Thursday, March 2, 2017

Myanmar Motorcycle Epic 14: In Awe of Hsipaw

Exactly two weeks into my time off, and I was at a high point, both geographically and in spirit. Hsipaw, Shan State, was as north as I was going to go. The following day, I was turning around and heading back south again. As for how I felt about the trip, I couldn’t have been in better spirits than I was up in the Shan Hills. I’d seen some incredible sights over the previous two weeks. The bike was running great, and physically, it seemed I was pacing myself well as I wasn’t tired of riding in the least. 

Still, I had budgeted myself some rest days, and Hsipaw was definitely a place worth spending an entire day. 

Another traveler. Looks a bit like Knut.
As I began my sightseeing for the day, I ran into someone eerily familiar, but completely unexpected. I didn’t catch his name, but here on this little village road well south of Hsipaw proper was a German tourist, on his own, touring on a rented motorbike (I even knew the rental company where he’s got it) with a GoPro camera on top of his head. There in the rice paddies, we exchanged
pleasantries, stories from the road and well wishes. Then we went our separate ways, he a bit faster than I. How strange to run into another foreigner doing the same thing I was doing out in the middle of nowhere like that. 

First thing on my list of stuff to do was visiting “Little Bagan”. I doubt the local Shan people like having it be called that, Bagan being the former capital of the Bamar people, but that’s what it’s called on the tourist maps. Before finding it, I came across an
These ladies are writing their wishes onto little
strips of paper to be offered, along with incense
and money, to the Nat god.
unusual temple, absolutely bustling with activity. Nominally a Buddhist shrine, there was a Buddha in the main hall, what it really was a center for Nat worship. The Nats are the traditional gods of Myanmar, ancient spirits whom the locals have revered since before Buddhism arrived 2000 years ago. Nowadays, the Nats have intertwined themselves with the orthodox Theravada Buddhism, and you’ll find places like where I was all over the country. Note in the picture, Buddha on the right, a Nat on the left. Which image has more offerings? 

Little Bagan itself lives up to its name. Like its namesake, it’s an area just jam packed full of ancient stupas and temples. There were some subtle differences, which I talk about in the video, and whereas the Shan and Bamar people have been at odds off and on for centuries, you can see how much they’re linked by viewing this architecture from hundreds of years ago. Even more so than in Bagan, I was a bit taken aback by the crumbling nature of these ancient monuments.  Sometimes, the ruins can be
fascinating, like this tree growing straight up out of a pagoda. On the whole, I think Little Bagan is in dire need of preservation. 

  Next on the agenda was visiting a waterfall a ways out of town. It took me a bit to find the little country road that would take me the ten miles off the main road to the waterfall, and after about a mile, when I stopped to admire the view and contemplate the road ahead, I stopped and turned around.
See, I had just visited a beautiful waterfall the day before and endured a horrible road to get there. My full day in Hsipaw was supposed to be about rest, and so when I came to this junction, I turned around and headed back to town. Discretion is the better part of valor. 
By then, it was time for lunch. I visited an overpriced resort on the other side of the river, and then had lunch at the Club Terrace, a wonderful riverfront restaurant with reasonable prices and delicious food.

A couple people, myself included, noted after the first few videos of my Myanmar Motorcycle Epic that my camera was pointed too low. You got to see a great view of the pavement, but little of the countryside. That’s a result of using a camera that is a little cube, 5 centimeters on a side. No viewfinder. You don’t really know what you’re recording until after you download it and look at it, which in this instance, is a month later. The rest of my video in Hsipaw was beset by two problems: the camera being angled too high (you get a great view of the sky but can’t see the pavement) and the lens got dirty. I think it’s food residue from my lunch. 

I am a Moslem. I don't like Trump.
The dirty lens led to a bunch of interesting shots not being in this video. It also accounts for the angelic glow coming off this man’s white shirt. I try to abstain from politics here on Leaving Amerika, but this was an interesting moment.  I mentioned the comments I got in a Facebook post, so I’ll just save some keystrokes here. 

Finally, it was off (again, they were closed the first time I was there) to what was labeled on the tourist maps as the “Shan Palace”, like a king had lived there. Well, Shan hasn’t ever really had a king. Perhaps it’s not surprising given  the similar topography, but Shan has historically been a bit like Switzerland. Lots of different ethnic groups. Lots of
The wife of the nephew
of the last Prince of Hsibaw
different princes in this valley or that. But never really a kingdom. There’s never been a unified Shan nation. That said, one of the most important local hereditary chiefs was  the “prince” of Hsipaw. The “Shan Palace” was his last home. 
But by this point in the video, I had reached the seven minute mark, and since the next part of the story, the story of the last Prince of Hsipaw and his Austrian Princess wife is quite remarkable, I stopped and will present that in its own vid, Episode 16. 
Enjoy the video.

1 comment:

  1. Outstanding country side ...interesting as usual.....thank you for your efforts J.


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