Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Pagodas and Temples of Bagan, Myanmar

It's hard to put this place into words.  There are so many structures here that it's impossible to describe them all.  The country of Myanmar was completely cut off from the rest of the world for decades, so we have very little travel experience there in the first place.  Everyone has ruled here from the Kings to the Khans to the British and now to the Tatmadaw organization that currently manages the country.  So, you to go and work very hard to get the visas, learn all the rules, take the train that shakes and bumps so bad that you need rails to stay in your tiny bunk, pay more fees, and hire a guide.  It's not easy to visit Bagan.  It is something that you won't see anywhere else in the world though, so I think it's worth it.

There are so many structures in this 26 square mile area, that it's impossible to see them all.  They were built over eons, so they vary in size and appearance.  They were created during different rulers' times, from the time of King Anawrahta around 1057 to the time that Kublai Khan conquered the area in about 1287.  It is believed that at one point there were over 13,000 structures in this area.  Now that many have become little more than piles of rubble, only about 2,000 remain intact.  They range from the simple and small to the ornate and gilded.  It is one of the most significant sites of this kind in the world.

Now, don't worry, there are resort hotels, great restaurants and shopping to do in Bagan City.  It's not just a collection of temples and pagodas sitting in a field in the middle of nowhere.  It's actually quite nice in Bagan City, and it's still pretty quiet.  They have built a tower there just so you can get a really good view of the temples and so on to help the tourism cause.  They are starting to learn to cater to tourists, but for now, it's still way under the radar for the norm, so it's a great time to visit here.

The tower is built to blend in as best it can with it's ancient surroundings.  It is hard to go and see all there is to see in this place, so having a photo op spot isn't a bad thing.

The amazing thing is that somewhere out in that huge collection of pagodas and temples is a pair of them that claim that they have actual hair and such from the Buddha.  Myanmar is extremely Buddhist, and the temples that contain the hair of the Buddha are extremely sacred sites to Buddhists everywhere.

Inside most of the temples is a Buddha.  The more elaborate the temple, the more elaborate the Buddha.  It's all an amazing experience.  The best part is that after you're done investigating the grounds for the day, you can go back to town and go to a buffet.  It's all the rage there.  They have discovered the buffet style restaurant.  There are good deals on them too.  Then you can go back and take a swim at your resort hotel.  It's past meets present in an extreme way.  It's also modern meets old world dictatorship at it's finest.  The world is full of contrasts.  An American traveling Myanmar is just one more.

So, throw off the ordinary once again.  If Angkor Wat seems interesting to you, then think about this spot which is the second most significant spot of this kind in the world only behind Angkor Wat.  The people here are still very curious about outsiders, so they will ask a lot of questions.  They are very friendly and love to haggle with shoppers, so remember to do that.  You'll love how new it all is to them.  You'll love the direct view you get of their world, since they aren't quite over run by tourists yet.  It's mystical and real.  It's forgotten and newly found.  It's a land of contrasts and that's what makes it fascinating.  Enjoy!

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