These guys really dig Buddha huh?
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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This was my first up close sighting of the legendary Irrawaddy River. The Irrawaddy cuts a very wide swathe (sometimes up to three kilometres wide) through the low-lying and generally barren surrounding plains. As the miles went by this immensity becomes more and more apparent and as usual, the river plain is surrounded by far-flung mountain peaks on the horizon.
Often the scene didn't change for an hour or more, just the position of the boat in the river (the navigator skilfully dodging sandbanks) and that the occasional village cropped up on the shore every once in a while. Seven hours slid by in blissful comfort and reclination*. Rain showers came and went but never seriously threatened. All was well on the poop deck - my hapless bowels behaved themselves admirably. Then stupas were sighted on the banks aforeships and we entered the Bagan Archeological Zone. Bring it on!
Bagan is stop two in my ancient cities of Asia tour and although relatively unknown to much of the world, it's an awesome cluster of 1,000 year old Buddhist temples and monuments covering an area of about 50 square kilometres in north western Myanmar. There are approximately 2,100 definable structures within this area, some built on a huge scale with many levels and internal rooms, others much smaller with just single rooms (or none at all in the case of the many stupas and burial mounds).
Apparently they were built over a period of about 250 years, from the 9th to the 13th century AD (I realise that doesn't add up). Various styles were employed in three distinct architectural periods - the imaginatively named Early, Middle and Late periods - which resulted in a bizarre and seemingly random variety of shapes and designs in evidence. Add that to the fact that they were using some weird method of astrology or some seriously mind-altering substances to place the new constructions and you often get a very weird mix of buildings neighbouring each other. If you look one way and there's a mutli-layered temple with a beautiful spire on top, look fifty metres right and there's a giant shoe box, fifty metres left and there's a pentagonal stupa. Righty-o, nice work lads.
On the whole it adds up to an extraordinary sight, if you can get to any sort of vantage point to peer over the encroaching scrub and jungle. Whichever way you look, there are numerous structures dotting the landscape, many of which are comparable in size and complexity to the very pinnacle of European architecture of the time. The large temples must have been an absolutely massive undertaking in themselves, but then to erect thousands of smaller buildings around them would have taken almost continuous construction over the centuries. I wouldn't like to have been a slave around here back then...
Let's not get too high tech about this - pictures tell a thousand words. First stop was the massive gilded stupa of Shwezigon Pagoda in Nyaung U. The swarming vendors didn't amuse me but the old ladies with the big rollies sure did!
From there on it was just cycling for a while, stopping and gazing about in wonderment. Here are some of the main temples (names above photos):
Dhamma ya-za-ka Zedi
Tayok-pyi Paya (excellent views at this remote temple)
Other random structures
By the way, don't ask me regarding the difference between temples, paya and pahto. I mustn't have been paying attention that lesson.
If you could access them, the inside of the temples often reveal intricate paintings - mostly religious in nature such as of the Buddha and his lessons in learning 'the Way', as well as some more earthly topics such as life around the area or in the royal court of the time. A lot of these has faded due to smoke damage (the temples were used to hide from the Japanese in WW2), bat droppings or just age, but temples such as Gu-byauk-gyi (in between Old and New Bagan) still have some significant works under display.
I spent three quite changeable (weather-wise) days here which ended up working quite nicely, giving me time to relax and recuperate from previous ills whilst covering most of the extended archeolgical zone in detail. I saw most significant sites plus a number of less accessible (but no less impressive) secondary temples (such as Tayok) along the southern-most road. It's interesting that as the zone is so spread out, it is difficult to fully appreciate the immensity and impressiveness of it all. Borobudur pales into insignificance when compared to this, and I think Bagan will certainly rival Angkor Wat in terms of magnitude when I visit there in the near future. Still, we'll leave it till then to pass final judgements.
In the meantime, it is one happy Rosco heading over to Inle Lake for the final stop of this Myanmar tour. After I've gone, the sun will continue to set over the many temples, pahto, zedi and hti that make up this spectacular example of ancient human endeavour. Maybe I'll make it back here sometime to see it again.
Cheerio for now.
Next entry -> Inle Lake
* new Ross word - a state of tranquil repose
Cumulative stupa (bell shaped monument) count - Myanmar visit
3,528 to end 31 October
That's a lot a temples... phew.