Upper Burma – Photography

April 21, 2014 § 6 Comments

This week I’d like to share more images from our travels through upper Burma. I’m adding the finishing touches to the third print design for the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna series which I am excited to share with you all next week!

Walking through a gauntlet of golden stalls selling crafts at a large temple in Mandalay.

Walking through a gauntlet of golden stalls selling crafts at a large temple in Mandalay.

On Inle lake, a fisherman deftly uses his leg to paddle his wooden boat, freeing up his hands to cast and pull in his fishing nets.

On Inle lake, a fisherman deftly uses his leg to paddle his wooden boat, freeing up his hands to cast and pull in his fishing nets.

A weaver uses lotus thread, cotton, and silk, all made by hand in their shop, to operate a foot pedal powered wooden loom to make beautiful, intricate longyis (traditional Burmese attire).

A weaver uses lotus thread, cotton, and silk (thread all handmade in their shop) to operate a foot pedaled wooden loom to make beautiful, intricate longyis (traditional Burmese attire).

A horse cart in dusty Bagan, Burma. (There are no filters on any of my photos, just beautiful colors in Burma!)

A horse cart in dusty Bagan, Burma. (There are no filters on any of my photos– just great lighting and beautiful colors there!)

Sun protection! After seeing hordes of bleary eyed, sun burned and lobster-like tourist staggering about Nyuang Shwe, we wrapped ourselves up while out on Inle Lake.

Sun protection! After seeing hordes of bleary eyed, sun burned and lobster-like tourist staggering about Nyuang Shwe, we wrapped ourselves up while out on Inle Lake.

Down endless green canals, we passed the “floating gardens” of Inle Lake.

Down endless green canals, we passed the “floating gardens” of Inle Lake.

The floating gardens of Inle lake are quite literally that- floating garden beds which are staked into the bottom of the lake with tall bamboo poles. (The lake itself is only about 3-4 meters deep in these parts.) This way local farmers are able to grow assorted vegetables (like tomatoes and eggplants) directly on the surface of the water– talk about hydroponics…

At one point, at the insistence of our driver, I climbed out of our longboat and walked on a patch of spongy, plant entangled earth. Beneath each foot I immediately (but slowly) began sink into the lake- what an odd sensation! 

In the photo above you can see one of the thatched bamboo houses, up on stilts, in which the local farmers live and work.

Monks hang their laundry in the morning sun to dry at an old temple in Mandalay.

At an old temple in Mandalay, monks hang up their laundry to dry in the morning sun.

A tall mountain top pagoda covered in woven mats while it is re-gold leafed and restored.

A tall mountain top pagoda is covered in woven mats while it is gold leafed and restored.

One of my favorite moments from Upper Burma was an unexpected visit to a mountaintop pagoda along the road to Bagan. This pagoda is currently being restored and re-gold leafed, so it is covered in a bamboo scaffolding, which was then sheathed in woven mats from top to bottom.

We arrived there in the dark of night after all of the stalls had shut down except for two women selling garlands of white flowers. In our bare feet we padded up a long, worn, stone staircase to the summit– up past families noiselessly eating dinner around circular tables. Sleepy cats lazing on wooden window sills. A monk who sat in his abode and stared blankly at us with even keeled indifference.

Atop the hill was an immense silence under a black starry sky. We could see the vast rolling plain from which we came, and Mt. Popa on the horizon– small plumes of smoke rising about the valley. The crescent moon behind foggy distant clouds.

The quiet was punctuated only by the occasional flapping of prayer flags atop the pagoda, and the nearly inaudible murmuring of a woman who was intensely praying and gently rocking back and forth in front of a small statue of the Buddha. It is only a projection, but I got the feeling like she was working her way through a personal crisis, up here alone at night and completely unaware of our presence. It was nice moment, and a good memory– something I’ll never forget. Below is an illustration from my travel sketchbook of the woman praying.

Travel sketchbook - In the quiet of night a woman prays at a mountaintop pagoda.

Travel sketchbook – In the quiet of night a woman prays at a mountaintop pagoda.

Men hammering gold leaf in Mandalay.  Back breaking work. Very heavy hammers while somehow not hammering their feet.

Men hammering gold leaf in Mandalay.

Making authentic gold leaf by hand takes a tremendous amount of time and human energy! The hammers alone are very heavy, so the men brace themselves against wooden rests behind them and spend their days hunched over flattening out small packets into leaf (while somehow not hammering their feet which barely straddle the wrapped gold).

I did purchase gold leaf from this shop with the possibility of using it to sign the first edition of prints in this series.  Maybe– we’ll see how it looks at that stage. 

Mt. Popa boasts a jutting spire of rock with larger monastery atop the mountain. You can also see some of the burning fields / forests that add to SE Asia’s air pollution crisis.

Mt. Popa boasts a jutting spire of rock with large monastery atop the mountain. You can also see some of the burning fields / forests that are adding to SE Asia’s current air pollution crisis.

A cat with Beth’s feet at Jumping Cat Monastery, in Inle Lake.

A cat with Beth’s feet at Jumping Cat Monastery, Inle Lake.

In the recent past, Jumping Cat Monastery on Inle Lake was a place where Buddhist monks trained cats to do an assortment of tricks, like jumping through hoops. Unfortunately, tourists began showing up and asking / demanding that the monks make the cats perform for them.

As you might expect, performing for tourists isn’t very monk-like, so they have since discontinued the practice. Nowadays, monk and cat simply live together at the monastery. Clearly you can see in this cat’s eyes that she is not interested in performing for us, but she could if she wanted to.

One of two enormous white lions standing guard at the entrance to the long stairway up Mandalay Hill.

One of two enormous white lions standing guard at the entrance to the stairway up Mandalay Hill.

Swallows and sunset over Mandalay from Mandalay Hill.

Swallows and sunset over Mandalay from Mandalay Hill.

Thank you for reading and for your continued support with my project!

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§ 6 Responses to Upper Burma – Photography

  • great post mike, and as usual great photos. I particularly like the gold one. it has a very reverent feel

    • Mike Schultz Paintings says:

      Thanks, Janine! In retrospect, I probably included that gold one first because you were fond of it. :)

  • jackbaumgartner says:

    I tried to like this post three or four times, but alas, multiple clicks only unlike it again. You’re becoming a travel-writer or blogger, Mikey. I enjoyed the narrative of your journey as much as the pictures. I think there is a good partnership. It highlights to me what I believe is one of your great gifts, that being observation- your particular sight. Maybe it is my hunger to know how you are and what you are doing, however, today’s post was very refreshing for me and I felt near to you, enjoying the privilege of a clear window into your days of late. Thank you.

    • Mike Schultz Paintings says:

      Thank you for this note, my friend. It is hopeful that these updates are not entirely unheard– and it brings me ease to hear that it was refreshing for you to read. It’s funny, because I really do try to keep them short, but then they just get longer by the end of the writing process. It’s definitely fun / interesting to be able to directly share what I see with an audience this time around. Seems to help me to reflect as I go, as well.

      I thought about you a lot as I wrote this one- particularly about the floating gardens. What a bizarre place. Also, that last photo of the swallows reminds me a bit of that painting that Amy has of the birds on the grey wooden panel that I painted in school. Not that they grey sky is anything like the sunset in the photo, but something about how those birds are positioned.

  • Absolutely fascinating and very well written. The photographs are so very interesting. Love your sketchbook. What a great graphic novel your travels would make.

    • Mike Schultz Paintings says:

      Thanks, Steven, I appreciate the comment. I’ve thought about making a travel journal / travel memoir with my drawings, actually. :) We’ll see…

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