Last Push to Bagan

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March 16th 2009
Published: March 26th 2009
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So, we got back to Mandalay and prepared for the last big trip of our visit to Myanmar - the ancient ruins of Bagan.

According to Wikipedia...
Bagan formerly Pagan, is an ancient city in the Mandalay Division of Burma. Formally titled Arimaddanapura or Arimaddana (the City of the Enemy Crusher) and also known as Tambadipa (the Land of Copper) or Tassadessa (the Parched Land), it was the ancient capital of several ancient kingdoms in Burma. It is located in the dry central plains of the country, on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwady River, 90 miles (145 km) southwest of Mandalay.

So, yes, this is how we got to Bagan, via boat down the Irrawaddy, the best way of getting there to be honest, so we're getting to know this river quite well it seems. Anyway, an early morning start at about 5ish, taken by blue Mazda taxi from the hotel. Then waiting around in the early morning twilight being feasted on by mosquitoes before continuing on the back of a rickety old school bus from the 1960s along a bumpy road to the disembarkation point. It was a good hour and a half before we got to
Map of BaganMap of BaganMap of Bagan

from the hotel...Eden it was called, far from it...
the boat.

From there we spent about 12 hours with lots of middle aged and elderly German tourists on an organized tour, something I'm against in this country as the junta benefits handsomely. Anyway, it was a 8.30 start and thus commenced a bizarre coffee and tea rush with some dodgy sandwiches with lots of salad cream, who's fussy when you're hungry, not me, that's who. Anyway, there was only drinks and rubbish pot noodle things on board so we didn't eat, I just drank lots of water, and even munched into my ginger which is for travel sickness. I laid back in my seat below and tried to conserve energy. We got up on top when we actually started seeing temples and payas along the riverside.

Anyway, some more about Bagan, because it's a fascinating place.
From Wiki again:
The ruins of Bagan cover an area of 16 square miles. The majority of its buildings were built in the 1000s to 1200s, during the time Bagan was the capital of the First Burmese Empire. It was not until King Pyinbya moved the capital to Bagan in AD 874 that it became a major city. However, in Burmese tradition, the capital shifted with each reign, and thus Bagan was once again abandoned until the reign of Anawrahta. In 1057, King Anawrahta conquered the Mon capital of Thaton, and brought back the Tripitaka Pali scriptures, Buddhist monks and craftsmen and all of these were made good use of in order to transform Bagan into a religious and cultural centre. With the help of a monk from Lower Burma, Anawrahta made Theravada Buddhism a kind of state religion, and the king also established contacts with Sri Lanka. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Bagan became a truly cosmopolitan centre of Buddhist studies, attracting monks and students from as far as India, Sri Lanka as well as the Thai and Khmer kingdoms. Among many other works, Aggavaṃsa's influential Saddanīti, a grammar of the language of the Tipiṭaka, would be completed there in 1154. In 1287, the kingdom fell to the Mongols, after refusing to pay tribute to Kublai Khan. Abandoned by the Burmese king and perhaps sacked by the Mongols, the city declined as a political centre, but continued to flourish as a place of Buddhist scholarship.

UNESCO has unsuccessfully tried to designate Bagan as a World Heritage Site. The military junta (SPDC) has haphazardly restored ancient stupas, temples and buildings, ignoring original architectural styles and using modern materials that bear no resemblance to the original designs. Likewise, the junta has established a golf course, a paved highway, and built a 200-foot (61-m) watchtower in the southeastern suburb of Minnanthu.

My God that's a lot of copying and pasting, however, there is no point in me inaccurately retelling what I've read in the guide books. Suffice to say, it's a pretty impressive place, lots of ruins and Bhuddist temples. Probably too many temples if I'm honest.

Anyway, the two Johns rented bicycles around the site and in the heat of the day cycled around the place, getting to see a lot. We actually did our own thing pretty much, but managing to pas each other during the day or hanging out in the evening. The hotel (Eden II) was o.k., the electricity kept going off in the evening so no fan or air con. But that didn't stop the hotel from "forgetting" to turn it on for our individual rooms, so one particular night I was so hot I just sweated under my mosquito net without getting much sleep. The heat of a Burmese summer, mosquitoes and no air-con, I don't know how the British colonials tied this place down.

Anyway, I got to see lots of frescoes, deserted temples, sunsets with great views and after losing my way on a tiny free map of Bagan, way too many of the same one. I also got two bloody punctures on these rickety old bikes with thick wheels. I suspect the massive thorns were planted on the dirt path because low and behold what was there not 2 minutes walk away but "Bicycle Repear" (sic) stand.

Anyway, that's enough about Bagan, you've got the photos and you can bore yourself with them. I'd recommend coming instead, a truly world class historical sight.

We got a 14 hour bus journey south that afternoon, all the way to Yangon and in the early hours, got to say goodbye to my Myanmar companion for the month who was staying one extra night. The next stop was back to Bangkok.

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