Burma is steeped in Theravada Buddhism, the Burmese live and sleep their belief system and it is evident everywhere you go. In Bagan (Pagan) I was stunned into silence (which is quite rare for me!) when I looked out from temple steps to witness a vista of over 4,000 temples – it is literally a breathtaking sight – pagoda spires dot the landscape as far as the eye can see. The mind can only marvel at the workmanship involved in building the temples between the 11th and 13th Centuries. I bet many a calloused hand took part in the hard labour. In each of the temples there is a seated Buddha for worshipers to pay their respects. Though only statues, the figures emanated peace and strangely seemed to nourish the soul.
At sunrise, hot air balloons emerge through the trees and float across the plain – every few minutes the quietness is interrupted by a whoosh as the flames keep the vessel afloat. They float so close to the temples you can almost talk to the people inside!
Every night you’ll find candles burning in temples as young and old worship Buddha. The whole base of the stupa is often surrounded by burning candles lighting up the darkness as the sun goes down.
Famously known as the Long Necked women, the Padaung Tribe are from the Kayah state, also known as the Karen or Karin women. I had a difficult time photographing these beautiful women. In the past the rings were applied purely for customary beliefs – now for an entirely different reason in some areas. Today many younger Padaung women are ferried across the border to Thailand to provide tour groups with photo opportunities. The rings are extremely heavy and at age nine they start wearing 14 rings up until they are old enough to reach the maximum 32 rings! Once on they are never removed – this often causes the collar bone to deform. The women I met were very graceful and welcoming – I asked how it felt to wear the rings and how they lived with them on a daily basis. They smiled humbly and said they were no problem at all – I found that hard to believe though as a full set weights around 10 kilos. In photographing this culture, I felt perhaps I was promoting the use of the rings. I wanted to highlight the reasons behind their exploitation – although this is not always the case depending on where they live and their age.