Myanmar Memories

S Balakrishnan
As Myanmar reels under military rule once again, I fondly recall our sneaky visit  to that country five years ago. And, yes, we also had a bite of Myanmar’s mangoes at a peaceful pagoda in Tamu Town. Tamu is the Myanmar border town on the Indo-Myanmar border, some 120 km from Imphal, Manipur’s capital. During our trip to Manipur we thought ‘why not visit a foreign country?’ That is how we landed on Myanmar soil. Our tour operator “Seven Sisters” took care of the formalities to get a temporary permit for crossing the border along with the vehicle. Moreh is the counterpart border town on Indian side, a busy commercial town; also hot, humid and dusty with a lot of Tamil people settled there, repatriated from erstwhile Burma after a military coup in 1962.
The border vertically cuts through the river Chindwin (‘Ningthee’ in Manipur); hence the steel ‘Friendship Bridge’ across is painted in two different colours to mark the dividing point–grey on Indian side and yellow on Myanmar side. Being the Land of Buddhas, our first visit (and also the only itinerary) was to the pagoda in Tamu Town.  Manipur and Myanmar being close by, we found certain similarities – the pair of lions guarding the entrance of the pagoda were similar to the Kangla-sha of Manipur; we also noticed women and kids with sandal paste application on the forehead, cheeks and on the bridge of nose, similar to the Vaishnavite Manipuris. But the most difficult and contrasting dissimilarity was the ‘Keep Right’ traffic rule even as we touched the middle point of the narrow bridge !
As we climbed up a tower in the complex of the pagoda, we had a bird’s eye view of Tamu; among the tin sheet covered concrete & wooden buildings, a Church’s tower with a cross atop was also visible !  Multi-storied structures of 4-5 levels rose in between the humble traditional wooden houses. Invariably, as indicators of development, mobile towers popped up higher up.  A bhumi-sparisa Buddha atop the tower, the highest point of Tamu, seemed to be watching over everything from there. I was so tempted to snitch a small wooden altar from the pagoda; I hope the junta will not punish me merely for this thought, though evil it was.
We had enough time on hand till 5 pm Myanmar Standard Time to cross back to India but it was past noon and we were getting hungrier by the minute. In a land where we do not know the language, how do we order vegetarian food and ensure it is really & purely vegetarian ! So we sped back to Moreh Town on ASEAN Highway-1 (AH-1). On the way side we stopped by a golden stupa. Though the nearby shops were tempting with handicrafts and religious icons, our guide, Mr Krishna Kant Sharma, had warned us we could be duped. It was so disappointing ! I noticed only one poster of Aung San Suu Kyi; even before I could shout ‘stop’ to shoot the poster, our vehicle had whizzed past it and I missed clicking Suu Kyi. I think Mr Krishna had his mind and heart on the Yaoshang (Holi) cultural programmes to be held in his leikai (area) later in the evening.  
Let me also tell a secret here; at the pagoda, we ate a few tender mangoes that had fallen from the tree; we also packed a few to add spice to our food as we were starved of Tamil food for almost two weeks. Hope the Myanmar junta suo moto puts me under house arrest along with Suu Kyi. I would be an instant celebrity! Well, the English word mango is, after all, derived from its Tamil name ‘maangaai’. So, I suppose we had all the traditional right to not only pick but also bite them for memorable Myanmar Mango Memories.

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