to the golden land – bagan, a bygone era beckons

in the land of a thousand splendid stupas, a little patience goes a long way 

the little air mandalay craft landed us safely on bagan soil. from the air, we could already see the stupas, spread across many many acres.

morning over bagan

morning over bagan

yet, i couldn’t feel the magic.

outside, we were told we had to pay usd10 each for the temples ticket which would get us entry into all the temples. later, some backpackers would let on that tickets weren’t really necessary because the staff were not always vigilant. but, i felt it was only the right thing to do. after all  it cost all of usd10 for as long as you were in bagan. it’s our way of showing respect and appreciation for someone else’s heritage. and did got checked, once.  

i was prepared to haggle over the taxi fare. then found out prices were fixed. that’s quite a relief. here’s a sign listing the fares – pinned to a fence quite some distance away from the building exit.

taxi fares

taxi fares

we’d booked ourselves into kumudara in new bagan.

now, there’s old bagan (nearest to places of interest), new bagan (2nd nearest, to the south) and nyaung u (furthest, to the north). we didn’t research, so we were puzzled when the taxi took us on a deserted road to the very secluded kumudara. wasn’t bagan supposed to be a tourist hotspot?  where were the tourists? little did we know the taxi took a short-cut via a dirt road. later, we would appreciate the sanctuary that kumudara offered, away from the maddening crowds. 

we’d read that the best way to explore bagan was by bicycle or horse cart or car. in that order. we did them all, and i’d have to say that this piece of advice was utter nonsense. i suppose, moving on a bike gave you flexibility to take in the sights at your own pace. but someone forgot to mention that you’d get little respite from the heat (most areas were unshaded so cover up or get sunburnt), getting lost along the sand trails occurred often and you would be so tired that you would hardly have energy left to admire the stupas. it was not at all very clever.

well you can try sitting on the roof of a pickup, like the locals.

happily on the roof

men and boys go onto the roof

the ladies in the pickup

ladies in the pickup

the horse cart fared slightly better. it moved very very very slowly. but at least, no fear of getting lost and if your horse cart driver is good, like ours, he’d bring you to the nice stupas and might even explain about some of them to you. a horse cart would make the perfect choice if the stupas that you wanted to see were clustered around the same area.

taking a car could actually be the best option. it would get you to your destination much faster, allowed you to travel in comfort and make sure you are fresh to enjoy the stupas – which was the whole point. 

we had no rules for choosing stupas to visit. we just told our horse cart driver: bring us to those we ought to see. and he did. 

frescos inside stupa

frescos inside stupa

practicing yoga

yoga masters in action 

big buddha @ mingalar zedi

big buddha @ mingalar zedi

lights and shadows

lights and shadows

shadows

shadows

photographer in action

photographer in action

our last stop on the first day was the sunset pagoda – shwe san daw. of course we didnt know what it was called. except we were suitably impressed because the whole town seemed to have congregated there. all the bicycles, all the horse carts and all the tourist vans in bagan had made a pact to meet there at 5pm. in fact, hordes had beaten us to it and had booked the best seats to watch sunset. and the same horde disappeared in a jiffy, the moment the sun dipped below the horizon. 

sunset pagoda - shwe san daw

sunset pagoda – shwe san daw

climbing up the pagoda

climbing up the pagoda was not easy

view from the top

view from the top

watching sunset

watching sunset

on the 2nd day, i decided we would cycle to nyaung u – which didnt look so far on the map. it started off pretty well. until we tried to find a way to the temple i’d named the pyramid – dhammayangyi; we attempted a route around the sunset pagoda but were foiled by the horribly sandy trails which were impossible to cycle on. we tried to take an alternative route and got lost, finally meeting an american couple who taught us a shortcut way to it.

what's up there

what’s up there @ dhammayangyi

inside the temple, there were many huge elegant buddhas. 

twin buddhas

twin buddhas

golden buddha

golden buddha

from the back of spires

no entry

all the upper storeys were closed for restoration

after leaving the pyramid, we pressed on to nyaung u. along the way, we overtook 2 caucasian young men struggling on their bikes on the upslope. see! we were not the only ones struggling. after some detours (because my sense of direction was bad), we finally got into the heart of nyaung u, extremely exhuasted.  so we decided  to splurge on ice cold beer at the hippest establishment in town – the bagan beach bar. there, we had the loveliest club sandwich and then after that, we adjourned to the black bamboo. 

best club sandwich @ bagan beach bar

best club sandwich @ bagan beach bar

on the long long ride back to new bagan (to beat nightfall), we saw the sun setting and scrambled to catch it (but alas, we were too slow with our cameras). after that we had to scramble to cycle back to kumudara before it got too dark. 

our bikes abandoned

bikes abandoned

us and our bikes

the girls and bikes – no more bicycling after this. phew!

the 3rd and final day in bagan would turn out to be the loveliest. we booked a taxi to bring us to see the sunrise pagoda – dhammayazika. at 530am, we left the hotel and by 545am, we were there. we weren’t the earliest but it was not crowded like the sunset pagoda so there was a lot of room for us to walk around. and i believe, we got some of our best shots here. 

getting ready

getting ready

sunrise

sunrise

as dawn broke, we saw the bagan balloons rising one by one in the distance. we knew the balloons were heading our way. everyone on the pagoda waited for the balloons to come closer. 

mr and mrs smith

mr and mrs smith

cool dude getting ready

cool dude getting ready

what's he looking at

what’s he looking at

and here come the balloons.

balloons over bagan

balloons over bagan

one balloon

only one balloon

the morning light cast a beautiful hue on the stupa’s golden dome.

golden reflections

golden reflections

another balloon

another balloon

the balloons came so close we could see the people inside and everyone waved madly. it was fun!

whose balloon is this

whose balloon was this?

scriptures on the wall

scriptures on the wall

in hindsight, i was glad we couldn’t book the balloons (it was overbooked). that shaved usd300 off our budget. and we still got to see them and photograph them. in fact, it was infinitely more fun taking snapshots of the balloons from the stupas against a very beautiful backdrop.  we left sunrise pagoda only after 730am. 

after breakfast, we went to old bagan to see some of  the key temple sites we’d missed, starting with ananda. there, we  were mesmerized by the most beautiful buddha statutes in myanmar. all the buddhas were styled distinctly and had different facial features and expressions which changed depending on where devotees were praying (from different angles, the expressions changes subtly). such, was the artistry of the ancient people of bagan. 

another buddha

another buddha

closeup

closeup

golden buddha closeup

golden buddha closeup

while dallying outside ananda and  mulling over how to walk to the nearby thatbyinnyu and shwegugyi temples, we met a girl, her brother and his friend who volunteered to be our guides. earlier, they had tried to sell us postcards but we turned them down. we were skeptical at first, because they weren’t very sure about the directions but they were so enthusiastic, we figured they were out to have some fun.

they took their responsibility seriously. they didn’t join us in the temples but would wait for us outside, even though we took a long time. they were constantly on the watch-out for us and knew immediately when we got out. while they waited, they sold all their postcards to the tourists there. 

we were really very impressed because they took it upon themselves to escort us to each site and kept a lookout for us when we were crossing the road or when 1 of us lagged behind. and best of all, they didn’t ask for any treats or $; they were delirious for joy when we bought soft drinks for them (because weather was really hot).

we truly felt that they were our angels. i wished fervently that they’d stay innocent forever and not be tainted by the burgeoning tourism around them. really, they were the best thing that happened to us in bagan. 

shwegugyi (maybe)

shwegugyi (maybe)

artist selling his wares outside temple

artist selling his wares outside temple

stupa

stupa near thatbyinnyu

small buddhas

small buddhas

another style

another style

little girl

curious little toddler we kept following us

our angels in bagan. they were so hyperactive, only a few shots made it. someone was always ….  blurred. but, i’d always remember the 3 angels in bagan. 

the boys

the boys

my girl

my girl

as we move on from bagan, we overheard some travellers exchanging notes about stupa # XX @ so-and-so place which had beautiful frescoes and or others bragging about how many they’d covered/discovered (eg 30 in 3 days). oh! were we too carefree?!?? most of the time, we didn’t know which stupa we had  explored until after we returned to the hotel and tallied with our map or hotel staff. and because we didn’t care about what we’d missed, we didn’t miss it or was it the other way round?  all we did was to give each temple it’s due time, and appreciate its unique beauty and serenity. and those that we couldn’t go, well, they were not meant to be. afterall  i suppose, in the land of buddhas, if you leave it in the good hands of fate, fate will always deal you the good hand. 

sun rising

may the sun rise on bagan, always

and that’s how, we arrived not knowing bagan, but left, amazed at how majestic the plains of bagan used to be.  

4 responses to “to the golden land – bagan, a bygone era beckons

  1. nicely written. enjoyed reading your thots on the sights and sounds and the pictures were nicely taken

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