Luxury river cruise opens up mysteries of Myanmar

Sep 21 2013, 13:58 IST
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After half a century, Myanmar opens its doors to the world, with a new Luxury riverboat cruise available for tourists. (AP) After half a century, Myanmar opens its doors to the world, with a new Luxury riverboat cruise available for tourists. (AP)
SummaryThe world gets another glimpse into the legends and lore of Myanmar through its reopened gates.

more monotonous than I would have imagined.

The first village of a decent size we come across is Monywa, where the people as fascinated by us as we are by them. As we walk down their dusty roads, we must look like clumsy giants. Their own bodies look so delicate, women walking gracefully even when carrying baskets of bricks on their heads.

The small, beautiful children stare in wonder. A teenage traveler snaps pictures of a little girl from the village and her 4-year-old older brother, then gives the boy a turn at the camera.

Every day, we stop to visit one or more of the many pagodas, old and new. We have seen golden Buddhas towering over us, and a traditional ceremony for young, freshly shaven monks.

After a few days, we reach Sittaung, a few kilometers (miles) from the Indian border.

It has 35 very solid, large teak houses, all without doors and elevated on stilts. Green rice paddies are on either side. The river is only a few meters away and floods a frequent occurrence.

An old, frail woman stood by the gate, leaning with both hands on her cane, her eyes fixed upon us. She was prepared for our arrival, dressed in her finest blouse and longyi, a traditional wrap-around sarong tied firmly in a knot at the waist.

I will not forget her, and our conversation in friendly gestures. I don't think she'll forget me, wondering, most probably, why a woman of 86 years would travel so far to see her.

Her rugged village is full of welcoming smiles, along with disdainful looks from yellow dogs and water buffalo when we expected them to move.

Here we turn around. It took eight days to get here, but we will return in less than half the time, heading with the current toward our home harbor and the temples of Bagan, the first kingdom of Myanmar, also known as Burma.

On our final night on the ship, elephant dancers - men in a full-sized pachyderm costume - are brought in from a nearby village.

The bejeweled beast appears with its leader and begins a dainty dance that soon becomes more boisterous. We are amazed when it stands up on his front legs, then on his back. It crosses a plank stretched between two barrels and takes a bow under enthusiastic applause, encouraged by the free flowing champagne. We politely overlook the two pairs of nicely polished shoes that

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