Bagan, Myanmar

Beautiful Bagan – pagodas, balloons, and sunsets

Known as one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites, the reason to visit Bagan is for the pagodas.  There are thousands of them, seemingly dotted at random over a 26 square mile radius.  Over 2000 pagodas remain, however originally there were nearly 4500 built by kings in the 11th and 13th centuries.  Catholics go to confession, Buddhists build a pagoda to win favours in the next life.  It’s really an incredible sight, pagodas as far as the eye can see.  Surprisingly, it was not as thick with tourists as I expected.  Well not compared to my visits to Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat anyhow.

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

The pagodas are in various states of disrepair.  Some have been renovated over the years, some still have the beautiful original stucco, while others are crumbling, with scattered bricks lying about the ruins.  Sadly there is quite a bit of damage following the recent earthquake in August 2016. On a couple of occasions I could see huge cracks above me in the arch ways as you entered the temples.

Bagan, Myanmar

Earthquake damage

Bagan, Myanmar

Our hotel was located in old Bagan, so perfectly placed for exploring.  We were basically right next door to the Ananda temple, built in 1091.  So close in fact that the hotel provided earplugs for the upcoming festival, which luckily we missed by a day.  We had a guide and a driver, however one afternoon we took a horse and cart to explore the dusty laneways to the pagodas, which was fun.  We didn’t take an e-bike (an electronic scooter) but that looked even more fun and was very popular.

Bagan, Myanmar

Views from the horse and cart

Bagan, Myanmar

Horse and cart ride

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan traffic

One of the best ways to see the pagodas, and a highlight for me, is in a hot air balloon.  Up before dawn, we were collected in a rickety old bus and made our way excitedly towards the launching spot.  With a departure as the sun rose, we floated serenely over an incredible landscape.  Thousands of pagodas stud a red earth, contrasting with lush green vegetation, framed by mountains, villages and the Ayeyarwady River (or Irrawaddy to the English).  It was spectacular, being one of 21 balloons floating peacefully above Bagan and peacefully viewing the pagodas from the air – really incredible.

Bagan, Myanmar

Balloons filled with air and ready to go!

Bagan, Myanmar

Getting ready for the balloon ride

Bagan, Myanmar

Up, up and away

Bagan, Myanmar

Beautiful sunrise

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

The shadow of the balloon

At the other end of the day, the sunsets were incredible.  The colour of the skies graduate through shades of deep red, soft pink, vivid purple. Really beautiful and very special – those memories will sustain me through the long working days ahead!

Bagan, Myanmar

Spectacular sunset

Bagan, Myanmar

Magnificent sunset

Bagan, Myanmar

Dusk, Bagan

Bagan, Myanmar

Dusk, Bagan

Bagan, Myanmar

Watching the sunset

But it wasn’t all about the temples and pagodas.  We took a cruise up the Irrawaddy, visiting local villages (and a few more temples!).  However I was particularly taken with our visit to the lacquerware factory, which was surprisingly interesting.  We got a brief introduction to the process of making lacquerware and then we could wander around the factory watching people at work.  Of course it then lead to the shop – but there was no hard sell at all.

Bagan, Myanmar

Cruising up the Irrawaddy River

Bagan, Myanmar

Views from the Irrawaddy River

Bagan, Myanmar

Heading up the Irrawaddy

Everything in the factory was completely manual and incredibly time consuming.  The lovely Burmese factory owner told us that each lacquer layer is fired, and there are 9 layers.  This means a simple bowl is fired 18 times – 9 layers on the inside and 9 on the outside.  The whole process takes days if not weeks, depending on whether there are additional colours and designs.  He said proudly that it was completely safe in hot water, which prompted me to ask if it was dishwasher safe.  He smiled sweetly and said, “I do not know, I have never seen one.”  I think that sums up the manual nature of absolutely everything in Myanmar!

Bagan is a once in a lifetime experience and if you ever get a chance to go you should, it’s incredible.  You won’t get to see all 2000 or so pagodas (it will only feel like it some days!).
Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Celestial beings

Bagan, Myanmar

Beautiful Bagan

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

 

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