No amount of time spent in India is long enough! There's just so much to see and do - on my first trip there we only 'did' Rajasthan, travelling around on a train, to Jodhpur, Jaipur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer...all over. And then went on to Calcutta. We were only there for three weeks and it all seemed hectic and rushed, but India IS hectic, and everyone rushes. Next trip was just Jaipur, and actually I was grateful for staying put in one place, time to breathe and semi-relax. I think it probably helps enormously to have a guide looking after just you, rather than being in a group where you are necessarily herded according to schedules that are more or less inflexible.
Burma is totally different, in every conceivable way - gentle and peaceful, at least to tourists - there are still troubles in some parts, and tourism is still restricted, but these are early days in a country waking up from decades of isolation. We went on a seven-night trip from Mandalay down the Irrawaddy by boat to Bagan and back again; it's not actually all that far, given the huge length of that impressive river - the 'road to Mandalay' IS the Irrawaddy, which makes sense of lines like 'where the old flotilla lay', which I'd never understood before! So there were lots of stops along the way at various small towns and villages, and then the most spectacular balloon ride imaginable, over the four thousand or so pagodas of Bagan - totally breathtaking, beyond wonderful. Our pilot had ballooned all over the world, including in Iran, Turkey, Australia, the States, parts of Europe...he said that absolutely nowhere came anywhere close to the marvel of flying over the pagodas of Bagan. I don't doubt his word. Then we went to Inlé Lake, tucked in amongst the Shan hills, vast and placid and beautiful beyond belief, accessible only by boat, and populated by the stilt-village dwelling Intha peoples. Weavers weave lotus silk on looms that must date back hundreds of years, only the elderly women allowed to do the spinning, again on ancient wheels with ancient tools, producing incomparably beautiful yarn from the lotus stalks, dyeing them with ancient recipe dyes, weaving them into exquisite cloth, the rare and valuable lotus yarn intermingled mostly with ordinary silk and/or cotton. The fishermen, on their long elegant punt-like boats, balance at one end on one leg, rowing with an oar hooked around the other knee and ankle, the better to free up their hands for manipulating their nets. We went on a two and a half hour boat ride down a meandering, glorious channel from Inlé to a lower lake and the almost un-visited pagodas of Sagar, unrestored, eerily beautiful, some of them semi-submerged, the only sounds the tinkling of the htees, the little bell-encrusted top-knot 'umbrellas' that surmount each pagoda and blow in the breeze. Hardly any tourists go there, it's a ghost place, beautiful and strange, and a far cry from the bustle of the stilt-villages, the market places, the to-ings and fro-ings of laden river boats and the fairly numerous tourists in the main lake. As you see, I could go on and on! This is a magical moment to visit Burma; there are elections in November of this year, and breath is bated awaiting the outcome; Aung San Suu Kyi is poised to take a majority, but no-one knows what the outcome will be, other than that she would not be allowed to take office even if she won - the constitution forbids any leader who has been married, as she has, to a foreigner, and the constitution is unlikely to change. So who knows what will happen. I think it would be hard to go backwards, and close the country again as it has been since the military coup in 1962. But the situation is fragile. If it does go on opening up it will surely not be long before commercialism and opportunism changes forever the gentle place that it is now. I long to go back. I learnt a lot of Burmese before going - just a mass of phrases and useful things to be able to say, hardly a 'language', more a tool kit; but it stood me in good stead, and people seemed to appreciate any attempts on the part of a foreigner to speak their tongue beyond the usual 'mingalaba' ('hello') that everyone can manage! It was fun being able to understand quite a bit, and say a few words. And I learned a lot more while I was there.
Thank you for the info on India, and for the lovely account of your Burma trip. It sounds amazing. A guy in my office went last year, he had a similar description of the people.