The monsoon that drenched Mandalay and severely flood parts of China had first dumped its gallons over the rest of Myanmar. We had waded through the flood to get on a bus. Just under a dozen people joined us for the nearly six hour journey to Bagan. There was an Italian couple, two college students from the UK, a french woman, a mother and child from Myanmar and a few others I didn’t speak to. Back to the flooding… it had blocked several of the roads that one would normally take to reach Bagan which extended our trip a bit, I’m not sure how much. What was normally dry plains and grain fields had turned into shallow lakes around us. Temples spotted the landscape around us. We passed through a few tiny towns made up of a straw huts. After hours of detours and jostling on the bus we arrived outside of Old Bagan, where we were told to get in the back of a truck (similar to the Sontheauws of Thailand) and hold on. We did. We were dropped at our hotel and shown to a welcomed (but out of place) developed room. The next morning we had breakfast outside, which is very common in S.E. Asia before we set out by bike.
in the heart of Myanmar is a long flat plain that spreads for miles until it sweeps upward into mountain ranges that surround it. There’s a village in Old Bagan, though many of the people who live in the area have small homes outside of the town. There are farms full of grains, and herders who move goats and cows together along the paths to water and greenery to eat. This is where, more than a thousand years ago the Kingdom of Pagan began to build buddhist temples and monuments. It was the capital and heart of what would become Burma and eventually Myanmar.
There are a staggering 2,500 temples on the planes of Bagan. Some are mega structures and some only slightly larger than a shrine. For the most part the area is easy to explore; though there is little infrastructure a few paved roads give access to larger sites and dirt roads pass between many of the others. Buses do travel to some of the sites but a private car or horse-drawn carriage will get you closer. Probably the best way to access the remote temples without a guide is to go by motorbike. This is what we opted for, and because the area remains basically untouched there’s an unmatched level of solitude, freedom and beauty to be found here.
The August sun was hot, but not by Bagan standards. We drove through, hiked around and explored all day. As the sun started to move towards the horizon we set out for a place to watch the sunset. The temple Ananda is tremendously popular for viewing sunset or sunrise but as they wanted $20pp we decided to look for some place less crowed. I asked T to pull over so I could get a shot of one of the temples with its reflection in the water. I marched through a path too marshy to bike over; after I got the shot saw someone standing atop another nearby temple. We drove to it and were greeted by a woman who asked if we’d like to see inside, she gestured for a girl to show us the way. The girl’s name is GG. GG told us to follow her to other side of the temple where she pointed inside. The pitch black hall she wanted us to enter was actually a tiny stairway. I was surprised a full-grown man could fit. We climbed one set of stairs in the dark and then another. We found ourselves on a upper terrace, with yet another set of stairs to climb (this time outdoors). Finally, GG scaled one more wall and told us to do the same, and we did.
From the Top
The view from the top of the red brick temple was unlike anything anywhere else in the world. For miles, tops of temples peaked above the trees and pierced the skyline. Clouds moved past the spires and the sunlight shot over them until it set behind the mountains in the distance. GG sat and talked with me for a while. She’s 11, and she speaks more than 12 languages conversationally. Her family lives next to the temple and takes care of it. While we were there, she and her two sisters showed three travelers from Spain and a French couple to the top, GG chatted with them in both languages. We practiced a few Thai words and pronunciations too. While it’s an ancient relic, the temple is a playground to these girls too. While we watched the last of the sunset, and talked with some of the other travelers, GG, InIn and their older sister somersaulted on the terrace and laughed in the cool of the evening.