Bagan – beautiful Bagan (day 1 of 3)

Day 74, Sunday 18 March 2012, Bagan

Ah, Bagan !  Bagan is what I have most wanted to see in Myanmar. The Bagan archaeological zone is approx 42 square km’s and contains over 3000 (yep three thousand, or 4400 depending on your source) stupas’ monasteries and temples dating back to the 1100’s. Angkor may contain big and impressive temples but Bagan has the volume, and oh how I loved them !

The plan for the day was to hire bicycles (1500 kyat (2 NZD) for a day), leave late morning and ride to New Bagan about 10km away and the furthest point from Nyaung U. At New Bagan we would check out some of the mid-range accommodation options and see if any had wifi (our hotel has no internet) or would be a good place to chill if we got sick of the Eden Hotel after the two nights we had booked for. We would then check out the temples etc on the way back and hit one of the biggies for sunset.

At the free breakfast – toast, egg and fruit I was chatting to Bob who I met last night and he was meeting an Italian guy he had met at Inle Lake who arrived in town yesterday, I asked him the Italians name and he said it was Paulo. I replied that I thought it might have been Giovanni (who I first met in KL and again 2 days ago in Mandalay) and he said that Paulo had just met with Giovanni and was meeting him again in town tonight, so we planned on all meeting up for dinner later –  a small world. Unfortunately breakfast pretty much went straight through me , so I was really hoping it was not a re-occurrence of last week.

I went and checked the internet shop again and the web was still out of action, damnit ! I wanted to email a few people and let them know what was happening in my week. I am so reliant on the web, so different to when I went to Europe in the eighties and it was all slow post and no one worried if they didn’t here from you for a few weeks.

Around 10.30 we went to the bike rental place over the road from the hotel and rented two (untrustworthy) steeds. I would call them girly bikes, but everyone rides them and the basket on the front is so much better than having a backpack sweating away on your back. The seat was way too low, it had one gear and virtually no brakes, but it was a bike and we were off exploring.

If you got bored with me going on about Angkor Wat, now would be a good time to stop reading, as this is all about temples, and I soooooo love the temples – and the buddhas and monks and nats and ogres and all the other bits and pieces associated with Myanmar’s Buddhism.

The first km was riding through the outskirts of town, past the villager’s houses and gardens, cows and chickens and pigs. It is very dry so not a lot of small greenery, though plenty of trees and as with most of SE Asia, lots of cafes, small restaurants and little shops selling all sorts of useful things. Out of town we started to see stupas and small pagodas on the road side. It is a six 6km ride to Old Bagan on the old road and there is plenty to see on the way, we had decided that we would focus on the further away sites today and come back tomorrow for the closer ones, so we just rode on past. The road was not pancake flat like I expected, with lots of small dips and rises and the surface was not too bad. Mike got his first flat tyre just outside of Old Bagan, fortunately bikes are very common here so there are numerous bike repair stands around the place, so we were soon back on the road after a valve replacement.

The archaeological museum is in Old Bagan, so we paid the $5 entry fee and took an hour or so to wander around the museum (relishing the air con) and learning about the things we will see today. It seems a lot of the carvings and features of the temples have been removed, either stolen or damaged or taken to museums for safe keeping. It was a useful trip as there is little or no information out in the field and my guidebook is next to useless for detail. The museum looks like it has been built at great expense by the government, which sucks when you see how little money the real people have 😦

Old Bagan used to just be called Bagan until 1990, when the government forced all the residents out of town and moved them to a new village – now called New Bagan, four kms down the road. Old Bagan is now full of resorts for rich people and package tour tourists as well as some of the big temples – hence the clean out…

The massive temple building effort in Bagan was started in 1044 when King Anawratha took the throne and embraced Buddhism. The building frenzy lasted 200 years until King Narathihapati bankrupted the city building Mingalazedi pagoda leaving the area vulnerable to invasion by Kublai Khan in 1287. The whole area was damaged in an earthquake in 1975. Sadly Mingalazedi, which is supposed to be beautiful inside is under renovation.

We carried on the ride to New Bagan, where we had lunch at the Green Elephant, it was a tourist place with inflated prices but we decided to eat there as we had not had decent  food for a few days and my stomach was not feeling that great. The food was very good too ! one of the great things in Myanmar is a lot of the restaurants give a gift of a small plate of fruit as a dessert, I ate a bit of the fruit but pretty much had to go straight to the loo again, I had a lot of fruit at breakfast as well so I am wondering if I am overdosing on fruit after a long period without it ? I was a bit worried that this was going to be the start of another four days of stomach illness, but fortunately it was the last real episode.

Outside the restaurant I found my first flat tyre of the day, so walked down the road  till we found a tyre repair man who pumped my tyre up and we rode around and looked at a couple of hostels. At the second hostel we visited my tyre was flat again so had a valve change and rode on some more, this time we managed to make it out of town and it was time to go sight see.

We stopped at numerous small pagodas during the day, a lot are empty of anything at all, most of the stupas had four Buddha figures inside and most of those are locked behind gates. There are a lot of great Buddha and monk statues to see though.

My wheels…

Lay Myet Hnar temple

The view from the roof. A lot of the pagodas have access to the roof, but the passages are small and tight and in some cases very easy to miss.

Dhammayangi temple

Some of the temple have remains of murals on the walls, a lot in a state of disrepair, which I like, in some cases touch up work has been completed which ruins the authenticity for me. The same applies to most of the large Buddha figures. This monk was part of a series of monks painted on the wall.

This temple was built in the mid 1100s and is one of the biggest temples in the area, the inner part of the temple was blocked soon after it was built, but we could walk around two external passageways.  I found a sneaky passage way to an upper window and shot a few photos of the view.

The big temples close to the villages where the roads are sealed and in reasonable condition draw all the package tour tourists and late in the day is when they all come out. Like some pre-dusk vampire hoard they magically appear and suck all the vitality out of the sites, luckily they only seem to stay for a few minutes – or maybe the light is just too much for them. This is why I suffer the heat of the day. (Mum – sorry !!!)

Ananda Paya

This is supposed to be the most beautiful temple in Bagan, but frankly I found it dull. It had been extensively renovated and all the small figures were behind bars. It is possibly the most beautiful on the package tour trips, but i found some stunningly preserved sites out in the field over the next few days.

There was very little mural work., but it was in original condition and hard to find, it is lucky I like poking my nose into all the doorways and walkways….

What was cool was the inner wall was lined with indented shelves, presumably with Buddha figures, right up to the ceiling five or six metres up.

When we left Ananda I found I had another flat tyre, which I had pumped up at the place Mike had his flat repaired earlier in the day. We were originally planning on going to one of the big temples and getting to the roof with the horrible herds for some photos, but the sunset looked like it was going to be as dire as every other day in Myanmar and with the constant flat tyres and a six km ride between towns we decided to head back before nightfall and check some of the small temples on the way.

At the Upalithein Monastery

Mike found he too had another flat tyre so started walking towards town and I rode ahead and stopped to take photos along the way. After stopping to at my final temple I had a flat front tyre this time so ended up walking with Mike back into town. It was a looong 3km…

We got back later than expected so had a quick shower as we were meeting Bob for dinner, we  walked way the heck out to the small Weather Spoon cafe where we had an excellent meal and a couple of well earned beers with Aussie Bob and Italian Paulo. The cafe had slow and sporadic internet and I managed to get one email and one facebook posting away before giving up !

On the way back I was drawn into one of the local cafes to watch the end of the Chelsea / Leicester City FA cup tie, they LOVE their football here.

Surprisingly after a warm day of riding and walking I felt good. The weather here is not as hot as elsewhere and definitely not as humid as Cambodia.

Did I love the day – yes I did !

The last of the prepared posts, back to writing and some photo editing now !

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