A wandering bird's-eye overview of most things even vaguely related to travel, and an opportunity for writers, artists and photographers to contribute the historical, the hysterical, the quirky and quixotic... anything with heart.

3 years ago
Of golden orbs
Of golden orbs

From a rickety plank jetty we float south on a Burmese longtail boat, the sun an orange-red disc in an early morning sky of dust and woodsmoke.

It's half an hour to Inle Lake: 22 x 10km and only 1.5m deep I'm told, mingling at the edge with an overgrown riot of green, and no telling where the real lake starts and finishes. 

Our helmsman-guide balances bolt upright, toes grip the flimsy hull. He peers ahead from his perch on the very end, and lifts the long shaft clear to pull lotus roots from a strangled prop.

Another hour and we push into the maze of channels proper, sliding past raised thatch or rusted roofs, and eventually see the golden top spire of our goal - the 100m high Phaung Daw Oo golden pagoda.

The boat is tethered midst a menagerie of others, our stepping stones from one boat to another; then stairs up to leave sandals on burning stone pavers. There's relief in the dark of shaded stalls and shops; the chatter, the brass Buddha masks and coloured tees, the pungent wafts of incense, the chimes and carvings.

More steps and we're inside the great hall, and an all-enveloping silence, the porcelain tiles cool and white. A central pedestal stand is a metre diameter and sits on a locally raised red floor, an ornate gilded canopy hangs from high temple ceilings.

On the stand are 5-golden single or double orbs, the size of large bowling balls, each distorted and different from the other: what's left of 800-yr old Buddha statues, each having collapsed under the weight of gold leaf offerings applied by  devoted male pilgrims passing this way.

Each year the Buddha's images are transported by barge, visiting the 14 lake villages and monastery with great ceremony. 

In 1964, with the sinking of the barge in rough weather, one of the precious Buddhas is lost overboard.

Miraculously though - with all hope gone - the deformed statue is found waiting on its pergoda pedestal to be reunited with its 4-companions upon the barge's return.

Photo: Golden Orbs - Phaung Daw Oo Pergoda, Inle Lake, Myanmar _ Ian Cochrane