Spent a long weekend in Myanmar with the primary purpose of visiting Bagan in the North of the country.
We arrived on the day that the area had just been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. Myanmar has been trying to gain this status for this land of 10,000 temples for awhile now. They’ve put in some infrastructure and sites have been extensively surveyed.
There’s been a lot of resistance, because many temples have been restored willy-nilly, so what heritage there is may not make a lot of sense any more. But trusts have been formed and outside entities have stepped in to guide the process along. And now, those that decide such things have deemed things acceptable.
Back from the 9th to 11th century, this city grew to 200,000 people. Marco Polo referenced the riches reported here. It became quite the thing for the noble born or wealthy to build their own temples. It was means to ensure an easy path to the afterlife. This predated Buddhism’s arrival and temples were mostly geared toward ancestors or Nats. Once Buddhism arrived, many were converted to Buddhist shrines.
In the 1200s, the mongols were on the move and threatening and people here saw the writing on the stupas and moved out, and this place became a sleepy farm area littered with old piles of ornately organized bricks.
Earthquakes over the centuries have reduced the numbers down to 2000 that are still standing. There have been a good number restored and several that are still in active use for worship.
There are a couple main roads that have been paved in preparation for an anticipated tourist onslaught, but getting around is often over dirt roads. It’s best to rent an electric motor bike or bicycle and meander around the area. It can be dusty and hot.
There are countless niches, nooks and crannies to say a prayer or let your camera wander. Herds of goats and cattle occasionally wander by. Buddhists chants via loudspeaker echo over the land.
Right now, it’s is still rather quaint, but there are lots of creature comforts available. If other UNESCO recipients are any indication, a new horde is approaching that will inevitably change things here.
We stayed at the Ananta Bagan Hotel, which was well located. (https://www.anantabagan.com/) There’s a nice pool to wash the dust away at the end of the day. They have a good happy hour and really nice rooms. They’ve also made a good effort to limit the amount of plastic they dispose of. 6 bucks rents you an e-bike and a stylish, if likely ineffective, helmet for the day, or they’ll organize a tour for you.
If you need a driver, we found San Lwin to be well spoken in English, safe, prompt and reasonably priced. He does drive in Mandalay as well, about 3 hours away. (Email: Sanlwin418@gmail.com Phone/WhatsApp +09 43100418)
Tea Leaf and/or Ginger salads are good lunch meals as are the fried noodles. You can find them darn near everywhere.
Before rushing in, one should consider there are countless dead and maybe 750,000+ displaced refugees struggling with government and other religions oppressing them. Sadly, we encountered a Myanmar monk who spouted off about his dislike and distrust of Muslims from Rakhine. As in, this temple welcomes all people, except Muslims. A UNESCO world heritage site stamp of approval, may give the green light to continued bad behavior.
For us, we tried to make an effort to spend our money as locally as possible and counter views with a dialogue where possible. We did achieve a concession from our brother monk, that indeed there were probably good Muslims and indeed, there were bad Buddhists.