Beautiful Bagan

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November 11th 2009
Published: November 17th 2009
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Myanmar transport authorities have been taking lessons in providing customer comforts - from the Spanish Inquisition (or some other torture specialists of similar ilk), I am convinced of it. Thankfully, it was but a short ride to Bagan. 12 hours squeezed into a mini bus, knees around my ears (due to a design fault in the engine positioning that only a man could have thought a wise idea) and no cushioning in the seat, was quite sufficient to ensure a certain empathy on my part for your average tinned sardine. As ever however, I was made incredibly welcome and baby sat the entire journey by my traveling compatriots. I may not find these journeys comfortable but heart warming they most certainly are, the small children who happily chase the bus for miles if you wave and shout hello (just for fun, no begging involved) are always a particular delight.

Upon reaching Bagan, I (with great difficulty) unfolded myself and attempted to straighten up. Discovering this was not possible I hobbled to a taxi and made another discovery - I could not sit down. Upon realising my circumstances the taxi driver (well, horse and cart driver really) immediately launched into a
My first Bagan templeMy first Bagan templeMy first Bagan temple

Appologies but I have forgotten all their names
discussion on the relative comfort merits of bicycle seats. Wily wee devil, however he was preaching to the converted. I had no intention of cycling for miles in 40 degree heat (being the lazy daisy that I am) and had already determined the horse and cart was for me.

With hindsight I should have given more consideration to the bicycle. The temples I was taken to, whilst being astonishingly beautiful, were also astonishingly busy. Not with tourists but with vendors, curio sellers and beggars of all sorts. Peace and tranquility most certainly did not abound. Each and very person was keen to part me from my cash in some form or another, and I am loath to admit it but a great many of them succeeded. It got to be a very expensive undertaking indeed. However, on the upside I am pleased to announce that I am now in the happy position of being able to open my own art gallery upon my return. Sand painting anyone?

The undoubted highlight (for me) of the temples was the view one got from the roof. Reaching this heavenly plateau always involved clambering through impossibly small and narrow stairwells, archways and corridors (and I mean small, your average 4 year old would find it a squeeze), which meant having to bend double (or triple if you can manage it - I alas cannot). This means you are unable to admire the scenery until you arrive and bam! it hits you all at once. Miles and miles of green dotted with ancient and magnificent pagodas, temples and stupas. It is a view I could never tire of.

As the day wore on the stones a top these temples began to heat up quite dramatically, and as shoes are not allowed within temples one must rely upon the soles of one's feet to determine which areas are walkable and which not. My feet I am most displeased with, their capacity for judging temperature is remarkably poor, either that or they have some unaccountable hatred of me (which is just as disagreeable). Every time I would venture away from shade (my feet telling me it was quite fine to do so) I would get far enough to ensure my dignity would be severely compromised by a mad dash for shade. At this point (and only then) would my feet decide that actually, things were far to hot for them, and I was reduced to that age old (and oh so elegant!) 'Hot! Hot! Hot!' dance back to the shade. Not once did I learn, the lure of that view was too much, I only hope the other tourists here make themselves look just as foolish.

The next day I took a pick up to Mount Popa, a mountain top temple and Nat shrine I was eager to see (I find Buddha does not move me much, but I just love the Nat's). The pick up was a small open backed truck with a roof and two simple wooden benches along each side. I reckon you could have comfortably got 8 - 10 westerners in there: at it's busiest there were 22 of us inside, another 4 hanging off the back and heaven knows how many seated upon the roof (where I was sad to learn only gentlemen are allowed to venture, probably for the best, I would only have fallen off like as not).

One of those gentlemen up top was (for reasons unknown) transporting a small carrier bag of fish parts. Shortly into the journey said bag developed an unfortunate
Making laquerwareMaking laquerwareMaking laquerware

Bagan is rather famous for it's quality laquerware. the very best takes 5 months to make. The very best was way out of my price range obviously!
leak, all down the backs of the two unlucky ladies sat opposite me. After much shouting and fist waving and general all round entertainment (for me obviously, not so much for the fish stained ladies), the fish parts were transferred to a more robust bag and both ladies cleaned up as best they could be. I thought the entertainment at an end after this but oh no: every 20 - 30 minutes, that little green bag of fish bits would slowly and deliberately descend from the roof until visible by the ladies inside whence they would let forth a riotus volley of admonishment and laughter (clearly they could see the joke). Objective achieved the fish would then slowly raise themselves back up to await their next assault. Marvelous fun all round.

Mount Popa, after an exhausting 30 minute climb (why must the Myanmar people build all these things atop a hill?) spent dodging hungry monkeys I was greeted by yet another incredible view. Am sure I rather enjoyed Popa but the memory has been eclipsed by the ride home. Having missed the one daily pickup to Popa, I had taken another which had dropped me ... well, I'm not entirely sure where as it happens, a small town about 30 minutes ride away and from my intended destination. From there I arranged a motorcycle - or rather had a motorcycle arranged for me, as I had not uttered a single word (just stood looking vaguely lost) and in a few moments he pulled up in front of me and announced he was taking me to Mnt Popa. Result! I must say, in many ways travel in Myanmar is incredibly easy, if not (alas) incredibly comfortable.

I rather wish I'd known of his Evil Kinneval tendencies before engaging his services however. Let me tell you, the road down the mountain is steep, and I mean steep, also very bendy and very potholed. Exactly the sort of road one would want to take care driving down you would think. Certainly not career down at top speed without even using your horn to warn others of your approach (and sans crash helmet of course), all whilst forgoing the conventional use of handlebars and instead choosing to place both palms upon the centre of the steering column whilst your poor passenger sits frozen with terror, and yet, this is just exactly how my driver chose to approach the ride. I can safely say that ride was the single scariest thing I have ever, ever done.

However, I survived and on the pick up home I met a lovely young man (name of Htein) who took me under his wing (I was still visibly shaking, and this was a good 20 minutes after) and invited me home for dinner. I accepted gladly and then panicked (as one does having accepted an invitation without knowing the protocol of attendance) over what to take as a gift (Htein had stated no money payable quite emphatically). Asking around town was no help so I ad libed a little and came up with a beautiful hand made note book for his mother (I had bought it for me initially, truly it was beautiful) and an avocado for his father. An eclectic collection of gifts I admit, but I was led to believe avocados could not be got in Bagan and I happened to have one on me so....

Anyway, dinner was served regardless of the quality of my presents. Their house was lit by one lone light bulb, about 20 watts worth judging by the
Mnt PopaMnt PopaMnt Popa

Yes, I really truely did climba all those stairs and more besides although I admit, I was not a pretty picture by the time I'd finnished
tiny amount of light it emited. Dinner was therefore by candle light which helped hide to an extent what I was eating. I tried the ground beef bones with some trepidation but discovered they were delicious and then made a brave attempt upon the fish curry but alas, it was too hot for me (I so wanted to eat a fish head as well.. NOT! Ack! I swear they still had their teeth and everything) and so remained uneaten.

After dinner we went for a walk round town to view the local festival. Whilst we were perusing the local temple I was caught on the hop when Htein's brother asked me if perhaps I would like to carry Htein. Thinking it an odd request, but not wishing to offend, I made polite inquires as to Htein's weight. This was met with much confusion and hilarity which I was at a loss to understand (was only thinking of my back after all, he may have been heavier than he looked!) until it transpired (eventually) that I was not requested to carry anyone, but rather to marry him. An offer which I sadly had to decline as I'd waxed slightly lyrical
All innocence now...All innocence now...All innocence now...

30 seconds previously he'd been tugging at my trouser leg trying to get some food - of which I had none. charming local fended him off for me.
with the truth earlier when asked about my age. My glib reply of 25 (a lie made upon the advice of my horse cart driver of the day before, needless to say I shan't be taking any of the other advice he proffered) meant alas, the relationship would have been built on shaky ground and thus doomed to failure (also, I fear Scotland may be a trifle on the cold side for the young gent). Feeling decidedly guilty after this (they were such a nice family) I stayed long enough to drink some hideous concoction of bread and jelly that the locals appear to love, and then quietly took my leave promising to keep in touch.

NB It may be of interest to some to hear that nurses over here earn the grand wage of around US$40 per month, teachers (Cate!) fare even less well at around US$38 per month. Your average hotel receptionist come general factotum earns US$15/month. The state pension is 650Kyat a month which equates to about 50p (not even vaguely livable onable). My daily budget out here is US$50 per day (not that I'm managing to spend anywhere near that amount). Certainly puts life into perspective!

Additional photos below
Photos: 23, Displayed: 23


Roof viewRoof view
Roof view

I wonder how many of those people did the Hot! Hot! Hot! dance?
Spot the difference...Spot the difference...
Spot the difference...

One of these lovely ladies in not in fact Burmese. Can you spot which one? the yellow (or in my case brown) substance in Thanika, used as sunblock and all round beauty aid by men women and children. they llok good in it, I never quite manage to dry and so sported the brown look which was not quite so attractive.
Earthquake damageEarthquake damage
Earthquake damage

the earthquake of 1975 caused significant damage to the temple. Here you can see photo's (left to right) of before, after and unrestored, after and restored.

A small meal by Myanmar standards, although another 3 dishes arrived after I had taken this photo. It's amazing I could fit through those small temple stairwells after I'd finnished this (yet i did)
Buddha happy :)Buddha happy :)
Buddha happy :)

Very clever design. depending on where you stand Buddha is either smiling or crying. I spend ages dashing back and forth admiring this!
Sunset aproachesSunset aproaches
Sunset aproaches

And I finally convince my horse driver to take me to a secluded (and empty) temple! Not this one, it was riddled with vendors

24th November 2009

Well my dear intrepid exploring mate, Bagan looks really beautiful and green, almost as beautiful as scotland, although im sure its much, much warmer. best leave htein in the warm, cosy place and not C....arry him. (he he he). photo of lunch looks astoundingly good and can hardly believe you ate it all and more!!! thought you would like to know it has been about 8 days of rain and storms here and roads are flooded and closed. but its nice to know somebody is having it better where they are. keep off the motor cycles when theres hills around and keep safe. cheers again jen xx

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