A free day in Bagan

 

We have the option to explore on our own today.  Richard suggests hiring electric scooters or using the free bicycles from the hotel and investigating more temples.  I anticipate more temples tomorrow, so think I’ve done quite well on the that front so far and don’t want to be ‘templed out’ just yet.

Mark & Garry with Richard C @ Amazing Bagan Resort
Mark & Garry with Richard C @ Amazing Bagan Resort

The Californains, Garry and Mark, who are turning out to be such fun, with Peter (now recovered from a dose of flu), hire a car and driver for the day to see more temples.  Mike and Ray say they are going to chill out.  My plan is to visit the Archaeological Museum in the morning, so it’s a swim before breakfast.  On my way to the pool I check out the free bicycles – they are very old.  One has a completely flat tyre and the others need pumping up.  I take a couple of test rides and check at reception if they have a pump.  They triumphantly produce a huge plunger type, which unlike the bikes, looks brand new.  I trot off to the pool where the water temperature is almost acceptable and decide to lower the risk by hiring one of the brand new electric scooters – foreigners are not allowed to drive petrol ones.

Great Hall Archaeological Museum
Great Hall Archaeological Museum

All goes well and I find the Museum, a hideous modern building attempting to copy features of the beautiful Ananda temple.  No cameras are allowed, but mobile phones are ok – all the locals are photographing stuff on their phones, so I don’t see the point.  Eventually I follow suite. On first glance the vast central hall looks gloomy, but a series of bronze statues, imagines four of the 55 Pagan Kings of Bagan

One of the Bagan Kings
One of the Bagan Kings

King Anawrahta 1044 – 1077

Kyan Sittha 1088 – 1113

Alaungsithu 1113 – 1160

King Kyaswa 1235 – 1249

This Dynasty unified Burma and brought Theravada Buddhism to the country to create a golden age.

 

A short history of Burma – not up to date but clear at https://newint.org/features/2008/04/18/history/

Representation of wood carvers
Representation of wood carvers

These statues represent strong rulers and although one holds a spear, not all are military.  One sits with one leg crooked in a ‘thinking’ pose.  I imagine at in 1998, the Generals who ruled, were flattered by this work and they are in any case great fans of this period of Bama imperialism.  There are also ancient statues of Buddha from his life and reincarnation.  To one side of this hall is a crudely cast group ad dancing people.  The inscription reads ‘People of Bagan who are always in happy mood by singing and dancing’. This room feels a bit more like a promotion than archaeology.  The Museum doesn’t seem to be air conditioned and in one room an attendant opens a window creating a welcome draft.  I nod my appreciation of her effort.

Comparison of the Myanmar alphabet
Comparison of the Myanmar alphabet

There’s an interesting comparison showing the evolution of the modern Myanmar alphabet as seen on tee shirts.  The origins are traced back to South Indian and Brahman scripts.  Various rooms reconstruct life in 11th Century Bagan and the allegedly caring nature of the rulers is explained.

Marble inscriptions on modern carved marble plinths
Marble inscriptions on modern carved marble plinths

There’s a whole room of inscriptions carved on marble slabs, stone pillars and paper.  These seem to be complicated historical narratives.  Suddenly there is an air conditioned room – delicious.  Upstairs I run into John and Nev who have also hired the electric scooters.

Buddha
Buddha

Here there is a room full of carved Buddha’s from temples, all seated on identical carved seats of teak.  The three of us decide to lunch together, so Nev and I go ahead, turning right outside the museum.  I look behind – being the only one with rear vision mirrors – as there is no sign of John.  We stop and eventually he speeds out the gate, turning left and not seeing us.  I race off after him, stretching my scooter to its limit at 50km/h all the while tooting loudly.

Buddha on teak seat
Buddha on teak seat

 

We decide to re-visit the afore-mentioned café for lunch.  It’s in the village near the hotel and I think I know the way.  We set off to the north, finding the village, which seems to go on forever. We stop several times to ask the way but to no avail. Eventually, John asks a taxi driver who gives us precise instructions.  As we approach the turn-off, he’s waiting, having driven ahead to make sure we get it right – such fantastic kindness.  You’d pay for a London cabby to lead you to an address.

11th C Buddha with added mirrors
11th C Buddha with added mirrors

Over lunch, we engage in conversation with a Danish couple – she’s white and his parents are South Indian.  They offer us the felt pens to write on the wall.  We decide on a kiwi, but who can draw one? We have several try-outs to get the shape right.  In the end I get to do it and I’m not known for my drawing skills.  This is Nev’s idea and the symbol = has to go in the middle of the Kiwi. He recons it’s too obscure for any military official to interpret.

John cools off in front of a giant fan
John cools off in front of a giant fan

 

 

To me it’s obvious that = means equality but just to make sure that my crude drawing is recognised, he ads NZ = underneath.  I’m not sure that we have equality in New Zealand, but why not dream of the possibility?  If you get here and see this motive on the wall, low down towards the front, you will know the name of the café.

I leave the others to explore and set of back to the hotel with the intention of catching up with the blog, swim and chill out.  No such luck as I take a wrong turn and have to turn around and stop to ask a monk sitting at a bus stop, showing him on the map where I want to go.  He assures me that turning right at the T junction ahead is the right way to go – this takes me to the river and no exit.  A woman asks if I want a boat. No I don’t want a boat and have to go back again, ending up on a parallel road and almost back in Old Bagan when I spot a map outside a temple.  It has ‘you are here’ on it and I’m able to work it out.  The place is flat like Florida, another part of the world in which I’m prone to get lost. By dodging across on some minor roads I manage to get on track, but not without getting very hot and bothered and sunburnt knees.  I’ve put sunblock everywhere else.  It’s too hot to swim I just shower and flake out on the bed.  It turns out the lunch café is only five minutes away by taking a side road near the hotel.  We went a very long way round.  As we gather in Priscilla for the evening ride to dinner, everyone reports on their adventures.  Mike and Ray, who were supposed to be chilling, decided to walk to the very tall viewing tower which appears to be close to the hotel.  It is close, but they go the long way ending up walking seven kilometres.  They enthuse about the view and for the 5000kt ($6 NZ) entrance fee, get a drink at the top.  Richard C has been reluctant to include this in previous tours, maintaining that it was just funding the generals, plus it’s a modern construction out of place amongst antiquity. He has a change of heart and offers an optional visit the next day on the basis that the government has changed and the economy is to be encouraged.  John and Nev sort of got lost finding their way back but more worryingly, the batteries on their scooters rand down and they only just made it, trailing at snail pace towards the end.  Richard N decided to risk the bicycle and made reasonable progress until he had a flat tyre.  He didn’t make it to the museum and had to ‘bribe’ someone to give him and the bike a lift back. Richard C nobly took all our laundry into the village launder-o-mat, saving us a few dollars on the Hotel prices. Garry, Mark and Peter had a drama free day.

Over 50 wigs showing women's hair styles from the period. + 4 for men.
Over 50 wigs showing women’s hair styles from the period. + 4 for men.

Tonight the bus takes us to a Burmese restaurant in the village and the service is incident free and the food delicious.  It’s worth noting that Burmese food can be hot and spicy and the first plate of food is one of ‘mixed condiments.  A dish of chopped chillies in fish sauce is guaranteed to liven up your meal.  There’s also a tea salad made from fermented fresh tea leaves which can be quite hot.  Fried beans, which look like peanut halves, are delicious and crunchy and then you get a ginger salad.  Everyone gets their turn at ‘the runs’, particularly those who like their food hot and spicy.  It’s due to the over use of chillie which reacts in a gut, unaccustomed to this food – I remember this from China 5 years ago – It’s not actually a bug.  Some in the group are brave enough to order salads at restaurants and seem to get away with it.  Richard tells us that everything is washed in bottled water and that Burmese people, unless they are very poor, don’t drink water from the tap – it’s so cheap to buy – in plastic bottles.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.