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.
Photo Credit: Chris James White Photography
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.