Myanmar – The Temples of Bagan
The Buddhist temples, monasteries, stupas/pagodas of Bagan which spread across forty square miles, were built between the 9th and 13th Centuries.(A temple is a place of worship. A stupa/pagoda was built to honor Buddha and hold relics of Buddha or highly revered Buddhist monks. A monastery, which was generally square in shape with a flat roof, was built to house monks).
During its Golden Age, between the 11th and 13th Centuries, Bagan had 10,000 temples, stupas, and monasteries. Today 2,200 survive. Originally, the villagers built their homes and cultivated the land among the temples and stupas. Bright green fields of beans, peanuts, and squash still surround the ruins. Families built stupas to honor the Buddha and bring good karma to the family. Then, of course, the element of competition between families developed, as to who could build a larger, more opulent pagoda.
Having a good tour guide in Bagan is essential. The sheer size and number of temples can be overwhelming. Our guide – Khi Miuh – focused on Ananda, built between the 11th and early 12 Century during the reign of King Kyanzittha according to his vision of a Buddhist cave temple in India.
It houses four massive and very impressive statues of Buddha facing the four cardinal points: north, east, south, and west, and an impressive collection of jataka plaques depicting fables and scenes of the life of Buddha, his enlightenment and reincarnations. Damaged by a severe earthquake in 1975, it underwent extensive restoration. It’s a beautiful temple and well worth an in-depth visit, but pace yourself lest you develop Buddhist temple burnout.
I would also recommend Htilominlo and Thatbyinnyu temples.
Throughout Myanmar, restorers of religious sites have attempted to preserve its ancient treasures. Unfortunately, some of the more recent restoration undertaken by the military regime has been crude and shoddy.
Not to be missed is a horse and buggy ride clip-clopping through this magical archeological treasure site. We chose the late afternoon when the gentle sunshine turned the temples and stupas into shades of gold, saffron, and red.
We ended our day high up on the top of a hill with a panoramic view of the site around us. We stood in silence transfixed and awed by the colors of the sky, the changing hues on the surface of the ruins, and the reflections in the lake.
Note: During the time of our visit there were no hot air balloon rides over Bagan. We were told that it’s an extraordinary experience.
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