Published: April 19th 2006April 18th 2006
Mandalay was the perfect end to our Burma experience. We left Inle Lake at 5 in the morning and I was not looking forward to another 12-hour bus ride, however as it turned out this one was not so bad. I rode the majority of the ride atop the bus, and was able to enjoy the panorama of the mountains as we made our decent. It was really hot on the roof, but we got splashed with buckets of water every couple of minutes…so the heat was not a problem. Every April from the 13th to 17th the Burmese celebrate their New Year with a water festival, hence my welcomed relief atop the bus.
Mandalay was the perfect place to be for the festival, we had not planned it out that way, but our luck was good, so we ended up in the right place at the right time. The water festival, was without a doubt the coolest festival I have been apart of. The temperature was constantly in the high 90s so the perpetual relief of water was very welcome. Every corner had a well and a team of people ready to soak all that passed by.
But the main party was around the old palace in the center of town. Here there were stages with dancers and constant music…we of course joined in. The best part about the whole thing were the Burmese who had infectious enthusiasm and happiness. We were greeted with smiles everywhere we went, and people always wanted to know, “are you happy”…and I truly was. One time while I was shooting pictures, I looked over at Dust who was in the middle of the crowd, he was surrounded by people who all wanted their shot at a dance with him.
Burma is an amazing country. It is foreign…more so than any Country I have seen to this point. The clock is turned back here, caught between the old, new, and incomplete. The streets become dark at night, lit only by the moon and the odd lights powered by generators. Walking the streets at night brings up the realization that home... is a distant land.
Burma is an oppressed Country under the confines of an unrelenting government, but if anything this only makes the Burmese stronger. Their freedom is limited, their life challenging, but they live their humanity…they love, and
express life through their smiles. Their smiles may be smeared with beattle nut juice, and flawed by missing teeth...but it is these smiles that makes me think Burma, and that won't let me forget.
Too tell you the truth I was pretty happy about only having one more bus ride on a bus made for VERY tiny people......I mean the burmese don't even fit in with leg room on these buses and they have about a foot less of them to take up space. This bus to Mandalay was incredible though because all the seats were set a little higher than normal and the luggage was just piled along the floorspace and you couldn't sit straight in a seat because of how tight the legroom was. So like kev I also spent some time on the roof.......though not having a whole lot of padding on these bones of mine the jolting and bumping soon became disagreeable with my tailbone so I hopped back in....which actually was surprisingly nice while kev was on the roof.
Well one of the guys on the bus had a watergun so we paid back the crowds standing beside the road with
One of these faces is not like the others.
a small stream of water every once in a while even though it was the day before the actual festival. They all smile and laugh especially when they see that its a white guy getting them.
Mandalay was a pretty hot city so really when it was nice to get out and get wet in the crowded streets because the AC in the room we had didn't really accomplish anything. In a place like Myanmar you tend to get labeled a little being white.....so the same worked with the water festival....we might as well have had bullseyes on our heads because as soon as we showed our white faces there was water in buckets heading our direction. It actually was nice though because they were having fun and it was the whole idea of the festival to get wet. Plus if you manage to stay away from water for 10 minutes your pretty much dry again anyway.
Really though it was a very fun festival and dancing with the people was great (although really I couldn't have NOT danced considering the fact that they wouldn't let go of me). I've never seen so many friendly people so drunk
in my life. They all were drinking and dancing to the music and having the time of their lives for these 3-4 days where they have no inhibitions about being crazy. They kissed us and hugged us and every single one who said a word to us would ask where we were from and if we were happy. And since we gave them emphatic YES's I sure hope there wasn't some sort of double meaning in it somewhere. It was hilarious though how much they all wanted pictures and wanted to shake hands and be so cordial yet so drunk. A great time really when the people with the REAL firehoses on the stands beside the road didn't notice how white our skin was.
We also went to the famous "Moustache Brothers" for a night and saw some cultural dances and heard some jokes and old expressions that we would have used in North America. They have an interesting story though of how 2 were sent to prison for speaking against the government and how comedians around the world petitioned for them and they were set free. They maintain that its tourists that keep them alive.
pretty weird though on our last night there becuase it poured rain for an hour, the first we've seen in a while and there was an amazing lightning show that was the fastest flashes that I might have ever seen. Riding down the street on the back of a trishaw with our driver buddy Dobo looking back into the darkness with lightning flashing, it was really easy to feel that Burma truely is an amazing and old country, most of the places just radiated the feeling of what old Asia must have been like. Every discomfort was worth it for the places we had a chance to visit and I'm really thankful for that. In every picture the people seem to be smiling and that is really what they are like and was great fun because of it.
There are more photos below