A Venture Into the Unknown
Guest post by Marco Großmann:
It is an early chilly morning when my boat departs on Inle Lake. Carefully my boat driver hovers our wooden vessel through the misty twilight. “Very peaceful” he suggests and points with his weathered hand to the horizon, where a lush green lakeside gradually emerges from the mist. “Yes…” I reply with a lowered and awestruck voice “…peaceful and beautiful…like an ancient, hidden land”.
It is this appeal of the unknown that made me want to go explore Myanmar. Isolated from the rest of the world due to the political system, Myanmar was almost off limits to foreigners for a long time. The lack of exposure to foreign influences and globalisation have preserved Myanmar like a time capsule.
When I get off the boat, the first sun rays already pierce through the sky and trees, illuminating some overgrown temple ruins along my path. I stop for a couple of minutes to admire its scale and to observe a few men who are busy clearing the dense cover mother nature created over time. Suddenly my presence is noticed by one of the men, who raises his straw hat and looks at me. “…Min-ga-la-ba…” I say in an attempt to greet in local language. He replies with a gentle smile and waves his machete towards what looks like an entrance. Drawn by curiosity I stumble inside into the darkness. When my eyes finally adjust I discover one of the most remarkable Buddha statues I’ve ever seen. It’s not as golden and decorated as other magnificent Buddha in Myanmar but the light, place and the people I’ve just met turn the rather modest physical look of the Buddha into a magical experience.
Although I have planned to see all the “major” sights around Inle Lake I decide to spend the entire day at this lovely little temple area. While I explore every corner of the surroundings I have the place almost entirely to myself. Only now and then some local people or a foreign tourist passes by. I eat some Shan noodle soup served by a friendly lady and “chat” to some novice monks dressed in vivid red robes who had first curiously observed me from afar. Everybody seems to be at ease, gestures are gentle and people feel incredibly hospitable, honest and warm.
It’s a perfect place for photography. Nevertheless I wait first, before I click. I look around, I chat, I leave, I return and I chat again and eventually I will click a few images. Besides respect and politeness, it is always better to first get to know the people I take photos of. The resulting images will look far from being posed but intimate because they get back to their normal routines as they know and trust me. But to build up trust takes time, just like in every relationship.
It was my first visit to Myanmar back in 2009, but that day I discovered to appreciate the real beauty of Myanmar. It is not within the major, obviously stunning attractions like Bagan or the Yangon Golden Temple (Shwedagon Pagoda), but in the minor sights and sites nearby where the authentic charm of Myanmar is still alive. Here it becomes evident in all the small things that happen or do not happen.
But as Myanmar is in the transition of becoming a modern Asian country everything is slowly being transformed. It is merely a matter of time until its authentic appearance will give way to the boring and dull global uniform look. And most of Myanmar’s minor charming sites and details will vanish, just like vivid colours of a t-shirt fade with every wash. The subtle ones will be gone first.
So whenever you decide to visit to Myanmar, make sure you dig deeper and search for your own hidden gem off the beaten track. There are plenty of unknown temples, Buddha statues and friendly places waiting to be explored. The rewards will be unique, but you better come soon.
Marco Großmann is an emerging documentary photographer from Germany.