Monday, November 9, 2009

Bagan temples

This country hasn't stopped amazing me. Every day just gets better and
I am so in love with the general demeanor of the people here and the
rawness of the land and the pace of life. It's like walking back into
the 1800s with horse drawn carts more common than cars and motos, more
candelit places than electricty lit, mostly everyone wearing longyis
which are just Myanmar sarongs. I have just spend the last few days in
Bagan which is the middle of the country and home to about 4000
temples. Marco Polo described the temples as "covered with gold a good
finger in of the finest sights in the world..." in his
1289 record.
Basically, the story behind the temples is that a Mon king sent a
Buddhist monk north to present day Bagan to convert a Bamar king. The
Bamar king was converted and so enraptured by it he ordered the Mon
king to send scriptures and relics to Bagan. When the Mon king
refused, the Bamar king marched down south, conquered him, and took
everything back to Bagan.And from there architects were hired and
ordered to build building and building to befit Buddha! This was in
850, and Bagan's 'glory days' lasted til around the 1200s. Monguls
invaded the area and tore down some temples and the place was
So now, the place is a dry arid plain between the Shan mountains in
the east toward China and Chin mountains in the west. Daily life
continues amidst these crumbling red brick temples...herds of goats
and cows stumble through the dusty maze of roads followed by their
corralers yelling what sounds to me like "chyyaa! hyyeeeee!
skkkiieeee!" Women in straw woven hats crouch low to the ground and
hack away at grass. I rented a bike and went through the plains alone,
pedaling by paya after paya and in some. Some small ones are kept up
by these gatekeepers who live by the temples. The first one I went
into hadn't been visited in a week or two the woman said. The thing
is, most people visit Bagan and Myanmar in these big prearranged tours
so they are locked into tour buses and sent to the most commercial
places. In American you can't even get a visa for Myanmar without
signing up for one of these. So being alone, I can wander around and
go to places that haven't been visited much and then meet the families
that caretake for them. The temples are crumbling, some of them, from
a big earthquake in the 70s. Many of them restored and some of them
just look like old brick chimneys falling into the ground.
It's hard to put into words the feeling from this adventure in Bagan.
At mid afternoon I reached the top of one of the payas with a giant
veranda on top as the circumference of the building. I walked around
in circles in total awe until I finally sat down. There was not a
single person there besides a herd of cows and their herder on a road
below me. The wind was blowing and the air dry, a simple pleasure I
have been missing for a few months, and the ancient Buddhist feeling
seeped into my skin and my bones I just looked out and wanted to
scream or cry I was so happy! I didn't really know how to express what
I was feeling, and then I thought, why express it?? There is no one
here but me! And I danced around and laughed out loud clenched my
fists and walked around some more!
Being alone here has given me so much opportunity.... to do things
like above, to move really slowly, and to meet local people. Almost
every time I sit down for tea or for food someone comes to sit with
me. Even in the temples in Bagan, a family eating under two sitting
Buddhas side by side asked me to join them, I did, and then I spent
almost 3 hours there talking to them and taking cover from the heat of
the day. People are given licenses to be vendors at different temples
and they live there also. This family lived, ate, sat, and slept in
the most gorgeous red brick temple with ancient paintings on the walls
inside of Buddha, bodhisattvas, elephants, stories of Buddha or his
mother, etc. all painted in cool dark stone hallways with excessively
large dimensions, all in reverence to Buddha. It was so cool.

Next stop is Inle Lake...

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