Burma: Out of the shadows

I am reading the last few pages of an epic adventure with tears rolling down my cheeks. Epic - a heavily overused word these days but totally appropriate in the context of From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey by Pascal Khoo Thwe.

Burma has been in the press more in the last five months than in the last five decades. After Hilary Clinton’s recent visit, one can only expect an easing of sanctions in return for further steps being taken by the government to ingratiate themselves with the wider world after years of isolation. It will be a long process not without pitfalls but anything is possible on the long road to democracy.

After years of holding back, a number of companies have started operating tours in Burma. We debated at length whether it was right and the consensus was that it was right for operators with a responsible ethos to go into Burma. Suffice to say, pent up demand has resulted in trips being sold out instantly and extra departures added.

Those adventurers bold enough to visit a country shrouded in controversy will be well-rewarded: towering pagodas, miles of unspoilt beaches, an ocean glittering with the lights of squid boats, old decaying cities of past grandeur, superb food and a warmth of a people thrilled to see the arrival of foreign visitors.

Picking out just one highlight from a recent visit to Burma is an almost impossible task but if pushed it would be Indein. Found on the western banks of Inle Lake, this intricate pagoda complex has hundreds of Shan style stupas clustered together on the hillside. Following years of decline, and with the forest reclaiming the site, trekking around and through it makes you feel like Indiana Jones.

The site itself dates back to somewhere between the 15th and 16th centuries but the exact dates are unknown. The stupas and pagodas are adorned with incredible intricately carved reliefs. My lifelong fascination with archaeology ensured I stayed there for hours.

During my exploration of the site I stumbled upon one stupa amongst the undergrowth that the recent rains had collapsed. At my feet were dozens of gold Buddhas, which had originally been placed inside the structure as dedications and spilled out after its collapse.

Having found the head monk, we gathered the beautiful Buddhas together and were invited to place them in a new pagoda. To us a rare find, but on seeing the bowls of them on the shelves these Buddhas seemed to be gathered up regularly following heavy rains and placed in new or rebuilt stupas.

This was my second holiday to this undiscovered gem in one year. I will be returning just as soon as I can - Burma has that effect.

If you are planning a similar journey, I strongly urge you to read Pascal Khoo Thwe’s epic before you even get on the plane.

By Exodus’ Andrew Appleyard – International Sales Manager

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