Touring the Big Boys

Bagan, Myanmar

I woke up around 6:30 a.m. after a bit of a restless night. The back of my leg was rather tender and it made it difficult to get comfortable in bed. I finally wedged a pillow under my leg and that seemed to help.

When I got out of bed, the leg was pretty store, but by the time I went for breakfast, it had loosened up considerably and I was actually feeling pretty good. After a lovely breakfast, Zaw and Mr. Tin arrived just before 8:30. Today, we were going to be visiting the primary temple sites in Bagan. Although I had visited one of the sites on my own the day before, Ananda Pahto, Zaw insisted on going back so he could personally show me his favourite temple.

Shwezigon Paya

So the game plan was to visit the temple furthest away first and then work back towards Old Bagan. So first up was Shwezigon Temple. This temple dating to 10th century was on the outskirts of Nyaung U and was the town’s primary temple.. The temple sits on three rising terraces, but the main part of the temple was wrapped in bamboo sheeting as it was being repaired/repainted. Unfortunately, the wrapping took away from the temple and left me a little underwhelmed.

Reflections in a tiny pond at Shwezigon Pay

We wandered around, and I will say I was impressed with the four standing bronze Buddahs that also date to the 10th century. In addition, Zaw showed me this tiny, tiny (about the size of my fist) reflecting pond where if you got on your knees and looked at the right angle you could see the reflection of the stupa. Pretty cool.

Novice ceremony at Shwezigon Paya

Anyway, as we wandered around, we heard music and saw a procession. It turns out it was another of those initiation ceremonies for a novice monk. This one actually reminded me of a Mardi Gras parade as the musicians bobbed, weaved and danced around while chanting and singing. It was great fun to watch.

After visiting Shwezigon Temple, we travelled about two blocks away to visit the 11th century Kyan-Sitthar-Umin (cave). It wasn’t a true cave in that it wasn’t part of any rock structure, but rather a brick meditation area for monks with low (as in bend at the waist low) doorways, narrow halls and lovely carvings and painted pictures on the walls. Part of the building was above ground and part was below (I guess that is where the cave part comes in). Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed, but take it from me the remnants of the pictures featuring dancing ladies, Buddahs, hunters and animals was pretty damn cool.

Pagoda I climbed (stiched leg and all)

Next up was a visit to a no name stupa (near Bulethi Stupa) for a panorama view of the area. When a temple or pagoda is not “significant” it is simply given a number instead of a name. I do not know the number, but the name of the stupa should be “Really Narrow Stairs that will Scare the Shit out of you Climbing Down”.

So as my penned name for the stupa suggests the stairs were ridiculously small (they must have had small feet back then). However, climbing up was not the problem. In fact, once I got to the top, the view was magnificent, and I wasn’t even thinking about the climb down …. until I had to climb down. Ugh. I literally had to turn my feet parallel to the stairs and go down one stair at a time (and I don’t have particularly big feet). Not sure if the picture does the height of the stupa justice, but after climbing up and circling around the stipulation very gingerly on ancient bricks, I was ready to get back to level ground.

Htilominho Temple

Our last stop of the morning before lunch was a pretty awesome temple: Htilominho Temple. The temple was built in the 13th century and had a 45m high stupa. Unfortunately, the stupa sustained damage in the August 2016 earthquake and was wrapped in bamboo scaffolding. Nevertheless, the temple was pretty impressive to look at.

However, before reaching the temple, we had to make it through a phalanx of vendors and people wanting to sell me skirts, statutes, fans, wind chimes and more. I had actually been looking for a little ogre statute to take home, so once i saw some of the temple, I thought I might take a look at the vendors’ wares. But before shopping, we took a walk to the back of the temple, through the gates to a square brick structure that we climbed to get a view of the area surrounding the temple. Spectacular views and a great place to take a picture of the temple. I ended up sitting there for a bit and taking in all of the scenery.

Htlominho Temple

We then had a walk around the temple and checked out the vendors wares looking for my elusive ogre. It was ridiculous that the Myanmar government actually licenses so many spots for these folks. They have certainly made some of the more important temples into tourist traps. YUCK. I want Mrauk U back.

Anyway, despite the gawdiness we wandered around, and I actually found a little ogre statute. I haggled with the lady for a bit and ultimately paid her a few bucks and called it good. She then sold me two of those bamboo balls for that game all the folks play in this country. She was actually really nice and when you realize that the average person in Myanmar earns about 3500 Kyat a day (about $2.50) it makes you actually want to buy stuff even if you don’t need it.

Long necked woman from Shan State

Which brings me to my next “buy”. As we wandered, we came across two “long necked women” from Shan state. Long necked women wear gold rings around their necks and as they grow older new rings are added so that their necks become elongated. I had never seen a long necked woman before, but I was very hesitant to take any pictures. It almost seemed like a side show. So instead, I approached the women and watched them weave. And before you knew it, I was buying yet another scarf and asking the lady if I could take her picture. I figured if I bought something from her it made it slightly less carnivalesque. (Yea I know, I rationalized the picture.)

So with purchases in hand, we finally moved into the temple. Unfortunately, the interior did not match the spectacular exterior. In addition, there was no access to the upper levels because of the quake damage. So all in all, it was a quick trip around the circumference of the temple with a couple stops along the way to look at remnants of frescos on the walls.

Making laquerware

I had a quick lunch and then it was off to a lacquerware factory. Bagan is known for its lacquerware so it is sacrilege (apparently) to come here and not go to at least one lacquerware factory. So I spent about 10 minutes learning the process: the product is either made out of teak or bamboo and 9 layers of black paint are applied inside and 9 layers outside the product with lots of sanding in between. The product is dried in a damp dark room, is polished and is then ready to be etched by the artists. It was a fascinating process and resulted in me buying more stuff. (No idea where I am going to put everything, but the price for the handmade lacquerware products was simply ridiculously cheap).

Dhammayangyi  Temple

After the shopping expedition, it was time for more temples. First up in the afternoon was Dhammayangyi Temple, built in the 12th century in a reported 3 years. This temple turned out to be my favourite temple of the day. Legend has it that the king mandated that workers were to have their arms chopped off if at any time a pin could fit in between mortarless brickwork used in the construction of the temple. Yikes. Talk about pressure.

Double Buddahs at Dhammayangyi Temple

After the original king who commissioned the temple died, someone decided it was a good idea to block off one of the passageways through the temple. Despite the restricted access, I still loved the natural lighting in the temple, the bats and pigeons overhead (in spite of the VERY strong odor) and the unique, original double Buddahs in one alcove, which were apparently Gautama and Maitreya, the historical and future Buddhas.

12th century Buddah at Dhammayangyi Temple

I also saw a reclining Buddah and and an original 12th century Buddah. It was a really beautiful temple (with far, far less hawkers than the Htilominho Temple I saw in the morning) and finally contained some original Buddahs and carvings that had been missing in other temples. (So far, I have enjoyed Bagan. However, Mrauk U was much more awe inspiring from a content perspective because most of the sculptures, original Buddahs and artwork are missing in the Bagan temples unlike Mrauk U.)

Sulamani Temple

After the lovely visit to Dhammayangyi Temple it was on to the 12th century Sulamani Temple. Now I had read great things about Sulamani Temple with its splendid gardens, beautiful ornamental work, glazed plaques around the base and terraces and large and small murals on the walls. Unfortunately for me, Sulamani Temple was heavily damaged in the August 2016 earthquake so it was closed. The best I could get was a view of the temple and a peak through the locked gates as some visible frescoes. Very unfortunate I did not get a chance to go inside.

Fresco at Sulamani Temple

So after the quick visit, we walked through some brush and climbed a pagoda near Sulamani Temple. Now so many of these little pagodas have very narrow stairways and low overhangs that if you don’t pay very close attention you will hit your head or rub up against the walls, This pagoda was no exception. Nevertheless, once at the top, the views were spectacular and I got a much better sense of the beauty of Sulamani. Damn you earthquake.

So the last temple of the day was Ananda Temple. I had been there the day before (and priori to my “little fall and flesh wound”), but Zaw wanted to personally show me his favourite temple. So off we set. He told me about the construction and history, showed me lovely spots to take pictures and showed me the Buddah at the south side of the temple that actually changed expression as you moved further and further back. Totally cool. Unfortunately, my pictures do not do it justice, but take it from me, the Buddah went from pensive, to happy, to downright jovial.

Rainbow over Sulamani Temple

By now, it was close to sunset so Zaw suggested we go to Laklkadakshaung Temple for the sunset. We got there and a few other people had arrived ahead of us. Sunsets and sunrises at the temples are a big thing here.

Laklkadakshaung Temple waiting for sunset

So I made my way up yet another tiny, narrow staircase and found a seat on the wall facing west along with some students who were on a tour of the country. They were from all over the world and as it turns out, I ended up sitting beside a young kid from Abbotsford, B.C. The fellow was checking out his Facebook while we set there, and I asked him to see if he could find the Seahawks-Bills score for me. (The game was a Monday Night Football game and was just starting when I headed out for my Tuesday.)

Sunset over Bagan

Got the good news about the win and then proceeded to chat with the kids before the sun began to set. By now, there was a pretty good crowd on the wall and behind us. Now while the sunset was not spectacular (yes, you guessed it … some clouds rolled in), I still managed to get some beautiful shots. It had been a lovely day and lovely way to end the day. It was time to head back to the hotel and get some rest. I was climbing Mt. Popa the next day and I wanted to make sure my stitched up leg would be OK for the hike up 777 steps.

Sunset over Bagan


Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

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