Bagan

Located on the Central Burmese Plains, along the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwady River, Bagan was first settled around the 2nd century AD. Its golden age though began with the ascension to the Burmese throne of King Anawratha in 1044. A disciple of Theravada Buddhism, Anawratha began a policy of temple building that over the next two centuries saw the completion of an astonishing 13,000 temples, pagodas and religious monuments. The famous golden domes of the Shwezigon Pagoda, which was started by Anawrath and completed in 1102 by King Kyanzittha is believed to hold a bone and a tooth belonging to the Gautama Buddha, whilst the Ananda Temple (also from the reign of King Kyanzittha) is considered to be a superb fusion of Mon and Indian architecture. At its zenith, Bagan attracted monks and artisans from as far away as India, Sri Lanka and the Khmer kingdoms of Cambodia, but in 1287 it was sacked by the Mongol armies of Kublai Khan, after which it fell into a state of steady decline.

What makes the temples look romantic is the process of graceful aging. Over the ages, wind carrying sand has eroded the structures. This has peeled off much of the stucco coating of the temples to reveal the brick structural blocks with their rusty, reddish, and sometimes golden brown-like patina when hit by the sun's rays. Erosion is a significant threat to this area, not only the wind chipping away the buildings' plastering but also water from the mighty Ayeyarwady River threatens the riverbanks. The strong river current has already washed away half of the area of Old Bagan. It used to be a rectangular-shaped piece of enclave protected by a perimeter wall. Now what remains is roughly the triangular eastern half part.

 

Bagan Lodge - on TripAdvisor and 9.1 on Booking .This hotel is in fact a small bungalow village: the bungalows having an Australian feel to the exterior. It is so spread out that you can see it easily in satellite photos of the area. The hotel is on the edge of New Bagan, and it is a bit of a hike to get there, particularly if you wanted another restaurant at night. I was not put off by the position, and I don't think there are any hotels within walking distance of the main temples at Old Bagan

The rooms are luxurious with attention paid to detail. There is a big shaded balcony with two sunbeds. There are 2 large pools, the better one being the one away from the reception area, and beside the Jacuzzi and Sauna The bar is known for its happy hour and half price drinks for a couple of hours around dusk. Given the hotel drinks are a bit pricey by local standards, it is worth making the effort to get to happy hour.

Reception staff were very friendly, but I felt that the hotel was let down by the restaurant staff who tended to snarl rather than smile, and tried to sit people at tables that were more convenient for the staff than the guests. The restaurant lacked any manager. If I was in Bagan again, I would explore finding a decent hotel closer to Old Bagan, but I suspect I would end up coming back here

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Shwesandaw Temple is an elevated temple from where you will have a panoramic view of the magnificent plains of Bagan.

The pagoda contains a series of five terraces, topped with a cylindrical stupa, which has a bejewelled umbrella. The pagoda was built by King Anawrahta in 1057, and once contained terra cotta tiles depicting scenes from the Jataka. Enshrined within the pagoda are sacred hairs of Gautama Buddha, which were obtained from Thaton.The climb up is a reasonably easy 5 minute walk up a steep flight of stairs, but the steps get narrower and steeper near the top. Not recommended for those with vertigo or bad knees but , if you can make the climb, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view over the pagodas of Bagan. The descent was a bit more problematic for me (Chris very wisely stayed at ground level) as our scungy guide omitted to tell me to descend in the shade, rather than in direct sunlight as I was doing, until I was half way down - the sun heated the handrail to red hot, and made descent difficult.

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Stupa are everywhere that you look. Dhamma Yangyi Temple - was commissioned by King Narathu to atone for his sins of assassinating his father, brother, and wife. The eccentricity of this king is reflected in the building's finely set brickwork (it was noted that he executed a bricklayer for his not too perfect masonry work - gaps are too wide) and its unfinished construction (work abandoned after he himself was assassinated). These generate so many riddles and mysteries that have lead it to be known as ghost haunted temple for some inhabitants. From estimates, there were roughly 6 million pieces of bricks used in the construction of this temple.

Stupas have a tumbledown look yet crowned with glitter-studded golden miter-like sikaras; the ubiquitous pair of ferocious stone lions flanking a temple's door; the spiky and lacy eave fascia woodcarvings lining a monastery's ascending tiers of roofs; tall palmyras or toddy palms with willowy trunks, bougainvilleas, exotic cotton trees, and the likes bringing life to the arid landscape and abandoned ruins.

The three basic building blocks of typical Bagan temples are stupa, block base, and vestibule. Anywhere you go, you may break down the structures to its basic shapes by the first one, or a combination of two, or all three of them. Although they may look similar, each structure has its own distinct personality. The French architect Pierre Pichard who inventoried the 2,834 structures in 8 thick volumes in 1996 described them as, "a balance between uniformity and diversity"

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Ananda Temple, an architectural masterpiece and one of Bagan’s most beautiful temples. Built in the early Mon-style, Ananda contains two unique Buddha images whose expressions seem to change depending on the distance from which the statue is viewed. It is Bagan's holiest temple, built by the third king, Kyan-zit-tha in 1091. Ananda comes from the Pali word "anantapannya", which means "boundless wisdom". The temple houses four Buddhas facing the cardinal directions, which represent the four Buddhas who have attained Nirvana. The fifth, Maitreya, is yet to appear. This is the most important temple in all of Bagan.

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The Gubyaukgyi temple, located just south of Bagan, in Myinkaba Village, is a Buddhist temple built in 1113 AD by Prince Yazakumar, shortly after the death of his father, King Kyansittha of the Pagan Dynasty. The temple is notable for two reasons. First, it contains a large array of well-preserved frescoes on its interior walls, the oldest original paintings to be found in Bagan. All of the frescoes are accompanied by ink captions written in Old Mon, providing one of the earliest examples of the language's use in Myanmar. Second, the temple is located just to the west of the Myazedi pagoda, at which was found two stone pillars with inscriptions written in four, ancient Southeast Asian languages: Pali, Old Mon, Old Burmese, and Pyu. The inscription on the pillar displayed by the Myazedi pagoda has been called the Burmese Rosetta Stone, given its significance, both historically and linguistically, as a key to cracking the Pyu language.

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Caves with hidden Buddha Another "off the tourist trail" site An underground Sleeping Buddha had remained hidden for hundreds of years, and was only recently found, in the centre of a man made hill.

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Kone Daw Glyn We asked for a less touristy pagoda, and our guide brought us here, to the most northerly of all the pagodas in Bagan. Certainly no tourists, and only 4 or 5 monks living here. We followed one of them up the hill to the stupa, which he opened for us, to let me climb to the top to take in the view over the river

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Shwe Zigon Temple - This gourd-stupaed golden pagoda is the first and prototype monument (including for the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon) built in Myanmar style in 1087. A long covered walkway with souvenir stalls starts from the road to the compound. Over the centuries the pagoda had been damaged by many earthquakes and other natural calamities, and has been refurbished several times. In recent renovations it has been covered by more than 30,000 copper plates. However, the lowest level terraces have remained as they were. This pagoda, a Buddhist religious place, is believed to enshrine a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha. The pagoda is in the form of a cone formed by five square terraces with a central solid core. There are footprints below the four standing Buddha statues here. Jataka legends are depicted on glazed terra-cotta tiles set into three rectangular terraces. At the entrance of the pagoda there are large statues of guardians of the temple. There are also four bronze standing statues of Buddha which are stated to be of the current age Buddha

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The obligatory local market

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A traditional lacquer ware workshop, where you can observe the production of one of Myanmar’s best-known handicrafts. Lacquerware are objects decoratively covered with lacquer, the treated, dyed and dried sap of Toxicodendron vernicifluum or related trees, applied in several coats to a base that is usually wood. This dries to a very hard and smooth surface layer which is durable, waterproof, and attractive to feel and look at. Lacquer is sometimes painted with pictures, inlaid with shell and other materials, or carved, as well as dusted with gold and given other further decorative treatments. Lacquerware includes small or large containers, tableware, a variety of small objects carried by people, and larger objects such as furniture and even coffins painted with lacquer.

It was amazing to me that all the lacquer was applied by hand (literally) and not by brush. They say that this gives them a better finish

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Kyun Thiri Island Excursion. This was very interesting as our guide knew many of the people on the island. It gets flooded in the monsoons, and the inhabitants occupy houses on the mainland near her home. We were offered food in three of the houses and saw a noviate initiation ceremony gearing up with the preparation of mountains of rice - for over 1000 people

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Then another short flight to Yangon - delayed because of visibility issues for around 2 hours.

On to Yangon

Burma Holiday