5.30 am: Bagan standard time
I pant as I climb the massive steps of the Shwesandaw Pagoda in a jiffy. I was here yesterday. But today was different. I scramble up the stairs of the ancient seven stored pagoda in pitch darkness and reach the top. The place is teeming with some 100 odd tourists. I lose count of the tripods.
Finding an empty spot for myself , I see that the lower level of the pagoda is filled with people too.
Bagan sunrises must be precious. No wonder the Shwesandaw pagoda is rated one of the finest places to catch one in Bagan.
The sun isn’t up yet and there is pin drop silence.
Occasional movements, a few murmurs but a disciplined calm.
All eyes fixed in one direction. All waiting in patience and excitement at the same time.
I wait anxiously for the hot air balloons to go up.
After all that is the one picture every photographer aspires to have. Hot air balloons over the ancient pagodas, gleaming in the morning hues.
Gradually a spot of light appears in the sky, in an oblong shape, behind a massive pagoda, silhouetting it.
The magic is yet to unfold and all the surrounding stupas stand in silence, as if smiling at all of us waiting to see the show of a lifetime.
It’s ironic. The excitement isn’t visible. Faces are stoic. But it can be felt in the silence. The anticipation of how magnificent the sunrise is doing the rounds not in mindless babble but in the unanimous focus.
The oblong shape of light has now turned a mild orange, increasing in length and saturation.
The morning haze is slowly disappearing and countless stupas are now coming to light.
It feels like waking up with the pagodas. The shutterbugs are going crazy. I can hear a zillion clicks in a minute, punctuated with sounds of birds.
No whirring of cars, no mobile beeps, no small talk.
The sun rises celebrating this little get together of strangers, but not in its usual, cliche fashion.
It’s now a fiery orange, like an invisible dragon is emitting fire on the pagoda.
There is no sign of the hot air balloons. Probably the weather didn’t permit them to fly today.
I did not get my cliche Bagan shot. But nature never disappoints. As the morning light swept over the landscape, I break into a smile.
Thousands of miles away from home, in the company of absolute strangers, I saw one of the finest sunrises of my life.
The waters of the Irrawaddy river shimmer as we board the boat for the sunset river cruise.
Now known as the Ayeyarwaddy river, the river is the largest river of Myanmar and the waterway that connects all the major cities: Mandalay, Bagan and Yangon.
Kids run along waving goodbye as the boat leaves the jetty, chasing the sunset.
Cane furniture on furnished teak wood planks welcomes me as I wait for the boat to pick up speed.
In fact it sways away at its own unhurried pace, as if complimenting the lilting waters of the river.
This isn’t for people hunting for turquoise waters or fancy water shows. Nor for people wanting to hop onto a boat for loud music and cheer.
Perhaps it is for the ones who’d like to chase a sunset, slowly, soaking in the life of the Burmese delta.
The water is silty, the river is wide and unending. Boats cruise up and down as I engage in my favourite hobby: Sky watching.
The patterns of the clouds immediately draw my attention as the sky turns mellow then dramatic.
As the cloud formations change, temples of Bagan can be seen at a distance, emerging from the greens.
Doreen’s singing completes the scene with her soft notes matching the sounds of the river.
Time has in a way come to a halt. One of those moments you don’t ‘do’, you just ‘experience’ and let them wash themselves on you.
In the morning I was so excited, anxious and waiting. But sunsets are different. There isn’t an impending wait for the sun to drown. It is savoured slowly, the dance of the clouds, the change in the hues, the hide and seek drama ( as if the sun threatens “ok bye” but still lingers on).
The sky is now a deep purple and the lights of cruise liners blink away.
These are huge and fully furnished with cabins, mostly ferrying passengers who choose to experience Myanmar cruising on the river.
For other days, there are sunrises and sunsets.