March 18: Bagan: Plain of Temples

Dr. Paula Swart Till, our Tour Director and scholar specializing in the art and culture of Asia, has written about “The Dawn of A Civilization: Pre-Bagan Urban Cities in Myanmar”, Arts of Asia Vol 45, issue 2 March-April 2015, pp 106-117, and architecture.

Began, from the 9th to 13th centuries,  was the capital of the Kingdom of Bagan which would unify regions that became Myanmar.

Our introduction to this area started yesterday, before dawn while it is still cool, when some of us were taken by jeep to a temple from which we could watch the balloons as the sun arose. The first several pictures are from the 17th. Today I was a passenger of a balloon piloted by a Swiss Balloon Champion. The 45 minute flight was followed by a brief commentary about her career as we sipped champagne.


Sunrise balloons over Bagan


Sunrise balloons over Bagan


Sunrise balloons over Bagan

The next morning I had a chance to take my first balloon flight. An expected high for today is 100F



Command Pilot Lea Zeberli is in black shirt to the right in the basket.

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This is called an “Air Kiss” when two balloons touch in flight. A wing tip is seen through the firing balloon to the left of “XY-AKC”.


This is the vent which helps to control elevation.


And that was before breakfast.

After breakfast, expecting a peak temperature of 100F, we took a coach to begin our Bagan Temple exploration by oxcart – not a typo. The first – Htilominlo – built by the King of that name, was erected on the site where the King was chosen as crown prince of ancient Pagan.


Oxcart ride to Htilominlo


Oxcart ride to Htilominlo


Htilominlo Temple


One of those pictured is a Buddha

Next stop, the Ananda Temple built in 1105 CE, with four standing Buddhas standing in the cardinal directions, is only one of four temples surviving temples from that period.


Note the guardian tiger


Even monks are techies

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There are many such niches depicting an aspect of the life of Buddha.

Ananda temple is cruciform with a Buddha on each quadrant.


This Buddha viewed up close appears to have a straight face; viewed farther back he is smiling.


Last stop of the morning, is the Dhammayangi Temple, the largest of the Bagan Temples. Between the 11th and 13th centuries there had been more than 10,000 temples on the Bagan Plane; only 2,200 survive. The Myanmar government had attempted to restore damaged sites which caused UNESCO to withhold certification as a World Heritage Site.


The Burmese, mostly women, wear a white lotion of Thanak, produced from bark, which acts as a sun block and is fashionable.


A unique offerings collection device.

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Fortified by a delicious lunch and a brief rest, we set out to visit a local workshop where traditional methods making lacquerware are still practiced. Myanmar has been a center for lacquerware since 1563 when King Bayinnaung brought Laos-Shan artisans to his court. In the 20th century, Bagan became the industry’s main hub. The British established a school in the 1920s to foster the craft.


Weaving bamboo into small rigid bowls


Weaving horse hair into flexible bowls


Carving a pattern into black lacquer


Carving further pattern into gold treated lacquerware

This is the Myazedi Stupa, next to Gubyaukgyi Temple which has both a linguistic and historic significance. The four surfaces of the stupa contain a consecration of the temple in the languages of the Pyu, Mon, Old Burmese, and Pali, establishing the ancient languages as having a cultural influence in the Pagan period, Burma’s Classical age between the 11th and 14th centuries.


USESCO Certification


Burmese Rosetta Stone

The last temple for today is Shwe (golden) San Daw where we have the opportunity to view a sunset from any of the five levels, all requiring a steep climb. We elected to stay on the ground and observe while sipping coconut milk.


Site plan of Shwe San Daw


Shwe San Daw


Sunset from the ground at Shwe San Daw


Shwe San Daw reclining Buddha


Shwe San Daw reclining Buddha

There you have it: one day of touring. Really feel that we’ve earned an adult libation.






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