Pagodas and a Sunset

Myanmar > Bagan

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25 March 2011

After our Irrawaddy lunch, the day became torrid and we retired to our hotel for a couple of hours’ siesta. We ventured out again later in the afternoon as the heat became more bearable.

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With map in hand, we try to figure out where we are. Lack of road signs does not help, but then there are not that many roads in Bagan either. The problem is there is a massive web of motorable dirt tracks (in the dry season at least) covering the whole area.

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Bagan is famous for traditional lacquerware, exported all over the world, especially to neighbour Thailand.

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Lacquerware starts life as thin strips of bamboo — be careful, the edges are as sharp as razor.

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Hey, presto, from fine bamboo strips into a container.

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The process is quite lengthy, but basically the primitive bamboo form is ‘lacquered’ with a type of dark resin obtained from locally-grown ‘lacquer tree’. It’s then kept in an underground vault for months before the process is repeated. Eventually colours to the designs are added.

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From strips of humble bamboo into much-sought-after items, but the process is very tedious yet simple.

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Ladies diligently working on the lacquerware designs. The workshop is quite airy and pleasant even on a hot day like today.

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The master craftsman working on gold-plated lacquerware. Fine gold leaves are etched into the design of high-end bracelets.

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My best part is having delicious tea and sesame cookies under the cool verandah, while the missus does the shopping.

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Next stop is another top pagoda — the Ananda Temple. Note that the car is right-hand-drive, but is driven on the right side of the road. Confused? In 1972 an astrologer advised the military govt to switch from the left side of the road (British legacy) to the right. But cars are very expensive, so most people can only afford 2nd-hand vehicles from Japan, all right-hand-drive. But no problem, the drivers adapt well, though overtaking is still dicey. Wait till they have to pay at toll plazas.

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Ananda Temple, early 12th century, said to be the finest, largest and most revered site in Bagan.  It’s also famous for the splendid statues of the four Buddhas at the four entrances.

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These are the four Buddhas, all 9.5m tall,  from left to right: Kassapa – Buddha #1 (south entrance), Konagamana – Buddha #3 (east entrance), Kakusanda -Buddha #2 (north entrance), Gautama – Buddha #4 (west entrance).

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Buddha #1, Kassapa at the southern door, has an interesting property. From afar he has a joyful smiling face, but up close he looks morose and sad. What do you think?

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Linking the four standing golden Buddhas at the doors are corridors like this — very high ceiling and more Buddhas in recesses along the wide walls.

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After Ananda, we have an appointment with nature, and we are getting late.

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Sorry guys, can’t help, we are in a hurry!

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At Angkor Wat, we had sunrise-watching session, but here it’s sunset-watching. And the most popular spot is from Shwesandaw Pagoda, at almost 100m tall.

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Climbing is laborious since the steps are very steep, so hang on to the metal railing for dear life.

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Half-way up the pagoda, that’s about 50m above ground, and the view is already fantastic.

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There’s just another level above me, but the prime spots are already taken up by sunset fans.  By the way, look at that barefooted guy — temples are sacred sites and no footwear (including socks) are allowed. Everybody has to be barefooted, and on a hot day, the exposed brick and cement can really singe your soles.

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Yes, the show has started. Imagine all these ancient stupas witnessing the same event everyday for a thousand years.

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Oh, no! There’s a rival pagoda there, with its own horde of sun worshippers! I think that’s Tayok Temple, another popular site.

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I see the largest dude in town — the 12th century Dhammayangyi Temple, reputedly built by a cruel ruler.

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It’s a truly pyramidal monstrosity, reminds me of Jabba the Hutt.

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I’m always bemused by people trying to do some trick photoshoot. Is she pinching the sun or what? All the best, bro!

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The two major styles of ancient Burmese stupa design can be clearly discerned here.

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As the sun sinks low, a senior monk makes his way down to beat the hoi polloi.

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Getting dark and time to leave … and in single file, we gingerly pick our way down the steep staircase to the ground, some 50m below.

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It’s pretty steep, not for the faint-hearted, I tell you. It has been a very memorable viewing of the sun setting over the plain of Bagan. The stupas jutting out of the ground make a surreal experience. Absolutely must-do for all Bagan visitors.

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Dusk and we are soon back at our riverview hotel. Our stay is so brief and our only day in Bagan has been so packed, that this is the only chance to take a look at the Irrawaddy here at Aye Yar Resort.

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There’s a small village on the riverbank and the beach is a natural recreational area for the folks.

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Passengers making a beeline to the big boats for an overnight cruise to Mandalay, 170km upstream, to the right.

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There’s even an ancient temple in the hotel compound — a private 11th century pagoda perhaps?

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We have spent only 24 hours in Bagan, but it has been a very memorable stay. Bagan comprises Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung U. Old Bagan is where the pagodas are, and in an effort to conserve these precious structures, the govt moved all inhabitants south to New Bagan. Nyaung U is a separate township to the northeast of Old Bagan, and that’s where the airport is. All three townships are along the eastern bank of Irrawaddy river, all within 8km of each other.

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THE END

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4 Responses to “Pagodas and a Sunset”

  1. xplorer says:

    salam perkenalan , first time here . i found your blog by coincident and i simply love it . will definitely come back for more for my travel reference

  2. ajay says:

    nice write up naim i wanna make a trip to myanmar… i have been a frequent asean traveller as well. way to go

  3. naim says:

    Thanks, pls return for new tales. I just got back from Darjeeling in the Indian Himalaya. 🙂

  4. naim says:

    Thanks, go Myanmar now before it gets too commercialised like Indochina is now. 🙂

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