Thursday, Oct 06, 2022
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Sublime Seclusion

Travelling in Burma is a bit like travelling back in time—to the India of the '60s. Large parts of the country seem frozen in a time warp. Rattletrap buses and cars (some of them surely World War II vintage) coast sedately down country roads alongside tongas and bullock carts, typewriters are still very much in use, and mobile phones are a rare sight. PCOs in provincial towns are still manned by telephone operators, and long-distance calls rarely get through. People speak a quaint, rather archaic, English, peppered with phrases like "Everything's gung-ho" and "Allow me to treat you to some tea".

Successive regimes since the late '60s may have succeeded in isolating Burma from the world, but this seems also to have helped preserve an innocence about the place that catches at your heart. You feel it at Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda, its great golden spire like a beacon of light and protection, watching over the city and its people. From dawn to dusk, the pagoda buzzes with people and activity, all the same, it emanates a powerful aura of pure faith, and detachment from the material world. We saw whole families that had come to spend the entire day there, bringing babies to be blessed, food for the monks, flowers to adorn the images, and peacock feather brooms to sweep the pagoda's great terraces sparkling clean. You feel that innocence, too, at little street-side eateries where, when you ask for the bill, the owner and his wife instead shyly hand you a little gift "because you have come from so far".

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