The Ayeyarwaddy River runs the length of Myanmar. We caught an “express” ferry boat from Mandalay to Bagan yesterday, covering the 100 miles between the two in 11 hours.

Life along the river looked like it hadn’t changed much in the last century — or two. Fishermen in dugouts, pagodas and small villages populated by huts dotted the landscape. 

Bagan is an ancient city that was the capital of the prosperous Bagan empire which controlled most of present day Myanmar. At the height of its power between the 11th and  13th century, more than 10,000 temples and pagodas were built in Bagan.

Myin Kabar Gubyaukgyi Temple

Pagodas are built to house relics or sacred documents. Building a pagoda is good karma which contributes positively to a Buddhist’s next incarnation.

Today in Bagan, about 2,200 monuments remain in various states of repair. It is truly astounding to look in any direction and see a pagoda rising off the Bagan plains. I’ve shut my eyes trying to imagine what it was like centuries ago when thousands more sparkled in the sun.
Shwe zi gone Pagoda

John and I spent most of the day exploring and managed to see just 11 monuments. The Shwe zi gone Pagoda was spectacular. Almost entirely gold, the elements have slowly eroded the gold away exposing the red paint underneath.

King Midas ain’t got nothing on Shwe zi gone!

Shwe zi gone Pagoda also enables you to see artifacts taken from inside the pagoda.

Markets surround the larger, well-preserved pagodas/temples and to reach the shrine containing Buddha, you often have to walk a gauntlet of aggressive sellers. 

At the Htilominio Pagoda, a young woman took a different approach. She met us exiting the pagoda and offered to show us the path to a great view. We decided to take her up on it and walked a short distance down a dirt path to a side building where we squeezed through this door…

climbed and ducked our way up narrow, winding stone stairs to the roof and a great view of Htilominio.

Her sales approach worked as we ended up purchasing some items from her aunt’s shop.

As for the Buddha statues in all the pagodas/temples, they are uniquely beautiful. Here’s a small sampling.

One of the Buddhas at Dhammayangi.

One of three giant statues at Manuha.

Some of the pagodas feature insets with smaller Buddha statutes like this one at Manuha.

Gongs or bells are at almost all of the larger pagodas/temples. They are often quite decorative.

One of the bells at Manuha.

One of the bells at Dhammayangi.

Demonstrating my technique at Bu Paya.

Bagan is truly a unique place in the world. I sincerely hope all the ancient Buddhists who built these spectacular pagodas and temples got the incarnation(s) they desired. 

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