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A real taste of rural Myanmar – drums, gongs and xylophones included

- - - - - Rural Myanmar

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An explosion of sound abruptly shattered the serenity of our lakeside setting. Drums, cymbals and 5ft-long bamboo clappers were vigorously swung into action by gentle-looking villagers who had quietly gathered to perform for us at our remote lodge in the Myaing district of central Myanmar, or Burma as the country is also known.
The flamboyance of the orchestra was compelling as the musicians gave it their all but after an especially exuberant number they laid down their instruments. Now it was our turn to play, said the genial headman. So we did. Sort of. Bashing gongs, clappers, drums, xylophones and more, we made a heck of a racket for precisely three minutes, then returned to our seats exhausted. We looked on with renewed admiration as the villagers resumed their show.
Jamming with bamboo clappers was an appealingly funky episode in my journey around Myanmar. I had joined 13 others on a group tour with Intrepid Travel – little realising at the time that we were an ideal number for an orchestra. The visit to the Myaing area is a highlight of Intrepid’s Best of Myanmar trip, and the lodge there is considered radical. Run by four villages, it was set up in 2015 with the help of Action Aid and Intrepid.
Homestays in Myanmar are currently prohibited, a hangover from the country’s bad old days; the police are still able to check on people’s houses at will. In allowing four villages to host groups of tourists, the authorities have given the nod to a happy compromise. Located between the villages, the lodge is a small complex of thatched properties, offering 10 simple bedrooms and a dining pavilion where each village takes turns to cook – and to entertain.
Getting off the beaten track to this rural location was a treat. The trip otherwise visits Myanmar’s must-see destinations on a tourist circuit that takes in pagodas gleaming under gold leaf, towering Buddha statues exuding tranquillity and teak monasteries overlooking vibrant rivers. I’d visited the country several times, principally during my childhood in the Seventies when my father worked there as a diplomat – and when Burma’s military dictatorship was at its cruellest.


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