BY NICK WILDER
In February I joined a group of 12 amateur photographers on a National Geographic photo expedition to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Led by a National Geographic photographer and a guide, we started the trip in Yangon, formerly Rangoon, where we had a chance to visit the enormous Shwedagon Pagoda at sunrise, before the crowds arrived, and photographed the boat commuters across the Yangon River in the evening.
Our next stop was Mandalay. Highlights included a lunchtime visit to a monastery where National Geographic had donated lunch to the monks and a visit to an elementary school where the magazine donated notebooks to the students. We were greeted warmly in both locations and had the opportunity to take photos without interference from any tourists.
We then traveled to Bagan, waking up very early one morning to catch the predawn light at the U Bein Bridge, a mile-long ancient wooden structure. We got great views from small boats paddled by local entrepreneurs. The paddles in Myanmar are powered by the paddler’s stronger leg muscles rather than his or her weaker arm muscles.
National Geographic also sponsored a novitation ceremony for young kids about to join the local monastery. The kids are dressed up in brightly colored outfits and guided through their village on donkeys. After the ceremony the older monks shave the heads of the youngsters and their mothers wash them off.
Our next stop was Inle Lake where we photographed fishermen and a boat race featuring two crews of 30 paddlers each. We also explored the Indein ancient ruins dating back to 1000 AD. A few of the spires have been renovated, while others have been overgrown with old trees.
From there, we returned to Yangon and went back to the Shwedegaon Pagoda. To celebrate the end of our journey, we photographed a candle lighting ceremony within Shwedegaon and enjoyed a farewell dinner with our fellow travelers.