Kachin State — Myanmar’s Christian North

This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.

253_Myitkyina_1618
Confluence of the N’mai and Mali rivers. Both originate as small streams on the Tibetan Plateau, and draw their waters from Himalayan-range glaciers. My tuktuk driver explained that N’mai is coming from China and Mali from India. Its not entirely clear wether the source of both rivers are in Burmese side or not. Judging the maps, some small streams indeed seem to come across the borders. The confluence is the origin of Irrawaddy River, Myanmars main waterway that flows through the country, all the way to Bay of Bengal.

268_Katha_1615

June 2015

Train to Myitkyina. We leave squeaking and shaking from Mandalay station into the night. Watching out into darkness, communities are living by the faintly lit street. Smart phones and TV screens are glowing back from there. Next morning we should be well on the way to north and after 24hrs should arrive to Myitkyina, Kachin state of Myanmar.

121_Hsipaw_1494
Train traveling.
258_Myitkyina_1604

250_Myitkyina_1106

Morning. Last night went without a sleep, not even the lightest dozing, ride is just too jumpy. Locals didn’t seem to mind much and kept sleeping. Outside our wagon, day is slowly opening. Clouds are looming low, and fields are wet. All the windows are open, sudden shower could wash us all inside. Farmers with their oxen are already plowing the paddies. “Iron-buffaloes” that are a norm in neighbouring Thailand, can be seen also occasionally. Change is coming also in remote parts of Myanmar. On railroads no such luck, except least were using steam locomotives like when British built the tracks 100+ years ago. Burmese trains defy the laws of gravity, to be put mildly.

257_Myitkyina_1594
Ages old scenes meet today in north Myanmar.
248_Myitkyina_1127

Myitkyina. Wide Irrawaddy is quiet. Night is coming and different shades over blue are descending over it. Due to the military restrictions, there is no traffic in the river. Water is plenty and level high, it would be easy to sail to Bhamo in south. Christian churches are everywhere, outnumbering the Buddhist temples in the city. A work of European missionaries in 19th century, who converted the local animist population to followers of Christ. Still, when looking the statistics, Buddhism is dominant religion also in Kachin state like in the rest of Myanmar.

252_Myitkyina_1731
Street market in Myitkyina.

267_Bhamo_by_boat_1474
Bhamo-Katha river boat.

251_Myitkyina_1728
Two pranksters in Myitkyina.

102_Mandalay_0345
View from U-Bein bridge Mandalay, April 2013 & June 2015.
103_Mandalay_1368

Advertisements

Persepolis and Shiraz

This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.

176_Shiraz_3589

170_Shiraz_3543

August 2015

Minibus is nearing Marvdasht, a small town near the historic park of Persepolis. Commuters from Shiraz have filled the vehicle. Curiously, town itself does not provide much accommodation, perhaps because Shiraz is just 50km away. Sun at 8am is already getting hot, soon it will be over 40 Celsius.

181_Shiraz_3494
Akinageh, Achaemanid dagger and paw of a lion. The endless struggle between good and evil, Ahriman and Mino was depicted in many palace walls of Persepolis.
182_Shiraz_3496

Persepolis literally meaning “the Persian city”, was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BC). It was built as a showcase the might of an empire, a superpower of its time. What has helped to preserve Achaemenid’s in minds of people today, especially in West, is with help of Greek scholars who meticulously documented the history. Who were always the arch rival the good sons were fighting against? You can easily guess. Glory days of Persepolis came to an abrupt end, when Alexander the Great stormed the city and looted it. Theories vary even today was the destruction intentional or accidental. Still, what remains visible gives an idea of what once stood here, on a dry plain near the small river Pulvar.

173_Shiraz_3667
Gate of Nations.

177_Shiraz_3569
An unfinished gate in Persepolis.

179_Shiraz_3630-Pano
Persepolis.
172_Shiraz_3602

164_Shiraz_3830
Shiraz skyline.

Shiraz is the major city of 1.3m people in southern Iran. Historic park of Persepolis is just one of attractions that the city can offer. Capital of Persia was moved several times during history, and Shiraz time was during the Zand dynasty’s era (1747-79). Several renowned poets are linked to the city, and its a treasure throve to Persian culture, culinary art and wines. Persian gardens, mosques and ofcourse, a large bazaar adds to the attraction. Shiraz is easily one of the most popular travel destinations of Iran.

159_Shiraz_3760
Poet Saadi’s Thomb in Shiraz

168_Shiraz_3843
Shiraz bazaar

161_Shiraz_3784
Nasir ol Molk Mosque, Shiraz
162_Shiraz_3799

185_Shiraz_3707
Shah Cheragh. Funerary monument and mosque in Shiraz center.

169_4827
Karim Khan Castle, a citadel in the downtown Shiraz. And someone taking a perfect shot.

South Myanmar in Photos

This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.

223_Moulmein_0881
Moulmein.
216_Moulmein_0964

June 2015

Most travelers head north from Yangon, Bagan and Inle-lake especially. But south-east of the country offers fascinating sights to see as well. Here are couple photos from Moulmein and Hpa-An.

219_Moulmein_0971
Moulmein. Worlds largest reclining Buddha at Mudon.
221_Moulmein_0993

214_Moulmein_0904
Moulmein.
206_Moulmein_0507

204_Moulmein_0552
Moulmein.
224_Moulmein_0463

246_Hpa-An_0630
Hpa-An.
244_Hpa-An_0818

243_Hpa-An_0811
Hpa-An.
242_Hpa-An_0798

241_Hpa-An_0776
Hpa-An.
237_Hpa-An_0737

236_Hpa-An_0627
Hpa-An.
235_Hpa-An_0711

232_Hpa-An_0680
Hpa-An.
230_Hpa-An_0843
Amazing cloud of bats going for eat, every sunset.

Persian Bazaars And Caravanserais

This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.

238_Bam_1137
Mud city and citadel of Arg-e Bam, South Iran. Bam was starting point for trade routes heading eastwards to Pakistan and India. Travelers through ages have stopped and awed its massive walls and buildings. Silk Road traveler Marco Polo being one of them.

232_Kerman_1188
Kalouts, at the edge of Dasht-e Lut desert, South East of Iran.
233_Kerman_1172

September 2015 & January 2016

Imagine Kalouts: constant pleasant wind, rock formations continuing to horizon, heat emitting from ground, further away an oasis with palm trees and vegetation. Wind always blows from the same direction, reason of the unique rock formations. Besides the gentle whistle, an unbroken silence. Open the map, turn the satellite on, zoom out, to see the location yourself.

Caravanserai can be described in English as a road side inn. Its a fortified yard where caravans could rest, instead of risking overnight out in the desert – not always the safest of places during uncertain times. It was often build in a place where it could serve as a water storage as well, a vital necessity in hot dry desert regions that caravans had to cross.

085_Tehran_2583
Tehran bazaar.

106_Esfahan_2628
Spices in Esfahan bazaar.

Caravans did long distance travels in North Africa, Middle East and India, so network of caravanserais were needed in regular distances along the routes. Such building project would have not been very thorough, unless regional rulers helped making it possible. Obvious benefit being increase of taxable commerce, as well as exchange of information and people.

088_Tehran_2846
Tehran.

166_Shiraz_3840
Shiraz.

In urban areas logical place for a caravanserai was as part of bazaar, where commerce could be made, news shared, and people meet. Even when its old purpose has disappeared, many Iranian bazaars still feature a caravanserai.

275_Kermanshah_1822
Kermanshah.

188_Qasvin_3888
Qasvin.

223_Kerman_0938
Kerman.

Bazaars are still very much in use and interesting places for people watch. Abundance and variety of the goods on sale is also interesting. Persian carpets, spices, jewels, hand crafts are the traditional items visitor can satisfy his/her shopping binge. But everything else too, varying from Chinese electronics to Indian clothes to Turkish tools to pretty much anything imaginable.

081_Tehran_2828
Tehran.

082_Tehran_2834
Tehran.

Last photos bellow are from Kashan, one of personal favourites in Iran. Bazaar is large, lively and authentic, with genuinely friendly Iranians both as sellers and customers. City is not as popular tourist destination as Esfahan, Yazd and Shiraz, undeservedly so!

242_Kashan_1398
Kashan bazaar.
244_Kashan_1448

251_Kashan_1456
Rooftop of Kashan bazaar.

252_Kashan_1469
Agha Bozorg mosque, Kashan.

Persian Bazaars: Tabriz

This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.

031_Tabriz_2294

September 2015 & January 2016

Standing in Tabriz bazaar feels like being in the halls of large cathedral. And at the same, in a maze zigzagging to surprise directions with new corridors and halls. At parts, crowded with people and other, desolated with just few passers by. Instead of taking a map, I prefer to get lost. Watching, wandering until exit on some random point and can relocate myself again.

037_Tabriz_2170

026_Tabriz_2273

027_Tabriz_2282

Bazaar of Tabriz is the largest in the world today, and dates back to the 13th century. The complex covers 27 hectares with over 5.5 kilometres of covered bazaars. Its still very much in its original form, if there can be an original form for something that lives day by day. Preservation efforts started back in the 1970’s. In 2010 it was inscribed as a world heritage site by UNESCO. Today its a must-see spot for anyone visiting the city.

033_Tabriz_2004

003_Tabriz_2371

049_Tabriz_4186

Waterpipe’s, or as Iranians call it, ghelyan, are bubbling in choir in a small tea house. Am just having a cup of tea and watching other visitors enjoying their tobacco and talking. Room is on the second floor, with a tiny window down to one of alleys. There daylight pours in from the ventilation holes in the ceiling, and dust raised by the constant traffic is beamed through. All scenes not changed much for generations, and among many other impressions, part of the magic of bazaar.

040_Tabriz_4276

041_Tabriz_4279

038_Tabriz_2175

All the photos in this post have been taken in Tabriz. Here’s second post about bazaars and caravanserais of Iran, in general.

011_Tabriz_2051

054_Tabriz_0887

061_Tabriz_0881

George Orwell: Flory’s Kyauktada or Blair’s Katha

This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.

256_Myitkyina_1673
Irrawaddy, Myanmar’s main waterway

June 2015. Its midnight, rain drops are drumming metal roof of my guesthouse. Arrived finally to Katha after full day of traveling in train, and lastly hour ride in darkness from train station at Naba. Road was mostly good and tuktuk boy let his machine fly.

269_Katha_232342

Screenshot_2015-06-12-23-24-41 0118_Chiang_Rai_4614

George Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days was my favourites while living in neighbouring Thailand. Orwell, or Eric Arthur Blar as his real name was, was stationed in British Burma after WW1. He served Indian Imperial Police in several locations, and became deeply disillusioned about colonial system he was part of. Contemporary anecdotes of Orwell describe him a loner and, rather than spending time with British empire builders called pukka sahib‘s, he stays with Burmese locals or reading books. In the novel, similar character called John Flory working for a timber logging firm and living a lonely life in a remote outpost. It’s hard to avoid feeling that what Orwell wrote about Mr. Flory in Kyauktada, was very much his own experience as Mr. Blair in Katha.

271_Katha_1478
Search for Orwell’s house. Local teacher was well informed about Eric Arthur Blair, and his former home by the same street her school was.

Orwell returned to England 1927 and Burmese Days was published in 1934. Later ofcourse The Animal Farm and 1984 would bring him world wide fame, but his trademark Orwellian style was already very much present in the first novel. Today Burmese Days is popular reading among travelers in South East Asia, like The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway in Cuba and Caribbean.

Burmese Days takes place in remote Burmese village of Kyauktada. Orwells real life reference to Kyauktada was village of Katha (today’s road over 300km north of Mandalay). Having read everything I could find my hands on about Orwell’s time in Burma, didn’t think twice when opportunity to see the place!

272_Katha_1481
House of Eric Arthur Blair at the time of visit. It belongs to Burmese government, and a policeman is still living it.
273_Katha_1483

June 2015. In the novel, John Flory wakes at night by the dogs howling outside. When I came, could also see the dogs and remembered the part in book. Great grand children of what Flory was cursing perhaps!? Novel is obviously a fiction, but am excited of being finally here so fact and fiction are starting to mix. It’s well beyond midnight. I wont be taking a rifle and go after the dogs like Flory did. Nowadays we have something better: ear plugs.

262_Bhamo_by_boat_1542
Riverboat’s could be used from Mandalay-Katha-Bhamo and back, but not all the way to Myitkyina due to military restrictions.

278_Katha_1432
Katha-Bhamo riverboat views.
277_Katha_1431

261_Bhamo_by_boat_1534
Snacks and food on offer for passengers.

259_Bhamo_by_boat_1520

264_Bhamo_by_boat_1576
@ Bhamo.
265_Bhamo_by_boat_1706

Cuban Reflections

This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.

171_Cienfuegos_3581

March 2016

Here are twenty photos and some reflections from the trip to Cuba. Because its tropical flora and fauna, couldn’t help comparing the country to South East Asia that has become familiar in past years.

096_Havana_4753
Malecon, Havana.

087_Havana_3328
Havana.

What can I write about Cubans? They are music lovers and party people more than anything. Salsa is in their DNA. So are their love for fat cigars and rum. The liquor is even sold in small tetra packs. I spotted often guys sipping innocent looking small boxes and wondered whats the sudden juice or soda passion for grown up men. But no it is Ron Planchao, 40% alcohol. That explained! People are not proud but self confident. Locals often greet foreigners and welcoming them for happy holidays.

068_Havana_3345
Havana.

From the trio of countries that I’ve been documenting, Cuba is by far most touristy. Ocean cruisers bring hundreds at a time, and so does the busy Havana airport. When hearing the news that Cuba is opening to international community and blockades are history, many wont realise that in tourism industry that happen already 20 years ago. After fall of Soviet Union, Cuba lost not just an ally, but main customer for its agricultural products. From then on, tourists from Canada and Europe brought desperately needed foreign currency. Venezuela provided cheap oil that prevented economic wheels from stalling completely.

067_Havana_3344
Havana.
095_Havana_4749

The island is flat, Cuba’s highest peak does not reach 2000m. Scenes from bus: Sugar cane fields and rice paddies. Small sloping hills, palm trees and more fields and greenery.

128_Vinales_3503
Vienales in west of island has landscape that remind scenes from South East Asia.

Farm animals are everywhere. It’s nice to see cowboy slowly riding to the fields in the mellow evening light, to return livestock back after grassing the day out. Condors gliding lazily with air currents and screening the world underneath. Another common bird that can be seen in shores is the pelican.

197_Trinidad_3856
Trinidad.

Ride paddies are not worked as meticulously as in Asia, where rice has always been backbone of feeding populations. Burmese or Thai farmer could be shocked to see how temporary the mud walls that form the pools are. They seem like pulled up quickly with tractor, not carved to the soil in shape that farmer passes on to his son.

218_Trinidad_3842
Trinidad.

118_Havana_4651
Havana.

152_Cienfuegos_3677
Cienfuegos.

Streets are in pretty good condition, although street lights at night are dim. Lack of light pollution means bright night skies even in city centers. Traffic culture more expectable than in Asia, car drivers and pedestrians respecting each other.

266_Santiago_4349
Santiago.

Shops and markets lack the endless variety and full shelf’s like in more prosperous countries. There were some queues occasionally, but in general shops always have least one brand of product’s on offer, and shelf’s were never completely empty.

206_Trinidad_3759
Trinidad, locomotive drivers.

231_Camaguey_4077
Camaguey.
233_Camaguey_4084

Weather in March has been really a dream. Constant winds, especially in Havana and northern side of island are refreshing. In south side, and especially Santiago, air was more stale and walking around in mid day not as nice.

240_Camaguey_4571
Camaguey.

245_Santiago_4371
Santiago.
254_Santiago_4282
Santiago.
260_Santiago_4331

Viazul is Cuban hard currency bus company. Many tourists are using their busses while traveling in Cuba. Drivers are pretty well motivated, but are making bit extra on their own. Busses always have front seats that passengers cannot use. Those are for people that are picked up from hitching by the road side, and pay directly to drivers.

IMG_20160326_170205
In a bus. Co-driver relaxing, texting and chatting with the driver.

They are funny blokes to watch, wheeling and dealing their own along the way. When they feel like a juice, for instance, they stop by the shop, all passengers watching and waiting. Or when the other one knows a good basket shop on the way. The duo again disappear to a road side shop for a minute, and return smiling with nice new baskets in their hands. Chinese made busses are in ok condition, and schedule holds pretty well. That ensures no big protest arise when another surprise stop happens. Things run, but bit differently in Cuba.