Bagan is a restful 11 hour cruise downstream from Mandalay. It leaves at 6am and gets there at 5 pm so bring a book for there is not much else to do but read.
The boat stops here and there along the way and that's interesting because of all the people that materialise out of nowhere to sell fruit and local delicacies.
The river is beautiful as you can see but it's nice to get there after 11 hours of it. This shot was taken from the Bagan landing.
I took a horse drawn carriage like the one you can see across the street to get from the landing to the Pan Cherry Hotel where I had a very comfortable room for only 3 $US a night.
I spent the next day exploring Nyaung U and visiting the Bagan Museum while waiting for Carla to arrive. Here are a group of nuns descending on the town to collect their daily ration of food. Below left, two of them in the market and on the right an old woman enjoying her cigar.
The new Bagan Museum glorifies the golden age of Burman culture, those 250 years during which thousands of temples were built in and around the Burman capital of Bagan. The builders of Bagan apparently reserved brick for religious monuments for nothing remains of the other buildings, that must have been wooden, in this great capital.
The Gawdawpalin temple, just next to the museum in Old Bagan, was built by King Narapatisithu (1174-1211), reputedly to atone for his excessive pride and for his cruelty towards his subjects during the construction of the Sulamani temple. It was the first I visited.
I met this Pa'o family as I was coming out of Gawdawpalin temple. They obligingly posed for me at my request, albeit a little too formally.
And here is Carla del Pieto, an adventurous Italian lady from Taggia, whom I had met in Mandalay before going to Pyin U Lwin. She has a bar on the beach near France that is very busy in summer but quiet in winter allowing her to travel a couple of months in new places every year. She travels alone with very little baggage and has been everywhere, a good example for my friends who think a woman can't do that!!!
Carla had reserved a guide and taxi to visit the temples and we decided to share the expenses.
Shwezigon pagoda was the last monument we visited in Bagan. It was started by Anawratha (1044-1077) and finished by Kyansittha (1084-1113). It is reputed to hold a holy tooth relic given to Anawratha by the King of Sri Lanka.
Below on the left, one of the four standing Buddhas housed in small temples around the pagoda. On the right, a wee novice with a big begging bowl.
After all that gold, I thought it appropriate to show this bullock cart lest we forget that this is one of the 25 poorest countries with a per capita GNP of barely 1000 $US a year.
I am showing the Ananda Temple here because it is the finest of the lot. Built by Kyansittha in 1090, it represents the crowning achievement of the early style, rising up to 172 feet from a square base of 175 foot sides.
Ananda's spires were gilded in 1990 to celebrate the 900th anniversary of its construction.
Inside, it has two concentric corridors and four 31 foot high golden Buddhas two of which are 900 year old originals. Immediately below, on the left, niches in the outside corridor and three nuns we bumped into. Further down below, the four golden Buddhas.
Archaeologists have identified more than 2000 monuments and have found another 2000 ruined sites in the Bagan area. There are hundreds of standing temples like these two, the one on the left is Tayokepye and the other is unidentified.Carla had hired the guide and car for three days so we visited temples ad nauseam. One day would not have been enough so I guess that two would have been just right.
So far, I have shown you only three, Shwezigon and Ananda because they are so spectacular and Gawdawpalin because it's next to the Museum. If you really like temples, you can visit twenty more on this special page Bagan Temple Album. If the three above were enough, you can skip the album and move on to Mount Popa below.
The unique 15 00 meter high Mount Popa behind me is the core of an eroded volcano that has been revered as the abode of spirits since the beginning of time. The first identified inhabitants of this region, the Pyus, are thought to have originally been animists. Hinduism and later of Buddhism that were introduced from India attempted but failed to eradicate the cult of innumerable spirits of nature and of dead heroes. Neither could the Burmans who overran what was left of the Pyus in the 9th century after their defeat by the Nanzhao kingdom.
Later, in the 11th century, when the Burman King Anawratha converted from Mahayana to Therevada Buddhism and imposed it on his subjects he accepted the compromise of recognising the cult to a limited number of the ancient spirits which by that time were called "nats".
Bagan became the center of Therevada Buddhism in the central plains while Mount Popa remained the center of the cult to Nats. Today there are 37 recognised Nats illustrated by these images kept in a special hall on Mount Popa.
This is the other half of the recognised Nats in their hall.
Below on the left, the entrance to one of the two stairways going up to the top. On the right, a visiting monk before the entrance to the second stairway.
The influx of tourists has had a beneficial but limited impact on the peasants that still farm the land here.
The roadside peanut oil press seen above and this demonstration of toddy tapping to make palm wine bring a modicum of extra income to the peasants but the heavy visiting fees go to the government, the donations if any go to the temple trustees and the rest of what the tourists spend goes to the hotel and restaurant owners.
Then, we took an overnight bus from Bagan to Pyay where Carla got off to visit the Rakhine State and I went on to Yangon on my way to Bago.