This day started earlier than normal, a group of us were leaving the boat at 5:30 am to watch the sunrise in Bagan. We hopped on the coach for the short ride and soon noticed large numbers of Burmese walking along the side of the road in the dark. Myo told us that since it was Saturday many people like to go for a walk, so why not go to see the sunrise?
At the viewing point the atmosphere wasn’t the serene and peaceful setting you would imagine for sunrise. People were playing music, there were vendors selling food & souvenirs – it was a party!
Eventually, the sun began to rise…
And then the hot air balloons took to the sky…
It was part magical and part circus. Well worth getting up early for!
After breakfast we headed to a small market area in Bagan. The market sells the usual food, handicrafts and longyis but here they will custom make one for you. I was fascinated by these beautiful old chinese sewing machines…
The next stop was the Shwezigon Pagoda, one of the most important shrines in Myanmar.
Food offerings to Buddha – who knew he likes Cheesies?
Monks are supposed to relinquish are worldly goods so they shouldn’t have phones, but we saw many that did. Times have changed, even in Myanmar.
One of the very large chinthe’s protecting the corners. Someone has left an offering of water (it was hot!)
More flowers and food offerings…
After the pagoda we visited a lacquerware workshop; the process of making it is very intricate and time consuming. The process starts with a woven bamboo structure. The lacquer, the sap of the Thitsi tree combined with charcoal powder, is applied to the structure. The item must be allowed to dry 2 weeks before the next coat of lacquer is applied. In all, it takes 18 coats of lacquer and can take 6 to 9 months for a single piece.
The last layer of lacquer is wiped on the surface by hand, without mixing in any charcoal powder. The sweat of the hand combined with the lacquer gives the shine. The design is carved on to the surface and the colour, (red, green or yellow), is applied using the juice of the Neem tree. Everything used in the production of a lacquerware item is completely natural and biodegradable.
The lacquerware items are extremely strong and can hold hot or cold items. Horsehair is often woven into the bamboo structure before the first coat of lacquer is applied. This gives the piece much more flexibility (it’s almost like plastic) than the ones without. Horsehair pieces are more expensive than the traditional ones.
The resulting items are beautiful and very expensive.
After lunch we headed to the Bagan Archaelogical Zone to see some of the 2,300 temples still standing, including an unscheduled stop to walk around some of the ruins.
Ananda, “the most beautiful temple”, was built around 1105 in the Mon style. It sustained heavy damage in the 1975 earthquake but has been fully restored.
In the centre of the temple is a cube and facing outward from each side of the cube is a Buddha figure. These 9.5 metre tall figures, made of solid teak, represent the four Buddha’s that reached Nirvana. Two of them are original while the other two, destroyed by fire, have been replaced.
The picture above and below are of the same Buddha figure. From a distance (photo 1) the figure is smiling. From a closer vantage point (photo 2), the facial expression changes to a more somber one.
The massive Dhammayangyi temple was built by King Narathu from 1167-1170, hoping to gain merit after assassinating his brother to seize the throne. Unfortunately for him, he was murdered before it was completed and his next life was probably much less favourable than he had planned!
The brickwork, thought to be among the finest in Bagan, requires constant upkeep and restoration.
To top the afternoon off, we were treated to an oxcart ride through the area. Our own parade!
It was very bumpy going, I’m amazed that I actually got any pictures in focus!
It was a lot of fun, people were taking our pictures and shooting video of us as we rode along the roads.
There was a time where people climbed the temples to watch the sunset at Bagan. In the interest of public safety, that is no longer allowed. A 60m viewing tower has been built at one of the hotels in an attempt to replicate the experience.
It was chaos up there, maybe more crowded because it was Saturday. While the sun was setting, rather than fight the crowd, I was on the south side capturing photos of the temples bathed in the light of the setting sun.
And then the North side… In the yellow light of the setting sun, the two similar sized and shaped temples make you think you’re seeing double…
You can see so many spires from this vantage point, too many to count.
Patience does have it’s reward. Finally the sun set, the people left, and the sky and the clouds lit up for a beautiful end to our day.