Burma (Myanmar) Part 1: Bagan
After arriving late in the evening to Rangoon (Yangon), we flew at the crack of dawn up to Bagan. Flying over the dry, dusty plains, the only hints of faded green were the lines of toddy palms around the field boundaries. A small crowd of men in longyis (sarong-like garments) lounged with sleepy dogs in the shade of a large tree outside the airport. One man casually wandered over and showed us to his cab. So lovely not to have the usual bombardment one receives at most airports which are tourist destinations! As we drove across the plains, the temples started to come in to view. One by one at first, but kilometre after kilometre they continued and multiplied. The sheer number of temples is astounding – one of the most imposing and impressive historical sites that I have seen.
Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Empire from 1044 until 1287 until repeated Mongol invasions led to its collapse. Over two and a half centuries, at least 13,000 religious monuments were built including temples, monasteries, and stupas. Despite earthquakes and the passing of time, over 2,500 temples and stupas still exist scattered across the plain. Many are highly venerated by the local Buddhist population as pilgrimage sites – the majority of ‘tourists’ we saw were Burmese. UNESCO has been involved in a lot of the more sympathetic restoration work, especially after the most recent 1975 earthquake. Interestingly, the site has not been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, apparently due to inaccurate restoration and the government funded building of a few rather jarring buildings such as a the Bagan Golden Palace in 2008 and a 200ft ‘viewing tower’. Luckily, these elements of ‘Disneyfication’ do not affect most of Bagan. We had three wonderful days pottering around on sandy trails using bicycles, horses, and horse carts.
More photographs of Bagan in the gallery below: