Map Burma

In a commanding position at an intersection in the centre of town is a large golden statue of Aung San, revered former leader, martyred hero and father of Aung San Sui Shi, seated on a horse.

The streets of the town were wide but roughly surfaced. The shops were mostly small and simple, except for the banks, which were grand. I passed the Smile Motel, but it didn’t look like it had much to smile about.

I had been walking over the six-foot wide duckboards along the footpaths without realising what they covered. They were gappy and uneven, but until I came to a place where a section was broken and I could see underneath it, I had no idea that flowing along them was a deep stream of sewerage decorated with rubbish. On one side, rows of dilapidated pipes were wired haphazardly to the edges. This was the water supply. It looked worrying. In other places the sewer was covered by concrete slabs that had gaps big enough to fall through.

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At the Paya I had to climb up several hundred steps of an enclosed walkway lined on both sides by small stalls selling religious artefacts and souvenirs. This is one of the country’s major religious pilgrimage sites. The steps were tiled, smooth and slippery, very narrow and steep. I didn’t do so badly getting up although it was awfully hot and airless. My legs had had a good training on the Buxstar’s stairs eighty four up and down at least five times a day. But at the top I discovered that on one side was a large tower that housed a lift. Bugger. I had left my shoes at the base of the steps and it would mean sloshing along in the mud of the street to get back there if I took the lift down. I thought about it, but didn’t do it.

The Shwesandaw Paya was possibly built around the 5th or 6th centuries AD and is said to house a tooth and four hairs of the Buddha. An impressive height, the top of its stupa is three feet taller than that of the Swedagon’s in Yangon. When I made it to the top of the stairs I walked around the base of the stupa, eyeballed most of the way by a giant seated Buddha statue, the Sehtatgyi Paya (Big Ten Storey) that resides on the hillside opposite.

Coming back down the Pyas steps was scary. I had nothing to hold onto and I could see the drop below me, along with the possibility of a broken neck. I edged down one at a time, putting both feet on each narrow step. After a while a young woman came and walked behind me, ready to collect me if I fell.

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