There is only one word to define Bagan: extraordinary. I arrived after a 19 hour train ride and was obviously not thinking clearly as I decided that it would be quaint to visit the temples on a horse cart. Quaint it was, also dusty, slow and not very comfortable. In a way it was a sweet introduction to this amazing place. There are many temples and in four days I managed to see a fair number. Some so beautiful I saw twice. Either ornate with golden decorations, plain with carvings or with amazing murals. It was extraordinary.
There is so much history attached to each building that it was difficult to take it all in and in the end all I did was just admire the buildings. They were just so beautiful it was a delight to spend a few days just doing that. It is hard to tell which ones I loved the most but Ananda, Shwe Zi Gone and particularly Sulamani, a simple red brick temple, were my favourites. A couple of times my taxi driver took me to see a tiny temple, from the outside nothing much to look at only to reveal the most breathtaking field of pagodas and stupas behind it.
Having lived in London for so long where I did not see any, I have become obsessed with sunsets. I went to Shwegugyi, where you can climb the stairs on the outside to the top and enjoy the view, sort of like a Mayan temple. The second I opted to go to Nam Myint Tower the following day. A tastefully done modern tower near one of the hotels were you can take a lift 11 floors up and enjoy a 360 view of the temple plains from there. Bagan is hazy most of the time and at sunset that just adds to the mystery and magnificence of the setting. Temples of all shapes and sizes as far as the eye could see. I felt I was in the middle of some magical story. The third sunset I sat by the river watching slow boats gently passing by, the sun reflecting on the calm waters. Ahh…it was heavenly.
There was nothing special about the actual town and in a way, my time here was hard work. It was tiring walking for hours visiting the temples and it was exhausting dealing with everything else. The hotel was not very nice, well, at least not nice enough for what I was paying. Everything is overpriced in Burma, I was paying $60 a night for a one star hotel. One of my main gripes about the country is that you get charged for everything, if they could charge you for breathing air they would. Communicating was difficult generally and every pagoda I visited I would be surrounded by people trying to sell me something. My next destination was to be Monywa and my taxi driver having pointed to an open bus where people were dangling from the sides, quoted me a ridiculous $150 for a three hour ride (and let’s put this into perspective, the driver gets $3 for a days’ work…someone is making a lot of money…), we negotiated down to $100 but he then came back to the hotel to say the boss said if I wanted to use the air con during my trip it would cost $10 extra…I told him to get lost and I took the local bus which was not as bad as he’d made it out to be and only cost $3. At least during our trips he’d kept me amused by repeatedly exclaiming “Oh my Buddha!”…Pity that the beauty of the setting was marred by something as mundane as money.