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More travel propaganda
- Subject: More travel propaganda
- From: brelief@xxxxxxx
- Date: Sat, 23 Sep 1995 02:23:00
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This appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, September 23, 1995.
Obviously Stephen Mansfield is doing everything he can to
promote his new book (one of those mentioned at the end).
We are posting it only to show to Net readers the kind of
propaganda we are up against in our "Don't Visit Myanmar
Year" campaign. To Mr. Mansfield, gross human rights
abuses may not seem sufficient reason not to visit a country
and to erich the oppressors, but to the socially conscious,
these issues certainly should be something to think about.
We wonder what it would take to deter Mr. Mansfield from
visting Burma. Slave labor? Forced relocation? Rape?
Although we agree that Pagan is (or, at least, was seven
years ago) a magical place, we would not consider going
there at the present time. Instead of going to Burma, we
suggest that readers enjoy Nicholas Greenwood's balanced
"Guide to Burma, second Edition (Bradt Publications, UK).
For those who are not familiar with Paul Strachen, owner of
Kiscadale Publications (also mentioned at the end of this
article), we would like to add that he is another SLORC
sycophant. He recently announced "Irrawady Tours,"
sailing down the Irrawady in British colonial style. He has
also gained a poor reputation as a publisher, but some of the
authors he has dealt with would know more than we about
"Even today, the splendors of Pagan are
overshadowed by fear and uncertainty. In
1990, Myanmar's military, eager to turn the
area into an archaeological theme park that
would attract more tourist money, ordered
Pagan's 6,000 or so inhabitants to relocate to
New Pagan, a site to the south of their
original village. It's a snake-infested location
known for its poor soil and absence of trees.
The villagers were given one week to leave.
"We lost everything in just a few days," one
of the villagers lamented. The army gave us
a few bags of cement, some iron roofing and
300 kyat (about US $3) to leave. Those
who remained were beaten.' Today, only the
sunken water tanks remain as a reminder of
the community that once called this place
This should not deter visitors from going to Pagan,
though. It remains . . . a marvelous place to relax as you
adjust to its pleasant rural pace."
PAGAN TREMBLING WITH THE TIMES
By Stephen Mansfield
Special to The Daily Yomiuri
The 12-hour journey by "express" train north from Yangon
to Thazi provides a swift initiation - some would say ordeal
- into the best and worst that Myanmar has to offer. And
Thazi wasn't my final destination; from there, I was heading
for the ancient city of Pagan. At an average speed of 25
kph along stretches of track, some of which have not been
repaired since the British left the country, there is plenty of
time to speculate on the sights that unfold outside.
The pleasant monotony of Myanmar's central plain, with its
endless paddy fields, is alleviated at regular intervals by the
tradesmen who board the train at each station to purvey
roasted chicken, quails eggs, palm toddy. One man, who
stays aboard, passes out books to passengers who, for a few
kyat, could rent them for the duration of the ride.
An aversion to flying in one of the vintage Fokker 27s or
28s run by Myanmar Airways has brought me the long way
round to Pagan. Disembarking from the train in Thazi, I
began the next leg of the journey, about 160 kilometers by
taxi. Despite the arduous travel, the first glimpses of the
ancient city make it all worthwhile.
During the frenzy of pagoda buildings associated with
Myanmar's 11th- and 12th- century kings, Pagan earned the
name "City of the Four Thousand Pagodas." The propensity
of the people to transmute facts into colorful legend was
hardly necessary in the case of Pagan which, at its height,
boasted more than 13,000 religious buildings.
Pagan sits squarely above a geological fault line, and in
1975 was at the epicenter of a major earthquake. In an
apocalyptic scene that could well have been directed by
Cecil DeMille or Oliver Stone, temples and pagodas
crumbled and cracked, and stupas collapsed or slipped into
the Irrawaddy River. Reliquaries split open revealing troves
of gold, precious images of Buddha and jewelry - a startling
glimpse into the splendors of Pagan's 12th-century
The eastern entrance to the old city precincts is marked by
the Sarabha gateway. The 9th-century gate and a short sec-
tion of brick wall are all that remain of the original city
ramparts. You pass the gate on your way to the great
Named after Buddha's favorite disciple, the Ananda was
built by King Kyasittha in 1091 based on plans provided by
monks from India. At first glance, Ananda's square white
mass and cruciform shape suggest a cathedral or Greek
basilica rather than an Asian temple. But as you enter the
long wooden colonnade to the structure, a 9.5-meter-high
gold Buddha comes into view.
The Ananda Pagoda Festival is held during the full moon in
January and is one of Pagan's liveliest events with sideshow
stalls, a market, puppet shows and even a hand-operated
ferris wheel. A pwe - a pagoda festival - is staged during
While in Pagan, I had the pleasure of meeting 80-year-old U
Maung Hla, one of Myanmar's last great puppet masters.
Unlike Western puppet performances, which are largely put
on for children, myanmar puppet theater is aimed mostly at
adult audiences. The marionette dramas are serious affairs
and tremendous skill is required to perform the ah-yoke-kyo-ka, the "dance of the stringed ones," as some puppets
have as many as sixty strings.
Puppet shows have all but disappeared, except for the
occasional performances at pagoda festivals.
Despite the many diversions of Pagan, one inevitably returns
to the business of temple viewing. Pagan's largest building,
and the one that dominates the plain, is the gigantic
Dhammayangyi Temple. The temple was built by the evil
King Narathu in an effort to gain religious merit after he had
murdered not only his father, but also his brother. The
temple's brickwork is excellent and glows with a red and
orange luminescence at sunset. The king is said to have told
the masons working on the temple that if he could place a
pin between the bricks, they would have their hands cut off
before being executed.
Until last year it was possible to climb to the top of this
brick behemoth, along with others like it. Magnificent
views stretch out in all directions across the plain. But
earlier this year, Myamnar's Archaeology Department closed
off most of the upper stories of the major temples and it is
said that the government plans to build a giant observation
tower and charge visitors who wish to ascend it. At the
time of writing, the great Shwesandaw pagoda, which
stands on the eastern part of the plain, remains open. The
view from the top will give the visitor some idea of the way
Pagan was meant to be seen.
The British writer Ethel Mannin, visiting Pagan in the
1950s, was struck by "such a desolation that its thousand
years seem to have brought the coldness of death to its
broken stones." Pagan certainly has a violent history, not all
of which involves struggles between Asiatic peoples such as
the Mongols, who vanquished the capital in 1287. The
British too showed little mercy when opposed by the forces
of Gen. Zeyathra whom they drove into the Irrawaddy
River. Of the 300 Burmese soldiers who did not drown, the
remainder were bayoneted as they struggled in the water.
Even today, the splendors of Pagan are overshadowed by
fear and uncertainty. In 1990, Myanmar's military, eager to
turn the area into an archaeological theme park that would
attract more tourist money, ordered Pagan's 6,000 or so
inhabitants to relocate to New Pagan, a site to the south of
their original village. It's a snake - infested location known
for its poor soil and absence of trees. The villagers were
given one week to leave. "We lost everything in just a few
days," one of the villagers lamented. "The army gave us a
few bags of cement, some iron roofing and 300 kyat (about
US $3) to leave. Those who remained were beaten."
Today, only the sunken water tanks remain as a reminder of
the community that once called this place home.
This should not deter visitors from going to Pagan, though.
It remains one, if not the most breathtaking sight in
Myanmar as well as a marvelous place to relax as you adjust
to its pleasant rural pace.
In 1988, many tourists stopped going to Pagan and some
local people were forced to pan the dry earth of the plain in
hopes of finding and trading flecks of gold foil that may
have accidentally peeled off ancient Buddhist statues.
Despite the poverty and oppressive policies of the military
government, Myanmar, paradoxically, remains a country full
of life and laughter. To the visitor, this is a miracle even
greater perhaps than the monuments of Pagan.
Pagan lies in the dry zone, so it is a good place to visit if
you are in Myanmar during the monsoon season from June
to September. March to June is very hot, but the skies are a
There are many good guest houses in Pagan. A favorite is
The Golden Express, which charges $18 for a single room
with hot water and air conditioner. The Ayer Hotel is being
upgraded at present and will soon have a pool, tennis courts
and riverside gardens, all for $45 a night.
It is possible to hire bicycles for use on the few asphafted
roads. But the best way to see the outlying temples is by
horse and cart. Inquire at the MTT (Myanmar Travel &
Tourism) office for an English speaking guide. They
generally charge about $7 a day-
Puppet shows and other cultural events are held when there
are enough people to make an audience. Ask at the MTT
for more information.
A temple pass good for the duration of your stay, can be
bought from your hotel, Take plenty of dollars with you as
yen is difficult to change outside Yangon.
The best guidebooks for Myanmar are the Trade and
Travel's "Thailand and Burma Handbook" and Suntree
Publication's new "Myanmar Travel Bug." Travelers
interested in a more detailed account of the history and
architecture of the area should read "Pagan" by Paul
>From the top of a temple, a praying person overlooks the
horizon of Pagan, which the government plans to make into
an archaeological theme park.
A novice monk pauses during his alms round in one of the
corridors of a pagoda.
The marionettes of U Maung Hla, an 80-year-old master of
the theater art, perform serious dramas.