Formerly called Pagan, Bagan is one of the worlds ancient and greatest archaeological sites located in the Mandalay region of Burma. It covers almost 26 square mile area of the south of Mandalay with the Ayeyarwady River drifting past its northern and western sides. The city was the political, economical and cultural centre of the Kingdom of Pagan from the 9th to the 13th centuries. And thanks to the then wealthy rulers of Pagan, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas, monasteries and stupas once reigned the place of which over 2200 still made it to the present day. These properly shaped and sized monuments seem to overwhelm the landscape. Today the Bagan Archaeological Zone has grown to become one of Myanmar’s central tourist destinations.
Legend has it that Bagan was founded by Thamoddarit in the early 2nd century B.C. Centuries later, in the present decade the city is still alive, vibrant and stands testimony to the economic well being and political power of the yesteryears that helped Buddhism to flourish exceedingly in Bagan. The monuments were built using wood and brick. Unfortunately only the brick structures remain. Though the government tried to restore many of these damages pagodas, the venture was unsuccessful. The few dozen temples that remain are canopied by palms and tamarinds. However the spiritual message these structures carry is but not lost to the wilds! In fact someone was absolutely right when he said ‘The best things in Bagan are found when you’re not looking for them’.
Though the process of getting to Myanmar is a bit tacky, once you make it to the country nothing else matters. Most of the Asian airlines fly to Bagan, so regarding that there has to be no worries. There are also daily flights available from the country’s major cities to Bagan. Otherwise you can board the overnight trains that run daily from Yangon or maybe take the train service from Mandalay to Bagan with two departures daily. Another reasonable option is to choose from the many bus services to Bagan which also connects the city with other potentially major cities in Myanmar. Those interested in taking a romantic voyage to Bagan can opt the daily express ferry service down the Ayeyarwady from Mandalay to Bagan which takes about 9 hours.
Old Bagan, a sleepy village lies closest to the temples and also has sights of its own. Getting around the temple site is a lot of fun. Since the area is too vast to explore the best way to get the best view of the place is from a hot-air balloon. The balloons are British made and perfect security is guaranteed. You can also rent a bike and go cycling around the criss-crossed roads and paths. Hiring a local guide to provide an introductory tour might be a good choice. For those interested in going back to being in harmony with nature, you can enjoy the serenity of the place at a more sedate pace from one of the 250 odd horse carts that are available in the area.
Bagan is not only famous for its ancient temples and pagodas but also for the incredible architecture of the buildings. A hemispherical dome etched on a rectangular shaped structure surrounded by a stone was the central idea on which the stupas were built. The 7th century Bawbawgyi Pagoda was the pioneer in the evolution of the Burmese stupa. The hollow gu-style temple used by the Buddhist priests for meditation and devotional practices is also very famous. The vaulted temples dating back to the 11th century is also very popular among tourists. The masonry of the buildings needs no mention. It reflects “an astonishing degree of perfection”. Some of the famous monuments are the Ananda Temple, Dhammayangyi temple, Mahabodhi Temple, Tharabha Gate and Thatbyinnyu, the tallest temple of Bagan.
This temple city is also popular among tourists for its lacquer ware, glazed plaques, mural paintings and stucco’s. Bagan is open to travellers all round the year as the city is not affected by drastic climate changes unlike the lower regions of Myanmar. Nyaung U is the area’s most active town and chief transport hub with also the most number of hotel and eating options. The Kumudara, a decent hotel with a reasonable restaurant overlooking the temple plains is a preferred stay in Bagan. The Myanmar Treasure Resort located inside the Bagan Archaeological Preservation Zone is also a popular choice as it’s within easy reach from the important tourist sites in the city. Food at Bagan is a blend of Indian and Thai cuisines. The traditional Burmese dishes, especially the old noodle soup served at several outlets in Old Bagan are also very delicious and mouth watering.
This ancient and beautiful city, home to more than 2000 sacred monuments will always remain unsurpassed. Bagan has even been compared to the archaeological gem of South Asia, The Angkor Wat. The ages old palm trees, tamarinds, bougainvillea’s, the willowy trunks and exotic cotton trees also contribute in keeping alive the sanctity and spirituality of the abandoned ruins. Thanks to the millennium old tradition of brick masonry, today the world has something amazing to take pride about! The temples have aged gracefully, creating across the plains of Bagan a mystical and stunning landscape.