As I settle down into the narrow seat of the aged, two-propeller, Burmese aircraft, I plug a favourite Pink Floyd song into my ears, distracting the swarm of butterflies performing large loops in my stomach. The plane takes off on time, and I’m as grateful for the blue skies as I am for witnessing the dramatic views of the majestic, golden Shwedagon Pagoda over Yangon’s skyline. I’m about to step out of my comfort zone, and to learn travel photography in one of the holiest places on earth.
Over green plains, the reddish ancient bricks of Bagan’s two-thousand Buddhist temples and stupas are spread out within a short distance of each other. The central Myanmar town’s local food market is our first stop, and it is buzzing with talkative sellers, prospect buyers, as well as neatly dressed young monks, as they collect their charitable daily food portions.
For the next few days, Mr Min, our friendly local guide, leads our group to the most photogenic temples in Old Bagan, in search for the perfect shots. Built during the 11th and 12th Century, the town’s archeological air is filled with a sense of peace and holiness. Humming and chanting is heard from our hotel breakfast room every morning, as we prepare for another day out, normally starting from as early as 5am.
During a stroll through one of the local villages, a chirpy young girl, whose bright, white teeth can barely contain the excitement of posing for a photograph, captures my attention. Like a bouncy ball, she skips continuously, leading me into her humble family’s compound and noodle factory. A scruffy, white mongrel rests on the dirt flooring of the precarious family business, covered with flies.
I smile at the adults resting languidly under a wooden shack, and I interpret their serious, yet familiar gaze, as the permission I was after to wonder around their private property to capture a few shots.
There are a few different stages in the process of noodle making, yet the putrid smell seems to over dominate them all. Without a shred of concern for hygiene, dry rice grains are pounded into a fine powder, and then kneaded with water, before going through a bulky machine that turns the dough into thin noodles. A slim, young lady squats on the sandy floor, draining the cooked produce in bamboo weaved baskets. The flies, which earlier rested on the dog’s body, make their way over to hover around the freshly cooked noodles. Once drained, the noodles are packed into small plastic bags and will be taken to the local market.
Myanmar’s cuisine is directly influenced by its geographic position. It is a mix of Chinese, Indian and Thai flavours. Noodles and rice are the country’s diet staples, used in a motley of different recipes such as soups, salads or stir fries, and served along with fresh vegetables, seafood, beef, chicken and pork.
I leave Myanmar with a great sense of accomplishment, bringing back a suitcase full of holy memories and new experiences — definitely no noodles this time.