Mandalay and Bagan (fka Pagan)


Mandalay Hill

We traveled by minibus to Mandalay Hill, a hill that rises 236m above the northeast corner of town and gives you a great views of the city. Covered stairways work their way up the south and west faces of the sacred hill; climbing the 700+ stairs took us about 30 minutes. The series of temples leading to teh summit seem a bit newfangled and lacking in direction, with the exception of the Shweyattaw image close to the top. Here, the statue of Gautama Buddha points prophetically to the site of the Royal Palace. Aside from the views, there are crazy fortune tellers and friendly children waiting for you at the top.

Ayerwaddy River

We spent a full day on the Ayerwaddy River and enjoyed some interesting scenes: women pounding their laundry on rocks, people sailing bamboo rafts, travelers and merchants bartering at stops along the river, villagers begging for money or food, fisherman catching dinner, and even a dead body floating in the water.

The last sight was completely unexpected by our group. Perhaps even more shocking than the notion of a corpse floating down the river was the fact that the captain of the ferry did not stop (or blink an eyelid for that matter). One can only postulate how the man died or what else goes on in a country where death under mysterious circumstances is better left unquestioned.

Bagan (fka Pagan)

“The City of Four Million Pagodas”

Dubbed the city of four million pagodas, Bagan is the unquestioned cradle of Myanmar culture. No trip is complete to Myanmar without a trip to the Bagan Archaeological Zone, a 42 square kilometer sun drenched plain with no fewer than 4216 extant temples, pagodas, and other religious edifices.

While little is known about its founding, reputed to date to the 9th century, scholars agree that the two and a half centuries following King Anawrahta’s ascension to the throne in 1044 mark the pinnacle of Bagan’s splendor. Dissatisfied with the repertories of religious practices predominant among his people, mainly a mix of Mahayana Buddhism and indigenous animism, Anawrahta single-handedly launched a full-scale rejuvenation of Theravada Buddhism, leading to its establishment as a national religion. He also inaugurated a wild flurry of temple construction, convincing architects, masons, artists, and carvers to settle in Bagan. While time has seen the destruction of the region’s wooden structures, its stalwart brick edifices give a stirring testimony to a civilization whose prolific contributions to humankind may never be surpassed.

Ananda Temple

Built around the turn of the 12th century, Anandais said to represent the pinnacle of the early style of Bagan period design. With its four enormous gabled entrances leading to a 53m high square block at the center of the termple, it resembles a perfectly symmetrical Greek Cross. On each side of the central square block is an alcove housing Buddha images standing 10m high. With no shortage of donations, Ananda Temple enjoys fresh coats of white paint and copious attachments of gold leaf quite regularly.

Thatbyinnyu Temple

Built in 1144 by King Alaungsithu, is the highest structure in the vicinity. It resembles two gargantuan white stacked cubes, with the upper one set back above three intermediate terraces. Its intricate architecture is representative of the transition from early to late Bagan styles.

Dhammayangyi Temple

This is one of the most massive temples on the entire Bagan plain. Its unsurpassed brickwork, considered a crowning achievement of later period temples, flaunts virtually airtight gaps between individual bricks.

Novice Monks

As part of their daily life, monks and novices seek donations from the local community around Bagan. Because monks are not beggars, they do not ask for donations outright.

Rather they line up in a morning procession with bowls extended and march from their monastery to the city and back – never stopping once. Locals and tourists alike place donations in the bowl while the procession is in motion. The entire morning walk takes about 2 hours and is done every day.

Mount Popa / Nat Temple

Mount Popa arose from the ground following a colossal earthquake in 442 BC. It is the center of Nat worship, a religion based on the worship of a plethora of gods each with human tendencies, and home of the Mingalazedi Pagoda. Its about a one and a half hour drive from Bagan through farms filled with rice, palm trees and moonshine!! To reach the top its quite a hike and you have to go through armies of monkeys, many of which are harmless. Even though Buddha has been incorporated into the Nat religion as the supreme being, the temple is sufficiently different to justify a visit. One word of advice – don’t annoy the monkeys!


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