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Travelers' Tales: Burma (Myanmar)'s chilli side

Jean and David Corbett Traveled to Burma with Audley

Temple wall paintings, Bagan

Temple wall paintings, Bagan

A shout! 4.30am. And ten little novices started their morning prayers in the darkness.
Jean Corbett

“Chilli?” Win, our guide, proffered the small dish of green and red chillies. I hesitated. We’d just trekked for 12 miles through the Burmese countryside and seen fields of them being harvested and then dried on the ground but... “They are very good with your chicken curry,” he insisted, “just dip one in the salt and eat.” Oh well, in for a penny... “Aaaagh!” I gulped down water and tried to cram as much rice into my mouth as possible.

One of the many hill-top temples in Mrauk UThrough streaming eyes I looked round at our resting place for the night. The monastery’s single, dark room was typical of the many teak village monasteries we’d seen on our walk. The shutters had now closed out the warm Burmese night and the cavernous interior was dimly lit by just two small electric lights. The gold-painted Buddha smiled down benignly, while ten red-robed novices fussed round the chief monk in the far corner.

Dinner was served. I tried not to think about the black outhouse where our cook had been squatting over an open fire on the floor preparing our food. We sat cross-legged at our 12-inch-high table and ate the most delicious food imaginable: bean soup, chicken curry, four diff erent vegetables – how did he do all that on one small fire?

Girl at InwaAfter the last orange was eaten and the pot drained of green tea we padded across to where a bamboo screen had been erected in one corner of the room to give us our own private space. The guide had laid out a thin mattress, pillow and blanket under a florescent-pink mosquito net (do mossies have an aversion to pink, I wonder?).

As we were settling down under our blankets, there was a shout. The ten little novices had begun their evening prayers. As we lay listening, I thought how surreal it was to be in the middle of Burma, on a hard teak floor, witnessing a religion so different to our own. Click! Generator off. Oh, so it was sleep time then, was it?

A shout! 4.30am. And ten little novices started their morning prayers in the darkness. Fried bananas and more green tea awaited. Another day in this wonderful country was beginning.

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