Friday, December 26, 2014

Snakes and Bridges

Today is a difficult day.  I just realized that I've never spent Christmas alone.  I've been away from home, but I've always been with a friend - the singles from church one year, the Evil One another, and Curly Sue on the last.  It's enough that even without a rough start in Cambodia, where I'm writing this from, I'd be having a hard time.  However, I have to remember that a difficult day in which I get to see Angkor Wat is better than an easy one a lot of other places.  So there.
I've gotta take you back to Myanmar for two more posts, so don't get lost.  It was only during my third day in Mandalay that the city started to reorganize itself into something cohesive in my mind.  On one hand, it's sort of disappointing that it took so long for it to feel approachable to me, but on the other, it means that I have reasons to come back, if I run out of other places to go to.  I mean, I missed the world's largest book!  For a book lover like me, that's pretty much sacrilege!

I asked the staff at the Royal Pearl Hotel to book a driver to take me to the Snake Pagoda.  I like to check in with Atlas Obscura occasionally because they tend to have more interesting sites pegged than TripAdvisor, and this was no exception.  The world's biggest book and a teak temple can't really compare to the story of this temple outside Mandalay in a little village called Paleik.  Bonus: almost NO foreign tourists and nobody asked me to pay $10 for photo privileges (which they do at Mandalay Hill and other sites).
Here's the story:  apparently one day the snakes - Burmese Pythons, of course - just showed up.  The monks who ran the temple tried to take them back out into the wild, but they came back.  They took this as a sign of divine favor and kept them.  These aren't the original snakes - the Burmese Python lives about 30 years in the wild - but after the original snakes died (and were stuffed...they are in the pagoda and look kind of creepy...) patrons donated new snakes, and the beat goes on.
The hotel staff I talked to told me to plan on leaving around 9, so that I would be there for the snakes' "shower."  Each day the snakes are brought from the Buddha statue they normally wind themselves around to a tub, with about 6 inches of water in it, filled with flower petals.  A silver bowl with offerings in it floats on the water, although I'm not sure what that's all about...maybe the snakes bless the money that way?  Anyways.  They spend some time undulating through the water, and if they don't climb out on their own, their handler brings them out, and rinses them down before drying them off and feeding them scrambled eggs (obviously not cooked ones...raw milk and eggs).  Visitors can help by pouring the mixture down the snakes throats from a silver pitcher.  Based on how the handler had to hold their mouths open, I'm guessing they'd rather be feeding themselves, but otherwise they seem well cared for.
After hiring a driver but before actually setting out, I looked at a map and determined that I could probably combine my trip to the snake temple with a visit to U Bein Bridge.  Kristen had been trying to organize it for sunset the previous day, but it didn't happen.  I asked my driver if it would be okay, and he said he'd take me.  U Bein Bridge is the world's longest teak bridge.  It looks rickety as all get out, but seemed sturdy enough once I was walking on it.
One end of the bridge is tourist central, lots of stalls set up selling schlock to the sightseers, but the majority of traffic was locals.  The other side of the bridge lets you out by one of the universities, so I guess that could have something to do with it.  Although I'm sure the sunset is nice out there with all that water, I'm kind of glad I saw it during the daytime; fewer tourists.  Although I'm glad the tourists come here, because I got some awesome souvenirs - a teak relief carving, a painting of the bridge, and a hair pin thing made of - get this - watermelon seeds.  Along the way my driver pointed out the Moustache Brothers and I ended up with a huge question...did I go to see them, or the puppets that evening??? 

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