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Surprising, Amazing, Mystical Bagan
Leaving Yangon, we head northwest to Bagan in the center of Myanmar. Bagan is not the bustling city we found in Yangon--this is an ancient land of over 10,000 temples. Actually there are approximately 1000 stupas (structures usually containing a Buddhist relic) , 10,000 temples (structures that can be entered to pray) and 3,000 monasteries--and we'll see many of them by car, horse cart, bike and by even air (when we are lucky enough to hit one day of clear dawn weather for a balloon ride). The first temple we come upon sits overgrown, among ladies harvesting sesame plants.
On the way to our hotel we are introduced to real-life Bagan--as a farmer plows a field with an ox, all framed against an ancient pagoda. Spectacular!
Across the road we see our first "gas station" aka plastic bottles filled with petrol. Where the main mode of transportation is the motor bike, that's all they need in most areas.
And the motor bikes haul an amazing amount of goods.
Not all the pagodas are the old sandstone. Some, like the huge Shwe Zi Gon Pagoda, are covered in gold-leaf. I actually prefer the sandstone ones in the countryside...
Three huge bells hang at the back of the temple grounds. Following our guide's suggestion, we strike the bells three times using a small log, chanting, "Badu, Badu, Badu." The bells have a strong sound that reverberates through the body. Very cool.
Next we travel to the brilliant sights at the open-air market. There are brightly colored fruits and vegetables...
A woman butcher sits barefoot among the meat she is selling...
A man mixes tea leaves that will be used to make the traditional green tea salad...
Along with other interesting-and aromatic-items like this HUGE bucket of fermented fish paste. It smelled pretty much like you think it might....
Artfully displayed Betel leaves are sold here. They are commonly chewed by manual workers--they are folded around a dab of caustic calcium hydroxide and some tobacco, then sold as a folded packet. It's a stimulant and helps overcome thirst for those who must work hard all day. Other minor side effects are it turns teeth a disgusting brown and causes serious kidney problems leading to death.
Leaving the city we travel to the banks of the Irrawaddy River for a traditional lunch at the Sunset Garden restaurant. We'll actually get on the river tomorrow!
Then we're off to more huge pagodas and buddhas that I can count. This plaster and brick Ananda Phaya Pagoda is magnificent.
And inside are huge Buddhas including this one that looks solemn when you stand directly underneath it...
The same Buddha has a big grin as you walk away. Quite amazing.
Throughout Bagan, the people crossing our paths are excited to meet us--we are very comfortable here. And the people seem to dote on their children. This boy was the child of the lady who rents bikes across from our hotel. Oh yea--this child even has an electronic tablet. The 21st century joins temples from the 9th century.
We see no scroungy dogs or cats, no mistreated horses or ox here. These oxen and carts are decorated to carry the young monks--and tourists. These were on their way to a full moon sunset at a nearby temple.
Climbing steps to watch a sunset can be interesting. The steps are old and crumbling. But even a greater challenge is, because they are hand made, they are different heights, some almost up to my knees. Out of respect, visitors take off shoes and wear pants or skirt below the knee--and no tank tops here!
The view from the top is worth the climb--truly breathtaking.
It looks like a movie set. The greens almost fluoresce and there are hundreds of pagodas in all directions. The Irrawaddy River is at the horizon.
Back down on mortal earth, some Kayan weavers from the Mandalay region are in the courtyard. They come for tourists, like us. Tracing their history to the Mongols in 700 AD, these elders still have the brass neck rings they have worn since childhood. They have difficulty removing them--they have few working neck muscles.
The next morning we set out to explore more of the area and begin at the Old Bagan Gate.
We meet a family from Mandalay visiting our first temple. Their busy little boy stopped, just for a second, to pose for a quite picture.
Traveling on, we pass young boys in their initial monk-training. Boys, and some girls, go through 3-6 week monk inductions when school is not in session. They may choose to become monks in their late teens and can choose to go back to their regular life at any time, with no stigma.
The close of this day is amazing. We take to a sampan on the Irrawaddy at sunset.
And have a traditional dinner on a sandbar--this spot is under water during the rainy season. All quite magical.
Morning comes very early--we're up at 0430 today for a dawn balloon ride over Bagan. We are very lucky. The trip was filled yesterday and our last two days it rained in the morning, canceling the sunrise lift-offs. Can't imagine having missed this spectacular adventure!
Looking toward the Irrawaddy, we get a true birds-eye view. Beautiful doesn't even begin to describe it.
After lunch, we take horse carts to a festival celebrating then end of the rainy season,
Then off to a quiet pagoda to watch the sunset.
At the top, bathed in the evening sun, we see a beehive that looks like chainmaille.
Even the ride back to the hotel at dusk was pretty spectacular.
The sunset filters against a full moon in magical pink-fingered rays.
Our last day in Bagan, the town prepares for the Festival of Light celebration. Young monks hop off their bus to participate. The town revs up for a party. We'll even have fireworks with our dinner....
And we begin biking Bagan before breakfast to beat the heat.
We make it to the top of our last pagoda.
Another careful "trip" down
We visit a seamstress who altered some clothes for us using an old treadle machine.
Before we left for Bangkok, in the rain....
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