Welcome to my version of Throwback Thursday, a look back to a favorite memory while traveling. To launch this series, I went back a year (a year already?!) to August 18, 2015. From my calendar, photos, and journal, it seems I was midtrip with a G Adventures group of fifteen, spending the day around Amarapura, a former royal capital not far from Mandalay.
Monasteries, convents, and meditation centers dot the hillsides around this ancient spiritual center. I was raised Catholic, so monasteries and convents conjure up very specific images and meanings. The idea that everyone attends a monastery or convent – or a meditation center – for a period of time, and then typically leaves, is something that is essentially foreign in the west. Girls and boys shave their heads and don robes – pink for girls, orange or deep red for boys. They are housed, fed, and educated, for a time. They may choose to stay, or leave. Often, if the family cannot support them, they stay longer. Everyone experiences this holy life, this community, and it is accessible to all.
Burma brings to mind a few classic images: looking out over the pagodas and temples of Bagan, the great golden pagodas and Buddhas… and the monks and nuns. For me, the faces stand out in my memory the most. The girls studying, praying, dining together, and those who “commute” to the convents and monasteries and return home at night taking over the roadway, walking along, chatting and laughing and acting as children and teenagers everywhere do. We rode in the back of a small pickup truck taxi, bouncing along the road, as they parted to let us through, then resumed their takeover of the road after we’d passed. These images became such a common sight, though looking back at them after a time, they have resumed their power.
That night, near sunset, we visited U Bein Bridge and Taungthaman Lake. Taking a boat out on the water gave amazing views of the world’s longest teak bridge, with 1,086 pylons and built in part by teak wood reclaimed from a former royal palace. Walking along the bridge, I separated myself from the group and wandered alone, studying angles, taking photos. It was a peaceful moment, looking back along the bridge, at the tree in the middle of the high water, the boats bobbing along, and thinking, “This is real. You are here.” And being completely overwhelmed with that sense of time, place, and grace that becomes a part of your soul.
August 18, 2015, is the perfect day to look back on for Throwback Thursday: Episode One. A day in a place just opening up to the outside world. A day among children in monks’ and nuns’ robes and an evening looking out over a wooden bridge in a vast lake, allowing the true spirit of travel to settle a bit more deeply. This is what it means to travel, to explore, to experience, to connect, to live.
Thanks for the opportunity to reminisce – it does the heart and soul good to remember those times that bring such bliss.
With curiosity and courage,