Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 2 cont. -- Pagodas Aplenty

Ok, all I can say is ... Amazing. I don't even know where to begin. Flying into Bagan you get your first taste of what is to come - a wide river with thousands of ancient temples all over the landscape. So many, in fact, that at first you can't even be sure what they are.

Our guide Po met us at the airport, and took us to our hotel. Our hotel, the Aureum Palace and Resort, is more than top notch. It is a compound of houses tucked among the 3000 temples and stupas in Bagan. Our house (yes, we have our own house) in two stories of lavishness, with three balconies looking out over the temples. It is nearly the size of our house in Philly. And decorated much nicer. It was painful to have to leave it only minutes after arriving, but we did. There's so much to see here.

We spent the morning visiting several temples and stupas, starting with the large Shwezigon Pagoda. Like the one in Yangon, it is a large stupa in the center, surrounded by many smaller buildings and plenty of Buddhas. Next was Gubyaukgyi Temple, with it's walls covered in beautiful miniature paintings of the life of Buddha. Several more temples and pagodas followed, including htilominlo and khayminka, ending with Ananda, which has four huge Buddhas and hundreds of smaller ones in the niches of the walls. These temples range in age, built between the 10th and 13th centuries, in varying stages of both decay and restoration. Po took great pains to describe everything to us, and I mean everything. With his heavy accent, it was tiring, but very worthwhile.

A few items of note - almost every temple and stupa is surrounded by market stalls, with hawkers calling your attention to everything from postcards to quite beautiful lacquerware. It's just enough to be interesting without being annoying.

Roads here are traveled by a variety of vehicles. Cars, buses, motorbikes, pedal bikes, ox carts and horse-drawn carriages all compete for space. But there's no traffic and, just as in Yangon, no honking. And when the wind blows, as it does often, the sweet smell of all the blooming flowers envelops you.

Eventually, we settled for a traditional lunch of Burmese food, most of which I couldn't even describe, at an outdoor restaurant in what appeared to be the center area of the temple site, before heading back to the hotel to rest.

Upon arriving at our hotel and before returning to the luxury of our house, we visited the 12 story tower on the hotel grounds. It is the tallest building in Bagan, and it's viewing deck provides incredible 360 degree views of Bagan and it's temples. Truly awe-inspiring.

After a few hours rest at the hotel, it was back to sightseeing, starting with the obligatory "factory tour" - here of lacquerware. This one was impressive however, and the works was beautiful. More temples followed- Seinnyerneijima, Manuha, Thatbyinnyu - then a horse cart ride among the temples and, more interestingly, one of the small villages in the valley. Daily life here was boys playing soccer, women cooking, oxen resting. The homes were very much like the ones I remember from northern Thailand, made of woven bark and raised on stilts.

The final stop was Shwesandon Temple, where we and about 20 other travelers climbed to the top to view what turned out to be a somewhat disappointing sunset. Still, the views were magnificent and it was well worth the climb. But maybe not the decent, as Ellery spilled her entire bag, and money rained down the side of the temple walls. It was really a scene out of a movie; fortunately, people kindly collected it all and returned it to us. And thus, Ellery will not longer be holding any money.

We returned to the hotel for long, glorious foot massages and a dinner of, as Ellery called it, "real food" before collapsing into bed.