Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bagan: The Land of Ancient Pagodas

   Photo Credit: Chris James White Photography Bagan Pagodas at dawn, Oct. 2012 

We just got home Sunday evening from spending nine days away traveling to Bagan and Inle Lake within Myanmar. It was my first excursion outside Yangon since arriving in April. Having the opportunity to see different parts of Burma deepened my appreciation for the country and helped me realize how diverse – and how beautiful – it is.

Bagan was our first stop.  It’s a small town now, but was an ancient kingdom from the 9th- 13th centuries scattered with over 2,000 incredible, magical pagodas (temples) across the Mandalay plains. At one point, there were over 10,000 of these beautiful buildings.

It’s been difficult for me to write about Bagan.  I felt as though I stepped through a veil, transporting me to a different time; as I stood on the sandy plain, I imagined I could’ve witnessed the exact setting eight hundred of years before.  The earth seemed wise and forgiving. Old and nodding.  It felt sacred. 

I was lucky enough to find pagodas off the tourist track, places we could nearly be alone, listening to the arriving thunder, promising rains.  My daughter and I stood on the sandstone surrounding a mysterious pagoda, watching the shifting light.  Dark sky contrasted with glowing stone and I felt still. Unable to do anything but watch and listen. I’m not sure for what, exactly…but the moment called for reverence, for humility.

I was drawn to places that were not only of Buddhist influence, but held the mystery of Hinduism and also Boddhisattva art, possibly indicating Tantric  Buddhism. I loved Nathlaung Kyaung, the only Hindu temple in Bagan; it was dedicated to Vishnu. This working temple is on the tourist radar, but not as much as many others. It was built c.931. Inside this incredibly beautiful building, incense sticks are burnt out. Offerings laid. 

  Photo Credit: Chris James White Photography. Nathlaung Kyaung Hindu Temple, offerings.

At my favorite temple, Tamathariwari (next to Nandamannya Temple and the Kyat Kan Kyaung underground monastery with incredible tunnels we got to tour!), we met a lovely man called Tin Tin selling his intricate artwork.

He has spent the last 32 years studying frescoes, filled with Pali language, in two pagodas. It’s dark inside (only lit by windows). No electricity. He uses a torch and studies each minute detail, then copies them.

 Photo Credit: Chris James White Photography. Tin Tin and one of his sand paintings.

Some he carved into sandstone and sold on cotton cloth. How? He crushed sandstone from nearby temples until it became powder. He then applied three layers of glue to the powder, placing it on the cotton. Once dry, Tin Tin carved replica fresco scenes. Incredible

  Photo Credit: Chris James White Photography. Tin Tin showing us Nandamannya Temple, a mid-13th century pagoda with gorgeous frescoes

Whenever I could escape temples with tourists and gawking hawkers, I did. I wanted peace and solitude.   

The further afield you go, the more you can explore, in quiet, the beautiful history right at your feet.


  1. Thank you for sharing this Becky.. I'd love to see it some day :) dad

  2. Wow, the picture of the town looks amazing. There are a precious few places like that left.

    1. Thanks, Kristen!! It's really amazing, actually. Felt lucky to be able to see it. :)

      Thanks for stopping by + leaving a message. :)

  3. Becky thank you for taking me with you at the land of the ancient pagodas. Absolute beauty. I would have been right there with you seeking peace, quiet and solitude. Thank you for sharing I loved it.

    1. Hi Suzanne,
      I'm glad that you enjoyed the photos! :-) It was quite a special place and I'm glad that I was able to share a bit of it with you!


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