is only the second time he has drunk in his entire life. Tucking into both cold beers and a delicious peanut soup, that his mother served, we were soon discussing life in Myanmar, the temples of Bagan and any manner of subjects that might arise over dinner with friends.
Surprisingly, the subject of Phohtaoo’s age provided greatest interest. After a slightly drunken assertion, confirmed by his mother, that he was born in 1350 we were keen to understand the secret of his twenty-something good looks. Of course, our discussion needed to account for the thekkayit, the main calendar still in use in Myanmar today. Introduced by a Burmese King the calendar in Myanmar is 638 years behind the Christian year count. Therefore, whilst the current year is 2011, to the west, in Myanmar it is only 1372 - the fourteenth century. There was to be no ‘Fountain of Youth’ for us to explore.
Whilst Phohtaoo had to translate for the rest of his family we were able to express our gratitude for all the food that followed our Peanut soup. Delicious chicken curry, tomato and peanut salad and sautéed vegetables followed in ridiculously copious amounts. With no possibility of eating all the food proffered we tried as best we could to demonstrate how much we had enjoyed this taste of ‘real’ Myanmar food.
Unfortunately, for Phohtaoo he was not particularly familiar with alcohol and especially the 7% Mandalay beer that we had developed a taste for. With none of the family eating or drinking his gentle intoxication, augmented by our drinking earlier in the day, soon became apparent to both ourselves and the family. A variety of amusing sobriety test passes followed before a guitar materialized and he was lulling us with greatest hits of Westlife and John Denver.
Slightly amazed that we had found our way through the darkened backstreets of New Bagan to his house, earlier in the evening, Phohtaoo, along with his sister were determined to show us the shortcut back to our hotel, as we offered our thanks for excellent food and a lovely evening. With Phohtaoo swaying slightly the assistance of his sister was vital. Yet we were grateful for a wonderful, sociable evening. It was just unfortunate that in the morning we would depart for Mt. Popa and whilst Phohtaoo was supposed to accompany us an expected hangover might negatively influence that plan!