People come to Bagan to see the ancient temples and pagodas. Most people only come for 2-4 days and wouldn’t have a hope of seeing them all. My horse cart driver has lived here his whole life (over 60 years I’m guessing) and he says he hasn’t seen half of them. That’s because there are over 2000 of them!
Over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Kingdom of Pagan (the former name) back in the 11-13th centuries although most have disappeared due to neglect, abandonment and earthquake destruction. There are now about 2200 temples standing (in various states of disrepair) – and I walked through maybe 10 of them!
The Bagan area has suffered numerous earthquakes over the years – apparently 400 between 1905 and the most severe one in 1975. This last earthquake (8.0) destroyed many of the temples, some forever. Others have undergone repair initiated by the military government in the 1990’s in an effort to turn the area into an international tourist destination and a UNESCO heritage site. However, in their haste they did little to retain the original architectural styles or materials – and essentially did a shoddy job. This shoddy workmanship is still apparent today, although I did see that recent restorations are looking much better. They never did get their UNESCO Heritage classification, reportedly because of these miserable efforts back in the 1990’s.
So – I was there to see temples, because that’s what you do here. It was raining when I arrived at the hotel in the morning, so I had to wait that out before heading out on foot in the afternoon to check out some of the ones nearest to the hotel. The biggest one, Shewzigon, is also the town’s primary religious site. It looks quite similar to the Shwedegon that I visited in Yangon – and once again, it was quite blinding with the glittery gold and white tiled floors.
After wandering around a bit, I just found a quiet spot to sit and watch the world go by. It’s quite interesting to watch the locals come and perform their worshipping duties.
One of the best ways to get around Bagan is by bike, and that’s what I did. The heat in the middle of the day is diabolical here, so the plan is to get up early, head out until midday, come back to the hotel for a swim and a rest before heading out again for a few hours. (Yes, I treated myself to a place with a pool!).
Once again, I had to wait for the rain to stop, but was out the door by 9.30 or so. Aside from the main roads running through the town, the side roads that you spend most of your time on are dirt roads. Kind of a sand and dirt mix, actually, and coloured a bright orange. And after all this rain, I now had muddy, pot-holed dirt/sand roads to contend with on a bike. It’s all part of the fun, right?
I won’t bore you with a breakdown of what I did… my day was really just spent cycling between temples, climbing up and down steep stairs, and enjoying the views. I’ll just let the pictures give you an idea…
While out cycling yesterday, I started talking to a nice chap, U-Gyi (Oojie), who is a horse-cart driver. Horse cart is the other popular way to get around the Bagan area, especially to the temples furthest away. I started talking to U-Gyi when I stopped on my bike to take a photo and was quite impressed with his lack of pressure to hire the cart, his reasonably good English and his friendly smile and demeanour. In fact, he was such a low key salesman that I had to ask him how much to hire his horse! The deal was made and we agreed that he would pick me up at the hotel in the morning.
And what a great day we had!
It was nice to spend the day with a local Myanmar person who could communicate well, and share a bit about his family, and his life.
Again, I won’t bore you with the details of what we did… I’ll just let the photos give you an idea.
All in all, Bagan was a nice area to visit. Many people compare it to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and I guess in the sense that there are a lot of temples to visit, that is the case. But it is also very different. To be honest, the temples aren’t as interesting as they are in Angkor Wat. You walk in, see the Buddha, walk around the square corridor in the interior, and walk out. It’s all same-same after a while. But what the sheer quantity of the pagoda’s and temples scattered randomly through the land in all their various states of disrepair makes for fascinating sight-seeing.