When Rudyard Kipling wrote “This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about” – I am sure he was referring to Bagan. If ever there was a place that captures the imagination in ways you didn’t think possible – Bagan is it. Stunning scenery waiting to be captured by words, pictures, paint…like this artist (who I now wish I had spoken to – if you do recognise this, please get in touch and I will credit you)!
Thousands of temples dotted across lush, green plains, as far as the eye can see…their orange spires rising up to the sky, some big and some small, each majestic in it’s own way- etching a picture in your mind that you will never forget.
You can’t help but feel excitement in Bagan…with the temples waiting to be explored and the delicious prospect of adventure waiting at every corner. There is no right or wrong way of seeing this stunning part of the world – the best way is creating your own adventure.
There are the ‘signature’ must see temples and the experiences you have to check off your bucket list, but then again – there is a temple out there waiting for you to discover it’s treasures and claim for your own!
Getting off the small aircraft at the airport, and driving through the plains to check in to our hotel where I catch the first glimpses of the temples is a sight that always stays in my mind. Staying at the rather controversial but beautiful Aureum Palace was an amazing experience. This hotel is built right in the plains of Bagan and is home to the eyesore Bagan Viewing Tower, but is also the only hotel (for now) where you will have the temples at your doorstep.
Having spent three full days in Bagan, I did get to explore and discover to my hearts content and then some.We could see the spires rising in the distance from the reception, and what a wonderful surprise to have two temples right outside the doorstep of our villa! I wanted to sit by the pool and gaze away at the scenery but the itch in my feet was too strong to withstand and so, a lot of exploration was the order of the day!
Now, with over 2000 temples dotted about the archaeological zone, you can bet you aren’t going to see them all, and true to my wanderlust spirit – my adventure consisted of seeing the ‘signature temples’ such as Sulamani, Htilo Milo, Dhammayangi, Shwesandaw, Ananda – information stowed in my head and camera in hand, hopping from temple to temple and creating wonderful moments that I look back on with a grin!
Passing the Tharabar Gate, our horse cart driver stops to give an offering – and my curiosity is peaked – why? To get out alive on the other side of course! This is the stuff that travel is made of – myths and legends, and getting to indulge in some of these and escape the humdrum of reality for a while.
I can imagine myself hurtling through the fields of Bagan, on an e-bike – and trust me – the imagination is more graceful than the reality of me actually riding in Bagan! We rented e-bikes for an afternoon from the reception – nifty contraptions that run on fuel and allow you to zip around the trails and explore the area on your own with one caveat – given that the trails are sandy, it is easier said than done to ride these bikes, and any mental images that you (or rather I) have of gracefully riding along, hair streaming elegantly in the wind are soon dashed! On the plus side, you do get to stake a claim at any of the temples and claim one for yourself – that is, if you don’t find it locked like some of the smaller ones are.
This is my idea of a perfect day of satiating that inquenchable thirst of wanderlust. A morning of temple exploration, and an afternoon just riding around the plains, stopping in to any temple that caught mine or my wanderlusters husband’s fancy. And in doing so, we have created so many beautiful memories that make us smile with glee everytime we think of our time in Bagan.
While exploring the Payathonzu Temple, we met the wonderful caretaker of that area who took us under bushes and trees to a hidden temple, which I later found out was number 480 which has the best frescoes of Buddha in vivid colours and the story of Kinara and Kinyaryi – the fable of the two lovers which is depicted in quite a few temples and sand paintings but painted so beautifully in this temple. And this kind man didn’t want a tip – he was simply proud of his heritage and his country and just wanted us to see what some of the smaller temples have to offer. The joys of creating your own adventures!
Evening falls, and it is the time of sunset and as I’m riding my e-bike, soaking it all in, a little boy beckons. Curious, I get off and follow. Hopping across the terrace of one temple, down a wooden makeshift ladder, and onto the terrace of another. He can’t speak English, but we are communicating somehow – and we come to a cluster of small temples, the grass overgrown in this area. I am a little wary but excited too – I can feel adventure in my bones. Hastily throwing off my slippers, I follow him into the little temple, and up the steep, dark stairs, using the flashlight on my phone to guide me. Soon, we are at the terrace. A few more short, steep stairs later and I see what the boy wanted me to see – the most stunning sunset ever – a fiery orange glow in the sky with this fireball melting into the horizon, it’s rays bathing the spires and bricks of the temples on the plains. Yes, this is Burma and indeed – it is unlike any land you will ever know.