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Published: April 12th 2015
I'll start out the blog by saying any words I write and the 350+ photos I took (and tiny amount I'll post) do not do this place justice. It is one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring places I've seen. The magnitude of the buildings and the vastness of ruins are simply too hard to explain and cameras can't capture it. I'll do what I can but this place should go near the top of anyone's places to visit. But first...
It is insanely hot again. Bagan is back on the plains and it is ridiculous. If you sit in the sun, not moving a muscle, you are drenched in sweat within a matter of minutes. If you are wearing a backpack, the back of your shirt is instantly soaked as if you jumped in a pool. All of our clothes have lines of salt where the sweat dried. The other day I mentioned it was starting to get a little cooler, someone checked their phone and it was 103 with a heat index of 114. And it was honestly cooler than the middle of the day. Guess it was relatively cooler. We had to get in the habit of
checking things out in the early morning, quiting before 11 then picking back up after 4 to avoid the worst of it. And, to make this part of the trip more pleasant we splurged on the hotel and got one with a pool. So our 11-4 time frame was mostly just soaking in the cool water and staying in the shade or A/C as much as possible.
Bagan is home to more than 4,000 temples built mostly between 1050 and 1280. They were averaging one temple every two weeks for a large part of that time period. The building started when the Hindu king converted to Buddhism. Humorously he repaid the Mon king who had convinced him to convert by sending his army south, stealing all the Buddhist scriptures the Mon king had, and kidnapping the Mon king himself. Guess the temples were built to get some good karma after he actually understood Buddhism a bit better. The temples are still active and appear to have been active for most of history, but the "end" of the massive building period is a bit contentious. Local lore states the Mongols sacked the city. Other historians do not think the Mongols
actually made it to Bagan but did attack the outlying areas of the empire which had spent considerable resources building the temples.
The monuments stretch across several miles of bright red sand plains. As you look across the area you see spires rising off all the way to the horizon. Everytime you check out one sight, you notice several more that you didn't realize were there. The sheer size of the place is incredible. In order to try to see them all you can rent a bike, but due to the heat we wanted to minimize our exertion. So we opted for e-bikes, which are battery charged moped looking things with pedals in case your bike dies. Darren's did on the second day. The pedals are at odd angles and the bike sits so low it was like pedalling a child's tricycle. It was hilarious looking. I got a video, but I'm not going to post it due to Darren's potty mouth as he struggled to bike the several miles back to the hotel in the aforementioned heat and I was dying laughing
. When the bikes did work they were amazing. Darren had a nice purple bike every day other
than the day it broke down. Obviously being purple it got the Purple Rain nickname
(okay so the link isn't Purple Rain, but this video is just amazing), though the only resemblance was in color only. I had a baby blue hog. While it made me want to rock out some ZZ Top
, I looked more like Loyd Christmas faltering while riding the moped
in Dumb and Dumber.
The first morning we checked out the main temples in the area surrounding Old Bagan (as opposed to New Bagan, which is where the villagers who previously lived surrounding the main temples were forcibly relocated a few decades ago). Several of the temples have been destroyed over the ages due to fires and earthquakes, most notably a large quake in 1975. While UNESCO has helped with some of the restoration, some temples have been restored with shoddy workmanship (e.g. paint dripped across bricks everywhere, frescos simply painted over, etc.). During the years of war many locals took shelter in the temples, cooked inside them causing palm oil to blacken the frescos, and when they were reopened the authorities simply painted layers of white over the once gorgeous frescos instead of restoring them. Ananda Pahto is the most famous temple in Bagan and one
that has had the most restoration. While much of the interior is still white washed, the Indian government made a very large donation for the restoration of the frescos which should be complete in the next few years. The temple itself was beautiful for the architecture and large buddha statues inside. Most notable though was the large number of Burmese pilgrams at the site, many of whom came from outlying villages and wanted pictures with the white foreigners. We had a hard time getting through the crowds due to the innumerable photo requests (Darren's edit: What saved us were two blond haired children who walked into the crowd with their parents... They were instantly mobbed.) It was absurd, but we loved it and felt a bit of karmic redemption after we had requested so many photos of others in the past few weeks.
Anywho... we checked out several other massive temples that morning and I'll avoid going into details on each of them. That evening we checked out a few others including Sulamani Pahto which became the groups unanimous favorite due to its beautiful, airy architecture and large frescos inside. We checked out a sunset in the area that
day, but to get to it we needed to do some serious off roading and we loved bouncing through the sand on the e-bikes and getting away from the crowds. This became our new goal for each day. Find a path off the main roads and follow it until we see something interesting, large or small, and check out some things not on the maps. It was amazing (Darren's edit: Except the part where Purple Rain slipped across some sand, sending me to the ground and leaving a 2 inch gash across my now gauzed-wrapped forearm ). There are simply so many temples you constantly stumble upon amazing sights that are nothing more than a number. Sometimes there is a "caretaker" of the temple who ensures you remove your shoes before entering, and of course tries to sell you paintings (which are identical to every other painting you see in Bagan yet they claim they made themselves) or lacquerwear (which again they claim
is their family tradition though the pieces are identical to ones at the shop across the way).
We continued bounding around to the various temples, constantly stopping in awe of the magnitude of the place. We regularly gasped as we grouped up after a stop and commented on how amazing the sight was. We could drive through the middle of nowhere for twenty minutes, get to a gorgeous temple that was nothing but a number, look around and see another dozen just like it. The sunsets were some of the best I've seen and overall the temples rank right up their with Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, and all the others I've seen. Like I said, there is nothing I can say to explain how amazing the place is, and I know the photos don't do it justice. But if you do scroll through the photos be sure to zoom in on the horizons as you will see small spires from all the temples stretching off into the distance on every shot. It is an incredible place.
(Oh, and a quick note on the photos. Sorry for not adding titles and descriptions but I'm doing the blog from my
iPad and the website's interface isn't super iPad friendly. And, autocorrect is quite the pain so the misspellings are just frustrating.)
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