Probably the most bizarre world's capital, the recently carved out city of Naypyitaw (aka NayPyiTaw, NayPyiDawor Naypyidaw– which means “Dwelling of the Kings”) was uncovered in 2005 as being the handiwork of Myanmar's military government and it is strategically located somewhere in the middle between Mandalay and Yangon. The official statement that was released to explain the reason for the impromptu relocation was because Yangon no longer had enough space, even though rumour has it the decision to move the capital was because General Than Shwe's personal astrologer warned him of a likely sea invasion (the reason for this invasion remains a mystery to be unravelled). This new capital city is heavily militarized –and it is also near to historically unstable Kayin, Shan, and Kayah which might have also prompted this decision.
Most visitors find Naypyitaw interesting primarily as a course of study in contemporary urban planning - and also because of the widening divide between the city and the rest of Myanmar. Spread across a very large expanse of a still largely unoccupied countryside, the new capital is extravagant, bold and moderately lunatic all at the same time- an empty sparse of eight-lane highways (mostly lonely unless there is a convoy of a passing general or when an important dignitary visits to break the silence), extra large roundabouts, ostentatious government structures and super hyped hotels resembling the more modern cities of the Arabian Gulf rather than anything that likens to Burmese. With its city life restricted to a few carefully separated market zones and a few modern malls, while the main sights, excluding the vast Uppatasanti Pagoda, remain few.
Naypyitaw's biggest monument, which is the Uppatasanti Pagoda (but local pronunciation makes it sound like “Uppatadaani”) is very visible above the city's largely level and attributeless hinterlands and can be seen from every direction as far as lots of kilometres away. Finished in 2009, the pagoda was given as an act of merit-making by the man in charge of the city, General Than Shwe, and his wife (almost showing a unique parallel with the Burmese kings). The name, which translates to “protection against disaster”, was gotten from a sixteenth-century Buddhist sutra which was meant to be recited in periods of unrest, especially if it involves the threat of foreign invasion -an obvious reference to Naypyitaw's founding raison d'être and the existing super normal fear of an invasion.
A replica of the Shwedagon in Yangon (except for a symbolic 30cm reduction in size), the Uppasanthi appears considerably large when viewed from a distance, although its glamour diminishes as you get closer. When you begin to observe the mediocrity of its craftsmanship, smeared with an abundance of inferior gold paint with splashes of red and white becomes visible (apart from the topmost section which is properly covered in gold). Leading up to the terrace are three outlandish staircases (however, most visitors use the lift as it is only the eastern stairs that are usually open). The terrace itself is huge and desolate, with only about a few statues of Buddha and one very large prayer pole to disguise its bareness, nevertheless, its expansive views partly compensate.
Pagoda's most peculiar feature is its hollowness. In the middle of the green-and-gold interior stands a huge square pillar, which appears to shoulder the weight of the stupa. Beautiful carvings which display scenes from Buddhist history, mythology and the life of Buddha are displayed on the sides. Close to the base of the eastern stairs, in a very small pen, you'll get to see the pagoda's celebrated collection of five white elephants, which is often seen chewing on bamboo (although they're often taken elsewhere for exercise) and a few other cute and smaller common elephants which gives a beautiful contrast of colours. Indigenes often regard these uncommon creatures as being very favourable. Doubtful visitors may feel that the animals provide an appropriate symbol of Naypyitaw itself –since they only view them as big white elephants of a slightly different species.
Just east of the Roundabout in Thabyegone, and providing an appealing scenery, different from the vast concrete land seen outside, is the very adorable Fountain Garden, set on both sides of the little Ngalait River, and with a small pair of bridges traversing the river. Pleasant clusters of bougainvillea, topiary and palms trees abound, as well as different pavilions, a musical clock whose four faces can’t seem to agree on the actual time and a playground with water slide. Unfortunately, the signature fountains, are only fired up during special occasions.
Located just after the unique, Maniradanar Jade Hall exhibition centre that is shaped as a flying-saucer, lies the simple, single-room Gems Museum which provides a unique overview of Myanmar's gem production. On display are varieties of sapphire, lots of jade, rubies, and the country's biggest pearl, but only a few visitors think it’s worth the costly entrance fee.
Zoological Gardens and Safari Park
Naypyitaw's twenty-first century Zoological Gardens and Safari Park provides a rich half-day journey, even though it appears to be in the midst of nowhere and so only a hand full of people make the trip. Both site attractions were launched in 2011, with the animals which were previously housed in the old Yangon's deteriorating zoo being moved to this latest facility. A Burmese comedian was one time jailed for saying that “All the animals were being moved to Naypyitaw", implying that the Yangon's zoological animals were following in the footsteps of the city's government officials.
The Zoological Gardens which occupies a sixty-acre complex, houses over six hundred animals, which consists of a good mix of overseas wildlife like leopards, white tigers, kangaroos and elephants. The Safari Park, on the other hand, provides electric buggies tours and you also get the opportunity to view wildlife in three different zones displaying the fauna of Asia, Australia and Africa.
Ministries in motion
The creation of Myanmar's new capital was constructed in utter secrecy on a green field site between years of 2002 and 2005 at an estimated amount of about $4 billion between the ancient highway of Yangon-Mandalay and the little Pyinmana and Lewe towns. After it was unveiled, government ministries were relocated in large numbers from Yangon, and an ultimatum of 48 hours was given to staff to relocate (though their families were not allowed to go with them). Still, the foreign diplomatic community has obstinately remained in Yangon. Since then, the only country's embassy that seems to have relocated into the city's approved International Zone is Bangladesh. Her age long bureaucrats, who were summarily transferred from Yangon, now inhabit the Lego-like swathes of dormitory suburbs, with the roofs painted with different colours to represent the status of the officials occupying the building, while the country’s elite have settled in the city's highly guarded military zone (which is beyond limits to normal citizens), and is alleged to have so many kilometres of bunkers and tunnels, including a very large military parade ground overseen with statues of Myanmar's three of their most revered empire-builders, who are loved by the army bigwigs, namely; kings Anawrahta, Alaungpaya and Bayinnaung - featuring often in militaristic advocacy, and beyond the reach of an average citizen.
Naypyitaw's population is surprisingly getting to the million mark, earning it the reputation of being Myanmar's third-largest city, and one of the fastest-growing urban centres in the world, even though this might be difficult to comprehend given how lonely and almost moribund the entire place still feels as if it is still perhaps a permanently ongoing project.