Located on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River, Bagan is home to the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. Formerly inhabited, the lost city is now largely deserted. Most of the local population and tourist-related businesses confined to settlements on the peripheries. Bagan is huge - It’s better to see some temples in detail and slowly than to rush through too many and exhaust yourself.
TOP 8 PLACES TO VISIT
1.ANANDA PAHTO TEMPLE
Built between 1090 and 1105, by King Kyanzittha, the temple with its shimmering gold, 170ft-high corn-cob hti shimmering across the plains, is the best preserved and most revered of all Bagan temples. Each entrance is crowned with a stupa finial what make the structure a perfect Greek cross. The base and the terraces are decorated with 554 glazed tiles showing Jataka scenes. Highlights is the huge carved teak doors, the four 31ft standing Buddha statues, the dhammachakka mudra, the two lions at the eastern side resemble an ogre and a small, nut-like sphere held between the thumb and middle finger of the east-facing image is said to resemble a herbal pill, and may represent the Buddha offering dhamma as a cure for suffering. On two pedestals inside the western portico are two symbols of the buddha’s footprints. Outside of the temple you can see many glazed tiles and lovely views of the spires and terraced roofs.
The massive walled 12th century temple is infamous for its mysterious, bricked-up inner passageways and cruel history. The temple features detailed mortar work in its upper levels. Walking around the outer ambulatory, under ceilings so high you can only hear the squeaks of bats circling in the dark, you can see some intact stucco reliefs and paintings. The remaining Western shire (out of 4) features two original side-by-side images of Gautama and Maitreya, the historical and future buddhas.
As one of Bagan’s most attractive temples it was constructed around 1181, the temple has five doorways and is known as the Crowning Jewel. It’s a prime example of later, more sophisticated temple styles, with better internal lighting. Early period’s horizontal planes combined with the vertical lines of the middle period, is receding the terraces to create a pyramid effect. The gilded sikhara is a reconstruction as the original was destroyed in the 1975 earthquake. Highlights include the interior face of the wall once lined with 100 monastic cells, the carved stucco on mouldings, the pediments and pilasters representing some of Bagan’s finest ornamental work, glazed plaques around the base and terraces are also visable, as are many big and small murals, Buddha images face the four directions from the ground floor, the interior passage around the base is painted with quite big frescoes from the Konbaung period, and there are traces of earlier frescoes.
The museum is run by the government and is housed in a sprawling complex. On exhibit is reclining buddhas, inscribed stones, a mural re-creations and a room of modern-art renderings of the temples. Other highlights include a room of 55 kinds of women's hair knots - and five men's hairstyles, models of major temples with architectural details and a model of an 11th century village.
The three interconnected shrines is worth seeing for its 13th century murals. Each square cubicle is topped by a fat sikhara; a similar structure appears only at Salay. If you enter through the middle shrine, to the right are scratched-up whitewashed walls, and northern shrine are home to vaguely Chinese- or Tibetan-looking mural paintings that contain Bodhisattva figures. The three-shrine design hints at links with the Hindu Trimurti of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, a triumvirate also associated with Tantric Buddhism.
The best-preserved 9th century wall is on the east side of the former entrance to the original palace site. Traces of old stucco can still be seen on the arched gateway and on either side are two niches, home not to buddha images but to natwho guard the gate and are treated with profound respect by locals. To the left is Lady Golden Face, and to the right her brother Lord Handsome. The twosome had a tragic history, it is believed a king only married her to lured her brother out of hiding. Once he captured her brother he burned him at the stake, his sister jumped in, and only her face was saved from the fire. Superstitious locals don’t venture through the gate by motorbike, car or horse cart without first paying a one-time offering - usually a bunch of bananas and a couple of coconuts) to ensure protection against traffic accidents.
It is claimed that this is the ‘Only One Thanakha Gallery in the World’, the small gallery is devoted to the myriad medicinal and cosmetic uses of the thanakha tree, from its roots to its bark. You can buy combs, prayer beads and other items made from thanakha, as well as paintings depicting royals discovering this much-loved product. Other Bagan and Myanmar souvenirs are also for sale.
The library is located just northeast of Shwegugyi. King Anawrahta is said to have carted off some 30 elephant-loads of Buddhist scriptures in 1058 to his own library to house them. The square design follows the basic early Bagan gu plan, perfect for the preservation of light-sensitive palm-leaf scriptures. Highlights is the perforated stone windows, each carved from single stone slabs, and the plaster carvings on the roof, which imitate Myanmar woodcarvings.
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT
E-bikes, which operate much like motorbikes but are powered by electric batteries, are widely available and an ideal way of getting around. Other ways to get around is by bicycle, horse cart and taxi.Bagan is hot most of the year.
The best time to visit is between November an February, when temperatures hit 30C. Avoid March to May, when temperatures can reach 43C. Rainfall is highest in June and October.