Bagan is famous for its plain of ancient pagodas and a ‘must see’ on the tourist trail in Myanmar. If you’ve only seen one photo of Myanmar, it’s probably Bagan.
We arrived with a couple of days in hand to do the circuit. The electronic version of the Lonely Planet guide, now downloaded on to my Kindle for every country we’re visiting, does an excellent job of outlining the key sights, so off we pedalled along with hoards of other tourists on rented e-bikes, each clutching the same tome.
Around 1100AD, this area was the centre of a growing kingdom, that converted to Buddhism, so enthusiastically that they went and raided all the Buddhist treasures from nearby kingdoms, and over about 250 years, built thousands of temples, pagodas, and stupas. Some very grand, many small, and anything in between. Since then, many have fallen into disrepair or been demolished by earthquakes. A few are restored, many are maintained, somewhat, and still used. The people who built them are largely forgotten, historians theorise they spent so much building temples that they were economically and militarily overtaken by neighbours. A few photos are at the bottom of this posting, but first, how we got lost in the country….
Around we trudged with a trail of others to all the top sights stealing a bit of respite from the heat in Bagan’s magnificent new Archaeological museum where we saw room after yet another large room displaying dozens of Buddha images, and some interesting cultural displays.
Day two we took a different approach. I hunted out a few of the lesser pagodas with a more interesting commentary. One had passages underground, a second had a ghost and promised excellent views; with a couple of others along the way our day was sorted.
The route connecting them was cross country on adjoining tracks. That’s where the fun started.
We’d had some experience of off road the night before when following our sunset viewing spot, another tourist ‘must do’, we had taken a short cut across the tracks to the main road, in the dark. The trails often disintegrate into sand and as our front wheels carved deep and the back wheel slides sideways we frequently came to an abrupt stand still.
In daylight, ‘map’ to hand, off we set. And we had GPS too, even Google maps, thanks to spending about a fiver on a Myanmar SIM card. All were useless, the tracks unrelated to the maps. The only thing that worked was: mark 1 – eyeball, the compass on Gid’s bike, and the sun. The sand track was big enough for a bus initially, indeed, there were several on it. Then it got a bit smaller, then smaller again, but fine for motorbikes and us. Then smaller still, really just a footpath across a field until it finally petered out altogether. We walked the bikes along the field edge, heading north, towards the road. Beckoned by a farmer tending his field, we pushed through a sort of hedge to regain a track across a field. Finally, we got back to something navigable. Whose plan was that?
Temples of Bagan
And we found a yard of abandoned carriages – two wheelers are still widely used for tours, but these bigger jobs are discarded. A B&W treatment seems to work nicely for these.