Polly Rusyn, our Burma product manager, recently travelled to the country capturing the following images which document the time she spent there.
After cruising Inle Lake my guide led me through a gauntlet of souvenir stalls behind the village of Indein, on the lake’s western shore. The last thing I expected to find were the overgrown crumbling temple ruins of the mysterious Shwe Indein Pagoda. I imagined I was Indiana Jones discovering it for the very first time!
Rangoon’s former grandeur is on display along its wide boulevards in the heart of downtown. Some are beautifully renovated and house high-end hotels, yet many colonial mansions, now humble apartment buildings, have peeling paintwork and mildew. I liked the contrast here of the colourful drying laundry against the grubby white of the building.
The serenity of this monastery was overwhelming, I almost felt compelled to hold my breath as I walked quietly through. It was a surprise for me to learn that all Burmese boys and girls aged nine or ten enter either a monastery or a convent for short time. Novice monks had left these prayer books behind in the main hall, whilst they took time out to play.
The evening atmosphere of Rangoon’s gem, the Shwedagon Pagoda, is truly wonderful. It is a colourful place – the gleaming gold of the stupa, the deep red of monks’ robes and various colours of the ladies best ‘longyi’ – and although serene it is a hive of activity, floors being swept, different small temples being visited. I wanted to capture some of the colour and energy of this special place.
Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura is generally filled with tourists snapping as monks collect alms in the morning. I had the pleasure of being there in the evening, feeling privileged to only occasionally glimpse a monk going about his evening duties. In the quiet of this vast monastery complex I found this young novice monk whiling away the last hours of the day in the sun.
Most businesses are a family affair in Burma, and these fish sellers were no different. I found this mother and daughter in Rangoon’s fish market and liked the way they mirrored one another, although it was clear that the daughter could think of better and more interesting things she would rather have been doing!
This pretty young lady befriended me as I waited for the ferry to take me over to Inwa. We chatted for a while before I asked her if I could take her picture. She turned out to be a natural in front of the camera and was as curious about me as I was of her. I loved that the ‘thanaka’ paste on her cheeks had been designed to look like leaves.
Markets are always a favourite for me and Rangoon’s Chinese market was no exception. The bounty of fresh produce on display was incredible, baskets full of all sorts of vegetables. Here I found ginger root, onions, garlic and potatoes in the shade of a line of weathered colonial mansions.
Bicycles are a popular form of transport in Burma, as they are throughout Southeast Asia, so when I spotted this one in Pyin Oo Lwin looking picture perfect, with its makeshift rack, parked against a peeling turquoise painted wall with an old broom next to it I had to take a picture.
As the cheapest form of public transport old Toyota pick-up trucks are generally crammed full with local people, the overspill sitting on top amongst boxes and baskets full of produce, or standing on a platform on the back. The young girl watching me probably wondered why on earth I would want a photograph of an old bus.
Whilst there is a lot of boat traffic on Inle Lake, I spotted this solitary boat from my vantage point in a restaurant on stilts, where I was enjoying a delicious fresh fish lunch, and couldn’t resist capturing the red of the girl’s t-shirt against the murky shallow waters of the lake.
Leg-rowing fishermen are a draw for all tourists and a shot of them in action is a must for most. Whilst my guide chatted with this fisherman, who had already demonstrated the art of rowing with one leg, I pulled faces at his young son. Although not overly impressed with my attempts to communicate, he was happy to be photographed. I imagine one day he will follow in his father’s footsteps.
These brooms belong to the monks at the Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura, and I photographed them as they looked so attractive lined up against the wall. I loved how something so utilitarian can be made decorative. These brooms are used both in the morning and the evening as the monks tend the grounds of the monastery complex.
This lady was in her best clothes for her evening worship at Shwedagon Pagoda. She had no idea I had spotted her looking lovely, pink against gold with a bowl of offering balanced on her head, making her look like a Burmese Carmen Miranda!
The temples of Bagan are major tourist draw in Burma, with the main temples well visited, by tourists, locals and monks alike. My favourites, however, were the lesser-visited smaller temples, that were mostly overlooked, such as this one, which I had to myself…
The one kilometre long teakwood U-Bein bridge in Amarapura is the place to be for an evening promenade. Locals, monks, ice-cream sellers, bicycles… all cross the bridge. I was there before the summer rains and water levels were low, so the bridge actually crossed a lot of lush greenery before reaching the waters of the lake.
Silk weaving in an important industry in Burma and there is a long history and tradition of creating hand-woven silk of a high quality. In one of various stilted workshops on Inle Lake, these wooden shuttles caught my eye.
Buddhists traditionally bring votive offerings when visiting a temple, such as flowers, candles or fruit. The scent from these jasmine flower garlands in Shwedagon Pagoda was intoxicating, adding to the already wonderful atmosphere at this revered temple.
The floating gardens on Lake Inle were endlessly fascinating. Made from weeds taken from the lakebed, they are fashioned into buoyant allotments, particularly for tomato crops. The gardens are anchored into place with bamboo poles, allowing them to rise and fall as water levels change. These gardens make up a large part of the scenery on the lake, and have their own unique beauty.
By Polly Rusyn