Our river journey continued into central Myanmar into the Bagan region. Bagan (known as Pagan during the British Burma period), was the Capital during the 11th to 13th C, and is sometimes referred to as “Myanmar’s Angkor Wat”. Bagan is extensive, thousands of temples are scattered throughout a vast plain of about 50-sq-kms. The temples remain, as they were constructed mainly in brick, while the palaces and other buildings were made from teak and have long since disappeared. On our way to Bagan, we stopped along the Ayeyarwady at the town of Salay. Salay is a sleepy town with lots of crumbling colonial buildings, monasteries and older style temples and stupas from the time early 11th C to 12th C. We had a bit of fun here watching locals rolling cheroots and working out of day of the week horoscope animal.
Salay/Sale has the largest lacquer Buddha image in Myanmar as well as a beautiful teak Monastery, turned museum. Teak was the building material of choice for palaces and monasteries – this one was early 150 years old. If the teak is not exposed to rain, it can last must longer as we saw on some of the external carvings of the lives of Buddha.
Our first view of the Bagan plains was from Tan Kyi Taung mountain – from the beautiful temple. The week between Christmas and New Year was also a holiday for the Myanmar people and lots of people were about. Elephants were the theme of the morning; from the temple to a special Elephant Dance performed by the locals along the river bank before boarding our boat again. Gold, gold and more gold.. each temple we saw seem to be more elaborate with more gold than the one before.
Bagan is now a World Heritage Site, which means tourists flock to it like no other place we had seen in Myanmar. There are so many temples, over a vast area, so we only went to a small selection. The temples were different to others we had seen, with many terraces with only the upper spires covered in gold and red. Completed in 1090, the Ananda Paya: is one the largest and is regarded as the most beautiful temple in the region. It has four entrances with frescoes, and numerous niches and four enormous Buddhas in the central core. Near the Gu Byauk Gyi Temple we saw exhibited what is known as the Myanmar “Rosetta Stone” – a large stone pillar with inscriptions in four languages – Pyu, Mon, Pali and Burmese – which allowed Archaeologists in the early 20th C to finally interpret the language found in Sri Kestra (Pyu).
A highlight in Bagan is to watch the sunset, climbing up the temple terraces. Only a few Temples allow people to do this now in order to protect the buildings. We managed to do this at Shwesandaw Pagoda. It’s a very steep climb to the top, and each terrace is more narrow than the previous. I managed to climb to the 4th, but watched the sunset from the less crowded, more spacious 3rd terrace. The views of the plains are spectacular and well worth the crowded touristy atmosphere. Some of our group had the foresight to book dawn balloon rides, but I only thought of this a month before I left home, and they were all booked out during the time we were at Bagan.
Our last stop in Bagan was to a lacquerware factory. It was a fascinating process that is still using traditional materials, colourings and all by hand with beautiful results. So lots of shopping of course….
Onwards to Mandalay!