to Yangon, then 3 hour layover until our flight to Nyaung U. On arrival airport near Bagan, we had to pay a Bagan Architectural Zone fee of 25000 kyat, for which we were given a card which, we were told, we might have to display from time to time.
(Our guide took charge of those cards, showed them a few times over the course of two days).
There are three main communities in the vicinity of the field of temples: Nyuang U, where the airport is located; Old Bagan, which is close to many of the most important temples in the area (indeed, a number of them of IN Old Bagan); and New Bagan. Some time ago, the government decided to expel all residents from Old Bagan, and compelled them to move to what is now called New Bagan: old Bagan remains an area for tourists, containing several higher-end accommodations as well as restaurants. Our hotel, the Kumudara Hotel, was a midrange place located in New Bagan.
From our very first arrival at the Kumudara, I could see that we would have great views of temples: it is what guidebooks mention as a selling point for the place. For example, the night of our arrival we could see from our balcony the night-lit temples glowing in the distance;
There was a spot near our room where you would go out and watch the sunrise
Right out in front of our hotel
including this pagoda with an interesting filigree at the top, an unusual configuration we had not seen elsewhere in the vicinity (or, indeed, in our later travels through Myanmar)
What the guidebooks do NOT mention about the location is the downside: Kumudara is at the outskirts of New Bagan, so it is not close to other restaurants, and its restaurant was pedestrian (and the breakfast, very weak). It is a walk of several very dark blocks to the main drag of New Bagan (including a market that we never had the opportunity to visit), and Nancy was nervous about walking to eateries in the dark, so the first night, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant.
Our room was pleasantly sized,
with a balcony covered with pigeon shit but otherwise nice (two of the vistas shown above could be seen from our balcony). The rooms of the hotel are set in several buildings surrounding an attractive garden and walkways
Breakfast can be taken in outdoor dining area or inside
We had been told that the hotel could provide us with a guide so long as we let it know on arrival, and we were more than satisfied with Thin Zar Soe, the guide that the hotel located for us. (Contact the author for her contact information)
She came up with a good touring itinerary that kept us busy for a solid two days, with a good selection of things to see; she was enthusiastic about her work, spekaing not only about the cosmology and iconography of Buddhism, which appeared to be her own religious commitment (although she deflected a personal question in that regard), but also about the Nat spirits, whom = she made clear she did not herself worship
While we were in Bagan, we saw many women wearing the remnants of a tan paste on their faces, especially on their cheeks.
Thin explained that this a cosmetic that was prepared from the bark of the thanakar tree, also used as a form of protection from the sun. I assumed that this must be a rural phenomenon but at the end of our timew in Myanmar we saw this on many if not most women in Yangon as well.
Our first temple visit was to Thitsarwaddy Temple
mostly for a view of the Bagan plain that was afforded from the roof of the temple - temples and temples and temples covering the plain as far as the eye could see.
Thin took this time to talk to us about the two styles of temple we would be seeing in Bagan. The early style (like this one) were one story high, dark, with one entrance facing to the east. The later style temples were two to three stories, with multiple entrances, and lighter and airier insdie
Similarly, we would be seeing examples of the following building types.
Monasteries were buildings or complexes where monks live. On religious holidays, such as the day we were sightseeing, people would go to monasteries in the morning to make offerings for monks. (in contradiction to legal holidays when schools and banks are closed, Saturday and Sunday)
Temples were complexes of buildings used for worship, where worshippers (or we, as tourists) can enter
Pagodas were buildings that house a relic but cannot be entered. In size orders, pagodas are the largest such structures, and would have been built by a king. Stupas are mid-sized structures, built by a wealth individual; zedi are the smallest, built by people with fewer resources.
Our next visit was to the ShweZiGone Pagoda.
It contains an11th Century Buddha: made of bronze but hollow. This Buddha shows its time of creating by the fact that the ears are elongated, but do not touching the shoulders. The figure is thin, has defined knee caps, and has no clothing
Thin told us how the wooden statues in this gandakuri, or shrine, tell Buddha’s life story.
This is a three-dimensional scene showing the enemies of Buddha from the Dobwi Pasak Mudra
This pole is a remnant of the Mon culture that was defeated when the Burmese invaded this area
The reclining Buddha below is in the resting position, not the nirvana position, because the Buddha touching a piece of rope.
The spirit house found in this building
is typical of Myanmar, being much less decorated than a Thai spirit house.
This standing Buddha is an original from 11th century, having a jackfruit as a bun atop his head.
A fair amount of the original decorated stucco remains on this building. There were small statues of guardian spirits at the entrances to the temple
as well as these ogre heads in the decorations over the entrances.
Thin told us a background story: that at a time when food supplies were low, Shiva ordered some ogres to eat themselves, so that only their heads remained. Then he took them into his heavenly abode, thus they are portrayed with only their heads.
This sitting Buddha has hallmarks that place its creation in the 13th century: the ears are long but not touch the shoulders: the Buddha is portrayed have some robes, but not elaborate ones
Here are some paintings from the adjoining walls.
This painting was done later (18th century), as shown by the inclusion of green pigment
This standing Buddha figure is wooden, made out of teak
After leaving the Htilominlo, we passed by a set of temples set on farmland that struck my fancy
At this point, we took a break for lunch at the Shwe Myanmar restaurant
After we found an empty table, loads of side dishes were brought out: bean curry, sour ginger, cooked tomato with peppers, fried tiny fish with pepper paste, cheese with spicy sauce, a sweetish black bean paste
Then came a collection of meat curries, tending to be very bony and fatty. For dessert, we were given bars of palm sugar candy mixed with tamarind.
Here is a view of the open kitchen, which I passed on the way to the bathroom
Of the standing Buddha’s in this temple, two are originals from the 11th century, while two others are 18th century replacements. This 31 foot standing Buddha is an 11th century original.
The figures in the niches along side this Buddha tell of the stages of his life – the departure from being rich, the cutting of the hair, the meditation stage
There were even more niches in the corridors between the various standing Buddha’s – 100 niches with 1400 Buddha figures
The hands are shown in the traveling position.
This next Buddha
is an original from the 11th century. His smile seems broader as you move away from the statue
The hands are shown in preaching position.
The final standing Buddha, with hands in preaching position, is an 18th C teak replacement of an original that was made of too many precious metals that were looted by treasure hunters
On the right is the Burmese king who built the temple
on the left the monk missionary who brought Thereveda Buddhism to Bagan
Next to the Ananda Temple was a 12th century stone monastery that we would like to have seen, but it has been closed to visits because of the earthquake last summer
Next we moved on to Dhammatangyi, one of the largest ruined temples in the area.
But it was never finished: Thin recounted the bloody history connected to the temple: It was built by Narathu, a king who killed his father and brother in his quest for power, and chose to build this in penance for those killings. He married Indian princess but killed her; her father took revenge by having Narathu killed.
This 18th Century sitting Buddha
is in what would ordinarily have been the middle level of the temple, but access to the inner courtyard blocked.
This resting Buddha (not the nirvana position, because he is touching rope) is an 18th century replacement
And this sitting Buddha is an 18th century copy of the 11th century original
Finally this sitting Buddha is an original, but has been repainted
This small seated Buddha is from the 8th century
As we walked around the grounds outside the main building, Thin explained that originally, all temples had walls like this
An unnamed stupa is visible through a chip in the wall
We drive by the Thatbyinyu temple without more than a pause
Apart from our sunset-viewing spot, our last temple visits were devoted to two small temples near each other in the village between Old Bagan and New Bagan
Manuha was an 11th century place, built by captive Mon king of that name
Inside was this (empty) rice bowl made of sandstone
Thin explained that the Buddha figures we were about to see reflected the stress that Manuha felt as a captive – they are large by comparison with the rooms in which they are placed, feeling almost as if they are in jail:
To see the first of these figures, we stepped through a small vestibule with the tiled word "welcome" in English
and entered a room that was barely large enough to contain this 46 foot seated Buddha
And a few worshipers
To see the second one, we entered this small door, through the green curtain,
into a dark space that confined this 33 foot seated Buddha even more closely than the 46 foot one above
Finally, there is a 90 feet long reclining Buddha; the fact that its head is facing north, looking west, tells you it is reclining in the Nirvana position (as opposed to the resting position, clutching rope, that Thin had previously pointed out to us.)
Here are two scenes from Manuha's confined grounds.
Then we walked over to the Nanpaya Temple (nan means palace, paya means temple) from the 11th century. The outside of this building is sandstone brick on outside, with red brick inside.
Light comes into the filtered through small windows set in brick
There are superbly preserved sandstone carvings inside that show Hindu gods paying homage to a Buddha figure in the center
Our final visit of the day was to the Law Ka Ou Shaung temple to see sunset
It contains a 12th century sitting Buddha
but the main reason to visit was to climb a narrow stone stairway to the roof of the temple to watch the sunset. Access to the roof was access somewhat limited by stairway guardians, although in the end it was pretty crowded at the top by the time the sunset reached its glorious culmination.
We could look back at Thatbyinyu, to the right of the center of the photo below
where the crowds were accumulating on the terrace as subset approached
five to left: primitive spire
shwe sandoh: golden hair relic of Buddha
Here are some views of the temples to the north and east
and of the sunset:
It was getting dark by the time we headed for our hotel. I asked about recommendations for restaurants where, unlike the Kumudara, we could get a good traditional Mjyanmar style dinner, and she suggested the River Front Restaurant in New Bagan; we paid our daytime driver 10,000 kyats to take us there and wait for us to take us back to the hotel.
In the gathering dark that was a view of the brightly lit Lawkananda Pagoda (none of my photos came out) along river just south of us, and of a pagoda on hill across the river.
For dinner, we had the Roselle Leaf Soup with fish (not very interesting), a very nice tea leaf salad which, surprisingly for us by comparison with what we get at Burmese restaurants in the US, had no lentils, the night market si chet noodles with duck, and a vegetable satay. For dessert, we were handed some small paper packets with thin, round wafers, three or four to a package, which Thin told me the next day were a tamarind candy made locally called tamarind flakes. I was determined to find a place to buy some to take home.