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Truth about Myanmar's'Ghost Town' capitol
Magazines call it a "ghost town". Newsmen are writing home to describe a huge, empty capitol four as big as London, traversed by 20-lane motorways and occupied only by a skeletal garrison of red tape and janitor. "Naypyidaw is not what it seems. At the moment Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is in an exiting phase of its development.
Several of Myanmar's more famous places now seem like fashionable backpackers.... but nobody seems to visit Naypyidaw yet. Of course, the reasons for this are that the town is not yet ready. This specially constructed Yangon superseded the country's capitol in 2006. 3-4 billion dollars have already been injected into the tunnel since 2002; but outside the ministry zones, little more than gras is still being injected into every area.
In February I had the opportunity to see Naypyidaw for myself..... but it was nothing like the place I had expected. It is not Naypyidaw that they say it is, but about a half the height of London. Gnaghi Naypyidaw is not a spook towns. It is far from empty, and there are only certain parts of it that even far away look like a spirit-village.
I certainly will not say that Naypyidaw is not strange..... but this beautiful city was strange in a way I could never have foreseen. There was little point in what I saw that Naypyidaw that evening through the coach window. Eventually, the day-to-day markets we visited were refreshing - and within seconds of getting out there were taxis in Longyi's (Myanmar's men's clothing) approaching from all sides.
I' d reserved a room online: the Aureum Palace which is a 4. 5-star luxurious place for about 30 Euro per city. Already an avid young chauffeur dragged our pockets to his cab; I showed him the adress of the hotels and he gave a nod. There was a large area in the front of the building, and the two of them seemed to have no orientation.
Over and over again I suggested that we take it slowly and go through one road after another until we found the place; but our rider got tired half way along a tab and then returned around the area in drunk circles. 2. The Oasis ; Golden Myanmar Hotel ; Golden Guest House ; Sky Palace Hotel ; Junction Hotel ; Royal Naypyitaw Hotel ; The Oasis ; The Hotel Amara.
In this area alone there were 60 of them, then two more of them. We' dn't overtaken more than a fistful of vehicles, but here we were faced with a labyrinth of luxurious accommodations, each the scale of a villa, each brandnew, with open front windows and brilliant interior candles.
A curious watchman appeared from his cabin and spat out his mouth full of betelroot, which the Myanmarans love to chew (it is a gentle stimulator, and the walnuts have the effect of turning the user's mouth, teeths and gingiva brilliantly red). After thirty mins and two safety men we drove to the large lobby of the Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort.
Somebody called the doorbell and I opened it to find a young hotelier smiling in the hallway. Sixteen, I made it, and now I had my first look at other people at the Aureum Palace Hotel: on another desk three men were sitting in suit and chatting about toasties.
At first it was hidden, initially encircled by sugar cane and paddy in central Myanmar, but any attempt to call it "in the midst of nowhere" should be averted. The city of Naypyidaw is a new outskirt on the west edge of Pyinmana: a historical city with 100,000 inhabitants, which was used as the basis of the Burmese Independence Army during the Second World War.
As a result, this part of the country has an important part to play in Myanmar's national identity. The town consists of eight cities - three older communities, five purpose-built new outskirts - with motorways moving from one ring to the other and interiors full of new building areas. Situated midway between Mandalay (capital of Burma in the nineteenth century) and Yangon (capital until 2006), this quiltwork capitol is a stopover on the country's major roads.
Located near the tumultuous Shan, Kayah and Kayin states to the west, Naypyidaw is just a few miles from Yezin, a 70s camping city that houses the University of Veterinary Medicine, Yezin Agricultural University and the University of Forestry.
To put it briefly, this was a very good place to put a bet. It is certainly much better for Myanmar needs in the twenty-first century than Yangon: the former Burma capitol founded by the Empire and mainly situated on the coastline for the UK Navy.
But there are other myths that explain why the former army leader Than Shwe chose to construct a new capitol (a vaindoer' s plan, some say, or out of anxiety about possible occidental attack from the sea), but the formal justification alone is sufficient: Nightyidaw has the necessary facilities. It' a city for the years to come, in a land that' s getting ready to move at an unbelievable pace.
In 2006, it became the country's formal capitol when the city's name was revealed on the Day of the Armed Forces of Myanmar. From an early age there were problems: Parting of the family was done because officials were summoned to a town that did not yet have enough school or hospital facilities. Naypyidaw has grown into a town.
Naypyidaw General Hospital was opened in 2006. Naypyidaw's Basic Education High was the first Naypyidaw opened and since then another half-double, among them the Wisdom Hill and Conqueror Academy of Education. In 2009, cellular penetration was expanded to the German capitol, and now almost every facility seems to have a decent WLAN.
There are several state buses connecting the housing areas with the state authorities. I had Htat list several sights around Naypyidaw, and I gave him my fingers crossed. We went from one end to the other in only 20 min. Naypyidaw is not a big town. But there is also a great deal to see and do.
There is a wildlife sanctuary, a wildlife sanctuary, four golfs, a precious stone mine and a well-gardens. There is also a Miniatur-Myanmar, the National Landmark Gardens, where guests can enjoy a full-size recreation of the land with miniaturized copies of all its major heritage locations.
From Thatta Thatta Maha Bawdi Pagoda, a copy of the one erected in India on the site where Buddha attained illumination, to the vast Uppatasanti Pagoda, Naypyidaw's principal town. There are also the cities - some much, much older than the new capitol - with their loud marketplaces, lush roads, parklands and monuments of battle, graveyards, monasteries und herbs.
However, the extraordinary geographical location of Naypyidaw makes it a very odd place to discover. From the hotel Zone we travelled through the town as the crow flies in the direction of the Museumsviertel. Naypyidaw area has been sliced into a disorderly pattern of squares of blocks, and it looks like the designers are just selecting one by one to work on.
Why do you think they compared it to a haunted city? Driving on 14-lane motorways (on 20 tracks, on the streets in the Ministry zone), we could only drive a few other cars; servicing lorries, motor bike commuteers. I' ve been to a place called California'shost Cities before. This isn't one of them.
At that time the town was far from ready, and although it had been constructed for one million inhabitants, it was still largely empty (which is why the West's press called it "China's ghost town"). Ordos had extensive areas sitting in dust and empty. However, the Naypyidaw neighbourhoods are quite cosy and enjoyable.
A lot of the population lives in brickwork and timber homes in the older urban areas, handed -down traditions that emerged before the advent of the city. The new population of tens of thousands, officials, lives in trendy housing areas: in roofed areas (green for the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Health, etc.).
Naypyidaw's obvious issue is quite simple: the plot was too overambitious. It is a small town, stretching over the area of a large town, a number of completely comfortable and practical districts with randomly opening, empty spaces between them. Another great thing I discovered was that Naypyidaw is unbearable warm during the day.
It was Htat that led us to various couples, fairs and museum; but it didn't take long before the day went to my head. 2. In the early afternoons we followed the guidance of Naypyidaws natives and drove back into the welcome shadow of the city. When we got back, the place almost seemed abandoned.
"The Guardian's Naypyidaw story says on a light Sunday afternoons, the roads are quiet.... It looks like an uncanny image of America's post-apocalyptic suburbs. "I was wondering if there are any international reporters now: run through town in the hot weather, take pictures of empty construction work.
There was a canvas-covered gulf stroller just outside the hotel's glazed door, his rider another clever young man in a sweater, bowl and lonesy. Aureum Palace is without question the most luxurious place I have ever been to. Of what I saw though, it seems to be racing at an amazing loss...and it is one of 60 luxurious hotels in this area alone.
A number of parts of Naypyidaw (e.g. motorways, ministries, hotels) are out of place in Myanmar, a land that is considered one of the worlds impoverished and in which a fourth of the people live below the NSA. Myanmar was probably prepared for a new capitol, but Naypyidaw is an flamboyant answer, and the floor plan of this town can be somewhat soothing.
In 2007 Siddharth Varadarajan wrote for the Himal Southasian and named it "dictatorship by cartography": a separate town without a clear center, an urbane panopticum that would confuse any public outcry. On the outskirts of Naypyidaw is a large military site, while an subterranean building below the main town is rumored to be reserved for high-ranking civil servants.
These broad motorways were supposedly conceived as take-off and landing strips for airplanes: every hint of difficulty and the German government's main town can be turned into a huge warbase. However, ending the talk there, writing Naypyidaw off as a preposterous act of urban totality, would mean overlooking the hardship of the local population.... the population who call Naypyidaw their home, and the population who named the area home before Naypyidaw.
At the moment many thousand persons live in Naypyidaw - but if you want to see them, you have to spend the night here. Humans were drifting around the huge square - speaking, prayer, posing for photographs. It was a very nice place, and although it was only a few years old, I liked the feeling of this place better than any other place I saw in Myanmar.
In Fountain Park we found the true spirit of Naypyidaw. This evening it was full of light, humans and soundtrack. This one and only time in Fountain Park in Naypyidaw would remain with me as the true view I saw of contemporary Myanmar. Not every resident of this still troubled land is lucky enough to be living in Naypyidaw, just as Moscow is not the isolated Siberia and Washington D.C. is not Detroit.
However, in Naypyidaw I saw more than just a land of destroyed churches and countryside villages: the backpackers of Myanmar. I realized what Myanmar was like in the twenty-first century - what it could look like. If it comes to understanding Naypyidaw, not all stats are of use.
Myanmar's administration says Naypyidaw has a total of 925,000 inhabitants, which may or may not be true..... but reporting in the West has also been suffering from broadly deceptive information. Naypyidaw Union Territory" is the largest administration area in the world. It covers 7,054km².
The use of this number to determine the densities of Naypyidaw corresponds to an attempt to represent the densities of New York to divide the populations by the entire area of the State of New York. Naypyidaw would be the world's biggest town (? 4,800 km²) - three time larger than Beijing, according to the Guardian.
Naypyidaw's new quarters are marked in bright green. Naypyidaw's dispersed, contradictory natural landscape makes it difficult to paint a clear outlines. Some parts I have been missing, while on the other hand, even within the seemingly confines of the town, much of what you see is grasslands (zoom in on the maps below and discover it for yourself).
However, I would suggest that these advanced city areas (including their satellites townships) take up about a 10th of the above chart, which corresponds to an approximate overall area of about 260km². Naypyidaw is thus nearer four (not 78) Manhattans - an area that is one sixths (not four and a half times) as large as London.
But if the government's size of populations is right, it would mean that Naypyidaw is slightly more than half as populous as London. It' truely so that some parts of Naypyidaw have a "ghost town": there are huge, desolate building areas, more than sensible accommodation, and these 20-lane motorways, which go far beyond the (current) demand, which would eclipse any sensible amount of transport.
However, those who discover the places where humans actually reside - the townships, the sacred places or the fountains after nightfall - will find that Naypyidaw, despite the extraordinary conditions of his birthday, is ripening into a quite sensible city. It' has all the prerequisites for an outstanding city, in fact..... it's just not over.