Bagan is the land of thousands of ancient stupas and temples dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. Over 10,000 religious structures were built in the 42 sq km plain with about 2,200 remaining today. Erosion is an issue in this area with much of the stucco coating of the temples gone revealing the reddish bricks beneath. The resulting ageing process lends a very romantic feel to these temples. I have been to Angkor Watt years ago but Bagan, for me, is more interesting and more spectacular. What is interesting here is that the temples all have very different architectural styles.
We flew from Mandalay to Bagan in a small plane. The flight was more like a bus stopping along the way to pick up more passengers from other airports. We were landing and taking off a couple of times before arriving at Bagan. We stayed at the Aureum Palace Hotel & Resorts set amongst the ancient temples and pagodas within the Bagan Archaeological Preservation Zone. Because we were pressed for them, we were only able to visit about a dozen or so temples over the next few days.
At the time of my visit, all temples require the removal of shoes and socks at the entrance to the temple grounds (not just inside the temple). The easiest is the wear flip-flops especially when you are constantly entering and exiting temples. Bring a good pumice stone because the soles of your feet will need a good scrubbing after a day of temple visits. I am a bit of a germaphobe so I tried to come up with all sorts of methods (duct tape, cling wrap, etc) to cover the bottom of my feet without it showing on top. I discovered that the best method is to use 3M Tegaderm films. These transparent film dressings are breathable but waterproof and super-thin and very easy to remove without any sticky residue on the skin. I got the large size ones that fully covered the bottoms of my feet. Even my guide was impressed and said most of his clients complain about ending the day with dirty and black soles. He made a mental note to order them for his future clients.
Htilominlo Temple, built in 1218, is known to be the last temple built in the Myanmar Style here in Bagan.
Most of the stucco has fallen off at the Htilominlo Temple.
This small buddha statue is one of my favorites.
Ananda Temple, one of the most achitecturally important temples in Bagan. Legend has it that the king killed the architects to ensure that another similar structure was not built anywhere else.
In most temples here in Bagan, there are four Buddhas, mostly in a seated position, facing the four directions. Here at the Ananda Temple, the four Buddhas are all standing at 9.5 meters tall and adorned with gold leaf.
Both the north and south facing Buddhas display the dhammachakka mudra, a hand position symbolising the Buddha’s first sermon.
The Buddha facing east is offering dhamma or Buddhist philosophy as a cure for suffering. There are other interpretations saying that the Buddha with the right hand raised is the Protection Buddha signifying courage and offers protection from fear and delusions.
The west facing Buddha has both arms hanging with hands outstretched, featuring the abaya mudra signifying no fear. This mudra seems unknown to traditional Buddhist scriptures outside this temple.
Inside Ananda Temple.
The structure of Ananda Temple is that of a corridor temple. The central square together with the entryways make the structure into a perfect cross.
Gawdawpalin Temple is one of the largest shrines in Bagan. Legend has it that King Narapatisithu offended his ancestors and as punishment went blind. He was advised to make amends by making idols of his ancestors and worshipping them. Miraculously he regained his eye-sight.
Lawkananda Pagoda on the bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River is in the process of being adorned with gold leaf.
The Shwezigon Pagoda is a prototype of Burmese stupas. It is believed that a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha is enshrined within.
Novice monks at the Shwezigon Pagoda.
Monk ordination ceremony with the family standing in line to congratulate and offer food and money to the newly ordained monk.
Atop the Bu le Thi Pagoda with its panoramic view of the pagodas and temples of Bagan.
Dhammayangyi Temple is the largest and widest of the temples in Bagan. It is a mystery why the innermost area is intentionally filled with brick rubble centuries ago.
Entrance into Dhammayangyi Temple
Sulamani Temple whose brickwork is considered some of the best in Bagan.
Inside Sulamani Temple.
The murals here at Sulamani Temple are my favorite in Bagan.
Murals at Sulamani Temple.
Manuha Temple is one of my favorite temples in Bagan. Legend has it that the captive king Manuha wanted to build a temple for his salvation. The statues were built to seem too large for their enclosures to reflect his displeasure at captivity.
The Buddha statue appearing too large for the space.
There is a large reclining Buddha, in the act of entering nirvana, with a smile on its face which is quite unusual, showing that only death will release Manuha from his suffering.
Reclining Buddha at Manuha Temple.
Thatbyinnyu Temple in the distance.
Shewesandaw Pagoda is also known as the sunset temple. Crowds gather everyday atop the pagoda for a wonderful sunset view of the Bagan plain.
View from the Shewesandaw Pagoda.
View from the top of Shewesandaw Pagoda
If you have time, you should also visit Gubyaukgyi Temple with the best preserved murals (photography not allowed).
We also spent some time visiting a few lacquerware factories and shops. There are a few shops in town specialising in old or antique lacquerware which they collected from neighboring villages or dilapidated temples. I find these much more beautiful than the new ones.
Busy applying multiple coats of lacquer.
Engraving by hand a lacquer cabinet.