One hundred and fifteen years after Rudyard Kipling famously described it as a land quite unlike any other you know about, Myanmar in July 2013 is still by any standard a surprising and extraordinary place. Nowhere else will you see, especially not in cities, men with red-stained teeth like vampires going to work in skirts and women coat their faces all day with whitish yellow ground bark. On streets, along dusty country lanes and everywhere where there is a beaten track, barefooted monks in maroon robes walk cradling big black glazed bowls in the blazing sun. In the country’s biggest city, Yangon, the tallest building glows like gold looking neither like a hindu temple, orthodox church, chinese pagoda nor mosque but all four combined.
Myanmar a land of a dozen and more major ethnic groups with partial Tibetan origin is on the fringe of Hindustan but shares mountains, plateaus and rivers with Yunnan province. It is a land where India and China meet exchanging not only ideas and merchandise but also genes.
These days it is a nation running with its longyi ( Burmese styled sarong) into the 21st century. When I first saw Burma a few years ago most people had no access to a phone and a trunk call could only be made in specialist telephone shops paying in US dollar. Today, it seems that almost every adult owns a mobile phone and the only shopping to be had at night in Mandalay is to check out the latest phone gadgets at the rows of brightly lit emporium type stores on the main street. At the traffic lights on our way from Yangon airport into the city a man approached our car window clutching copies of the government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar ” Foreign Investment Rules ” for sale. As the traffic began to move we paid him and took two copies.
Myanmar is on the cusp of change. Better days are coming soon for its people who for now are the poorest in Asia with a GDP per person lower than even that of Bangladesh and only half of Pakistan’s. But no matter how normal Myanmar eventually becomes it will always be different from any country you know.
A pensive moment in the kitchen, Pyay
Approaching rain clouds over Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon
Doing the buddhist thing by loving all beings big and small, Yangon
Boats on the Irrawaddy River at Mandalay
Hats are optional but not the sunglasses in up and coming Yangon
Free concert in the park, Yangon
In the late evening after the rain Yangon flaunts its brand of tranquility and beauty
Fast food kiosk, Yangon
Waiting outside a clinic in the old city, Yangon
friendship and umbrellas in the drizzle, Yangon
A senior staff from the auditors office during morning tea break in Yangon
Outside the Sagaing hill top pagoda
Relaxing monks on the U Bein Bridge
With friends on the U Bein Bridge, Mandalay
Quail eggs snack vendor in Letpadan a town in south central Myanmar
Cyclist and fisherman on the U Bein Bridge in Mandalay
In front of a factory in north Yangon
Mother and child at their street side stall in Yangon
Colourful longyis next to garlands of white flowers, Yangon
Yangon has a historic chinese community
The British when they ruled merged the country with India in 1886 and made Yangon (Rangoon) the capital of Burma. As a province of India, Burma saw a huge influx of migrants making the newcomers the majority race and Hindustani-Urdu their lingua franca in pre war Rangoon.
A bashful plantain seller outside a market in Yangon
motorcyclist beside the moat of the Mandalay palace
Shopping for clothes at a morning bazaar in Okkan, a dusty market town some 110 km north of Yangon
Sitting outside a meal shop in suburban Yangon
Sprigs as shade against the fierce afternoon sun in Mingun, Upper Myanmar
The temple in Mingun bearing its iconic earthquake scars
Well-dressed devotees at the steps of the hill pagoda in Sagaing
Bathing in the Irrawaddy at Mingun
Bathing monks at Amarapura
Files of novice monks at meal time, Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura, Upper Myanmar
The much photographed U Bein Bridge near Mandalay – at 1.2 km the longest teak wood bridge in the world
The Irrawaddy River near Mingun
Fishing in the Irrawaddy near Mingun