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Published: February 23rd 2007
a feast for 2$
the best food in town, just outside Tharaba Gate, Old Bagan
Hello. Good morning. How are you? Where you come from? where you staying? first time to Myanmar? How long you stay in Bagan? You buy postcard? wood carving? laquerware? Antique? You buy ruby? emerald? Good price for you. lucky money. Coca cola, lemon, orange, Sprite, water? They catch my attention everytime and with a few questions can deduce how much I'm worth to them. These are all the conversations I've shared in the past couple days. My smile and no thank-you turned to a polite nod to a simple wave of the hand to the point where I answer their hello with No, I don't buy. Hand painting, sir? I don't make eye contact. The situation is ridiculous and pitiful and universal, the haves and have nots. The sky is overcast for three days, including a very foggy boat trip down river. The ride is made longer by several incursions with sandbars. Two Italian teenage girls take turns hitting the back of my chair until I impress them with my knowledge of Italian profanities. In Bagan, the rain continues in a drizzle that the wind throws in all directions. Strange I have to think, that this region suffers from extremely dry
fish curry, river view restaurant
the upmarket restaurants in New Bagan are nice for the views and manicured setting but the food is tasteless. Just order a fruitshake if you have to visit.
weather. I rent a bicycle from the guesthouse and set out for the temples. On day one I cover the south plain and day two, the north plain, over 30kms total. A single gear, an uphill battle, the basket tilts, the umbrella handle snaps, bent fenders rub the treads, breaks squeak, the seat doesn't raise enough but the bell is wonderful. ring, ring. I am in my element. Only the odd taxi disturbs the pastoral splendour of the muddy backroads winding through unkempt fields where shepherds lead their flocks past temple ruins. I perch on a crumbling wall, hidden under my umbrella and sketch. baaahaha, ding, k'ling. Bagan may lack the fine friezes of Angkor but it ranks a very close second in my list of man-made Asian wonders.
The sky clears by my third morning in Bagan. The wide dry river bed a few blocks behind the hotel looks an inviting place for morning tai-chi. A cargo boat unloads its hold onto a caravan of ox-drawn carts. The oxen cross the wet sand of the river bed and climb the bank headed to the market. inhale, exhale. Two dogs watch me from a safe distance, one yelps continuously. After
breakfast, I share a taxi-ride with an Italian couple from the guesthouse on a day-trip to Salay and Mount Popa. The three of us have the whole of Salay
to ourselves and wander around the neighbourhood, exploring the interior of a mid XVIII century teak monastery, a dozen vibrant white temples and several more monasteries of various size and construction materials. One looks like something from Alice in Wonderland with its garden of stucco images of the Buddha meditating atop a giant mushroom while another monastery, crumbling under the weight of vines and prickle bushes, might be found in the land of the Hobbits. An old old threadbare monk seas me eyeing his dilapidated home and invites me inside. Amazing. He shows me some of the trinkets he has collected, an old wooden carving of the Buddha, a wooden finial that used to stand atop a stupa. One man's trash is another man's treasure. Colourful litter lies strewn about the rooms in a decorative zeal of profound Buddhist understanding. After a cup of tea we're off to Mount Popa
. It appears like a fairytale on the horizon, the core of a volcano now a lush green, atop which stands a
gleaming white pagoda. Monkeys and dogs wander the car park near the eateries begging for oranges. The climb begins. The Italian fellow uses a cane for his bum leg. The couple look at the souvenirs in the row of stalls selling sandalwood beads and wooden this and that. Two small children take my hands and lead me up the stairs, higher and higher, circling the step hillside. The view across to Bagan is worth the visit. Thin strings of cloud float past in waves like a ocean tide. The kids and I take turns ringing the great bell. Gong! Gong! Gong! It echoes through the woods and streets below.
My last day in Bagan the weather is fair. At half past five in the morning I cycle out to Old Bagan. The taxi driver has suggested I witness sunrise from atop Pahtothamya. There is a French couple already there when I arrive. Stars twinkle in vast sky. A minibus of Japanese tourists unloads at the base of the temple. The couples clamber up, the men all late fifties carry huge cameras, foot long zooms, and tripods, their wives use cell phone cameras. The taxi driver has brought them. He will
Thatbyinnyu Pahto, seen from Pahtothamya, dawn
Pahtothamya, though less well known offers one of the best sunrise views. Thatbyinnyu is the tallest temple in Bagan
make good money today. As the saying goes, there is a price for the locals, a price for tourists and a price for the Japanese. The sunrise beats anything I witnessed at Angkor. A band of iridescent light blue appears over a low mountain range, the temples' silhouettes grow bolder. Mist rises from the damp fields and shrubs. Birds flitter and begin to chirp. A yellow, an orange, a red glow climbs into the sky, its shine dances off soft, curving lines of a dozen dozen stupas.
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