DAY 2 The Ancient City Of Bagan – Traveller Marvels At Myanmar’s First Kingdom
We rose early with excitement. After a balanced breakfast and a quick briefing by the Thiripyitsaya e-bike service, there was nothing left to do but traverse the plethora of majestic temples and be awed. From our resort, we zoomed away on our e-bikes to the Bagan Archaeological Museum in less than 5 minutes. This is a great place to start as it furnished us with the background of Bagan and the details of its iconic edifices. Those who yearn to learn more can hire a guide to grasp a better understanding of the history and culture of Myanmar’s first kingdom for a fee of 10000 Kyat.
Here we learned that between the 10th to 13th centuries, Bagan flourished as the economic and cultural capital of the Pagan Kingdom, and more than 10,000 Buddhist temples, monasteries, and stupas were erected over the course 250 years of the kingdom’s rule. Today, about 2200 of those incredible monuments still remain surviving years of earthquake trauma. Next stop, the highest awe-inspiring structures of Bagan, the Thatbyinnyu Phaya. At a height of 60 meters, this stunning structure was built to symbolise the omniscience of Lord Buddha. It should be noted that modest attire is required to enter the temples. However, fret not if you are in your summer shorts as longyis and shawls can be purchased outside the more popular temples.
Just a stone’s throw away from Thatbyinnyu, is an elevated platform bearing a beautiful temple frequented by sunrise and sunset-hunters. The Shwe-Gu-Gyi Phaya’s narrow stairways to a higher platform provide an amazing view of the plain dotted with numerous temples and its golden spires, and stupas. The unique temple of Dhamman-Gyi, which we managed to visit last, is located 3 kilometres south-east of Shwe-Gu-Gyi. If time is of essence or the weather does not permit your visit to Dhamman-Gyi, the consolation is a good view of it from the higher level of Shwe-Gu-Gyi. As this is one of the most popular temples in Bagan, there were many vendors selling a variety of fabric, trinkets, and artwork here. We also saw local children playing with toys which brought back the nostalgia of our childhood. Another 5-minute ride to the east is a must-see 12th-century temple, the Ananda, which has been splendidly restored succeeding the earthquake impact. The interior of this temple houses numerous wall niches, occupied by small Buddha statues, surrounding the four colossal Buddha statues facing each cardinal direction. We entered via the north entrance, past the bustling street market. Once we stepped past the massive arched gateway, the atmosphere turned serene and divine. It’s worth spending more time here walking through the courtyard, admiring the impressive architecture, gilded shikhara and capture a panoramic shot of this beauty – definitely Insta-worthy.
Our morning exploration made us crave nourishment in the form of hearty Burmese cuisine by noon. A short ride north of the Ananda temple brought us to a cluster of restaurants where we let the crowd influence our decision to dine at the Golden Myanmar 2 restaurant. We knew it was a wise choice 2 minutes after placing our orders when a wide variety of vegetable accompaniments came to our table. Little did we know that it was a buffet-style eatery, the dishes are replenishable but the first round alone was overly satiating. Then, our meat dishes were served. All for 5000 kyats per person. Fully recharged, we reembarked on our mini adventure and visited a few more temples and stupas before succumbing to the afternoon heat and calling it a day.
The trip to the Sulamani temple is a relatively long commute, 10 minutes ride along a dusty road. The white prints on my longyi had turned reddish-brown by the time I reached the temple. Sulamani stands out for its vaulted corridors are illuminated by the sunlight reflecting off the gold-leafed Buddha statues at different angles throughout the day, providing striking natural lighting along the walkway. Another breath-taking feature is the intricate ceiling murals and wall paintings that have survived centuries of weather abrasion.
Next door to Sulamani is the Dhammayan-Gyi temple. Unlike the other notable temples, its interior is bricked up which can be related to its unpleasant history circling King Narathu. Legend has it that Narathu ascended the throne by smothering his bed-ridden father, King Alaungsithu who led the kingdom to its prosperity in the 10th century and motivated the erection of numerous temples. When Narathu’s elder brother, Min Shin Saw led his army to claim his right to the throne, Narathu deceitfully surrendered but later murdered Min Shin Shaw during his coronation by poisoning his first meal as the king.
During his reign, King Narathu sacrificed one of his wives in a ritual. She was an Indian princess and her grief-stricken father prompted the assassination of King Narathu in 1171. Dhammayan-Gyi was built by King Narathu in an attempt to atone for his sins and neutralise his bad karma, and also in the name of his maternal grandfather, Dhamma Kyin. It was not completed by the time of his demise, so the workers filled the inner ambulatories with rubble out of spite. Today, Dhammangyi-Gyi stands out as the largest and widest of all the temples within the Bagan Archaeological Zone. Its outstanding brickwork is worth the wander.
All the monuments visited in just 4 hours can leave one temple-d out for the day. The first drop of rain was our cue to retire for the day and submit to a relaxing herbal-oil massage back at the resort. We only managed to fit in 5 of the note-worthy temples and a few minor ones along the way in one day. Hence, 3 days in Bagan is recommended to visit the other must-see monuments such as the Shwesandaw pagoda known for its picturesque sunset spot, the Shwezigen temple which is similar to the Shwedagon in Yangon minus the enormous golden spire, the Maha Bodhi Phaya which style is influenced by the famous Bodh Gaya temple in India, and the Golden Palace which is a recreation of the original ancient palace which is being presently excavated. Apart from the Archaeological Zone, the Mani-Sithu market and lacquerware workshop is also popular amongst tourists. We left Bagan with a heavy heart the next morning, but Mandalay beckons, and off we were on another adventure.