Myanmar, days 11 & 12, Bagan
Bagan was the reason we came to Myanmar, I’d seen a photo many moons ago of temples as far as the eye could see and was mesmerised, I knew I had to see them for myself one day. Between the 9th and 13th centuries, Pagan was the capital city of the Kingdom of Pagan, these would later become Bagan and Myanmar. During the kingdom’s height over ten thousand temples, pagodas, stupas and monasteries were built. Although building did continue, fewer than two hundred new temples were built between the 15th and 20th century. Several of the larger temples have been used and maintained throughout their history but many fell into disrepair and the majority of the original ten thousand have not survived at all, due to neglect and also Bagan’s location on an active earthquake fault line, of the many thousands only just over two thousand two hundred remain today. The original buildings although mainly Buddhist also included those of different religious backgrounds including those of animistic and hindu origin. Of the Pagan Era frescoes and statues that survived, nearly all been painted over and replaced with Buddhas and Buddhist images. In the 1990s in a misguided attempt to draw more tourists to Bagan the ruling Military government oversaw huge restoration of the remaining temples and they did a truly ghastly job, the restoration work is clumsy and unsympathetic to the original, causing more damage than disrepair had. There was much talk of Unesco World Heritage status for Bagan and it really should have received it but the awful restorations works seem to have ruined any chance of that happening in the near future, and still, for the time being at least, it is a sight to behold.
We left our hotel in Mandalay at the crack of dawn to head to our boat for the twelve hour slow journey down the Ayeyarwady River to Bagan. In the darkness you could see the outline of several grand boats along the river front, ours looked fine as we clambered down the steep bank, our bags carried ahead of us. We walked along a bouncing plank of wood, through the nice looking boat onto our actual one, ha! it wasn’t awful but it had definitely seen better days and like many things in Myanmar not really worth the money it cost. As the sun came up and departure time of seven drew closer the rest of our fellow travellers arrived and we all settled in, we’d chosen a covered spot on the upper deck in low cushioned wicker chairs. Moored behind our boat was an incredible three story affair with two huge golden duck heads on one end and matching golden duck butts at the other, most impressive.
Leaving Mandalay was a slow and beautiful experience, passing the wonders of Mingun and Sagaing that we had explored yesterday and passing under the old and new bridges of Mandalay as breakfast of toast and jam, tea and coffee was served. At about the one hour mark I started feeling not so good again, I fidgeted, slept and fidgeted a bit more, as the smell of lunch reached us Ma was feeling as bad as I was and we skipped the food and descended in search of somewhere to lay down. Some eleven hours later after as comfortable a journey as could be possible we pulled up in Bagan. I had lifted my head intermittently during the journey and seen the same landscape each time, the others who were awake for its entirety shared the opinion that while it was a lovely relaxing way to pass a day the scenery had not been earth shattering and if pressed for time flying would be a better option.
Getting off the boat in Bagan involved walking over another boat again and then down a series of increasingly narrow planks of wood, the first with bamboo railings, the next with two people holding a piece of bamboo as a railing and the last ending in the water with no railing at all and surrounded by a dozen or so taxi touts and young girls selling George Orwell and Amitav Ghosh who set upon us as soon as we put foot on dry land, what a welcome! We settled on a nice chap for fifteen thousand kyat to take the four of us to our hotel and loaded all our gear into his people carrier. We’d no sooner left the car park when we pulled over to pay the 25k KYAT or 20USD Bagan Archaeological site entrance fee every tourist must pay, we only had our passes checked once after that in all our exploring but I imagine if we had not had them at that point they would have made us pay for them.
The journey to the hotel passed in a blur of lovely sights and soon after we arrived I slept spending q a fitful night until I woke feeling marginally better the next day.
Breakfast was a freshly made omelette on the hotel rooftop, the views over Bagan quite lovely, the tops of pagodas, stupas and temples as far as the eye could see, in every direction. Ma and I stayed behind at the hotel, still recuperating while Trish and J went for off to explore the town and collect some medicine from the pharmacy. They returned a while later in time for us to head out for lunch. Feeling well rested and hungry we headed down the sand coloured dirt road until we reached the market and subsequently the main road through New Bagan. Shwe Ou caught our attention and we sat down for what turned out to be a delicious meal and our first bird rescue of the trip. A tiny sparrow had caught its leg in a vine in the woven canopy above the restaurant and couldn’t free itself so J being the only one tall enough, with the help of the restaurant owner, moved our table across, jumped up on it and gently snipped the vine away with my trusty swiss army knife (never leave home without it) Bird rescued, good karma pocketed, we proceeded to order and eat a very tasty lunch.
In the afternoon, Mone our driver from yesterday collected us at two and took us on a mini adventure around Bagan. Three things immediately stand out, firstly it’s beautiful; secondly, so this is where all the tourists are, every second person you see is one and thirdly, they need some marketing help, every which way you look someone is trying to sell you something, claiming to have made it, even though everywhere you go they are all selling the exact same things, lacquer ware and sand paintings with the same designs. Rows of stalls next to each other, clearly there is not difficulty getting items to sell to tourists, they’re just all selling the same ones. It’s also incredibly dusty and you have to take your shoes off at every temple which is as dirty inside as the dirt road outside so within a very short time your feet are also dirty, dirty and dusty all round. Mone took us to some of the bigger well known temples, first to Law ka nan da, then so many I forget their names, then That byin Nyu with its village of shops outside where I bought a pair of loose capri shorts. Ananda where we came across lovely plump puppies then to watch the sunset we went to a huge one covered in tourists that you could climb steep steps up the side, Ma opted out but the rest of us made it up three levels, holding on to the railings with both hands as we climbed the giant steps before taking a few photographs and descending before the sun set. Going up in the light had been hairy enough, coming down with dozens of people in twilight did not appeal. There were just far too many people in too small a space for comfort. After that, satisfied and happy we returned to to the hotel for a dinner in the hotels poorly li rooftop restaurant, who needs to see what they’re eating anyway Xx