The absent city

Travelling by train in Myanmar is a unique experience. The landscape changes slowly outside the window, some travellers sleep leaning on the bench, someone sellers try to convince them to buy last packets of prawn crisps, beer and mango salads. The trip is accompanied by the metallic sounds of the train, randomly interrupted by the speaker’s announcements.

I was enchanted by the atmosphere, when I realized it was the time to leave. We arrived in Naypyidaw – the city noone probably had heard about and which happened to be the capital of Myanmar. If you ask the average tourist what is the capital of Myanmar the response will be rapid: Yangon! Or if someone is more into Kipling’s writing – Mandalay, however no one would probably respond Naypyidaw, and moreover no one would probably know how to spell the name properly.

Having arrived in the city I quickly understood why. There was almost nobody leaving the train with me. Only couple of Myanmar people rushed from the train towards the exit and soon I realized I was on the platform alone. The fellow passengers that stayed in the train were staring at me with curiosity: “Who is that European girl? And why did she leave at this station?”. I started asking myself the same question as the empty and absolutely huge railway station started to overwhelm me.

However, my loneliness lasted just for a second, suddenly out of nowhere I was surrounded by the the crowd of taxi drivers. Every one of them was trying to impress me with his offer, arguing with the other, so the atmosphere was a bit tensed. I decided to go with the first one who reached me. “Fare and square. First in, first out!” – I thought, expecting my decision would stop the quarrels. Fat chance. The taxi drivers’ crowd escorted us noisily to the car, which… did not started! The engine was broken so the dispute started all over again. Finally, I moved my stuff the the other car and off we went.

The travel by car lasted forever. We were passing by empty streets, monumental buildings hidden in the dark, huge empty spaces. I was wondering for a long time if we were still in the city, however my driver seemed to know what he was doing. He started to advertise Naypyidaw as a dream tourist location. “Have you known that the city is four times bigger than London?” – “Someone obviously is suffering from complexes…” – I just thought and decided not to rush into discussion.

Finally, we arrived at the hotel. At first, I thought it was a joke. The building looked like it was totally deserted – huge, eleven-floor tall mansion was in complete darkness, all lights were out. “That is the place!” – my driver announced happily and took my backpack out of the car. I did not share his feeling, however I felt a bit relieved when I saw that someone was rushing in our direction. I was saved! I thanked my taxi driver and followed the boy into the lobby.

When I entered all lights turned on and there was a crowd of employees awaiting my arrival at the reception desks. “They really must have a boring life here” – I thought while being escorted to the room by two different persons.

The morning only proved that I was indeed the only guest in the whole hotel. No companions during the breakfast, only the hotel workers with strictly specified scope of duties: one person to serve the coffee, the other one to prepare pancakes, third to serve toasts. I could not stop myself from speculations about the profit-earning capacity of this business… or rather lack of it. After the breakfast I went to the reception desk to ask how to walk to Uppatasanti Pagoda. “Madam, you do not walk anywhere in Naypyidaw. This city is four times bigger than London. You need to drive.” – the receptionist explained. “Oh dear! Not four times bigger than London topic again” – I thought, but I ordered the taxi.

It was the good decision as the city was absolutely huge! It would probably took me two days to march to the said pagoda, so the taxi was the only option to get there, since there was no such thing as a public transport. Maybe the capital of Myanmar is bigger than London (according to Wikipedia seven times bigger! Is it possible??), however when it comes to the number of population the British metropolia beats the Myanmar competitor without any discussion. Judging from the “crowds” on the streets and in the hotels, almost nobody lives there! We were rushing towards the city center on the motorway with at least nine lanes and the only vehicles we took over  it was a scooter and the bike. Nothing more – it was not a rush hour, however even in Warsaw you tend to see some cars on the street during the night, here – nothing even during the day! When we arrived at the place the taxi driver insisted on waiting for me. I politely explained that I do not have any idea how much time would I spend in the pagoda, so probably it was better he would not wait for me. He looked surprised but he drove away letting me explore the surroundings by myself. I realized my mistake when I looked at the deserted streets. “Well, catching another taxi will be challenging” – I thought and I went to the temple.

Having entered pagoda without any surprised I noted I was alone. Couple of monks joined me after the while, but that was it. Only me, monks chanting their buddhists’ prayers and the birds singing – pretty soothing but also… depresing. Long stroll on the empty streets resulted in the interesting encounter – I met a guy with a motorbike! Partially in English, partially in Myanmar sign language we agreed on the price for the trip to the parliament. The motorway was obviously lacking the traffic, but the drive in the setting down sun was exquisite! The smell of the warm air, and betel chewed by the driver was awesome. Later on the swim in the deserted hotel’s swimming pool was good as well! All in all, I enjoyed my short visit to capital of Myanmar. I left the next day, half relieved, half depressed with a strange feeling that now I totally get why nobody left the train on Naypyidaw station…

Author: Joanna Zubkow

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