Its day seven and I can see by the map of Bagan that there are potentially hundreds more temples and stupas to see. We start off with a whitewashed temple which houses murals and then we stop in the middle of three options.
It’s very hot and Richard points to Tayoke pyay. That’s where we are going. So I set off ahead but no one follows. It’s small and elegant, worth the walk. When I get back to the bus, everyone has gone to another temple.
I’m too hot to walk over and cool down inside Priscilla. Just to break things up, we’re visiting Minnathu Village. It looks very basic, houses made from bamboo screens. We have a girl who guides us and the new electricity supply is pointed out.
Street lights are dotted around and we are shown a large television and other electrical goods in one of the houses. Last year, Richard tells us, the village had only just got electricity and they kept turning things on and off in wonderment. It all seems incongruous amongst these shanty type dwellings and primitive shelters for animals. The tethered bull is aggressive but the gelded steers are docile.
We are shown a single cotton plant with the raw material for weaving protruding from a pod. This house has a crude loom and our guide sits down and does a few rows. So many rural Burmese live in houses like this – walls of plaited bamboo, roofs thatched with leaves of the Sugar Palm tree and cooking on wood fires.
It does appear that the people still live here though in five years, this might be a model village with the people busing in for the day.
Next up is Dhamma-ya-za-ka with its golden spire is unusual for being pentagonal – most Bagan pagodas are square.
Heading south we visit a lacquer factory in New Bagan and observe the process, starting with the shaping of bamboo strips into the required shape. Sanding the bamboo then applying lacquer is a time consuming process. Each coat of it has to dry before proceeding. Some cups are made on a base of horse hair woven between bamboo spines; this gives them great flexibility. Between each layer of lacquer the items are rubbed down by very bored looking boys and finally painted with intricate patterns by girls.
They all sit cross legged on the floor or raised platforms. We are assured that they are all over eighteen and get around $4US a day with the painters getting $6US. Astonishingly, this is enough for the purchase of a mobile phone. The young people of Myanmar are thus connected to the rest of the world … in theory … provided they can get wifi.
You guessed, it’s shopping time and there’s some beautiful things which tempt me sorely, but I don’t need any more stuff – maybe a set of chopsticks? They are unadorned black and I can’t find two of the same length. Others are buying and the Americans are contributing generously to this economy. Mark buys a fabulous lacquered chest with red legs. I don’t ask how much he paid as furniture takes months and even years to make. He’s getting it shipped home and plans to use it as a filing cabinet. Nice, I think. Garry mutters a few words about keeping files in the cellar, but don’t quote me. ‘What are you like?’ is the ‘northern’ expression I keep saying to them and they roar laughing.
We return to our café for lunch. It’s roasting and we rush to find a table next to the giant fan. Bursting with food, we stop to visit Georgie’s family shop where we sit down to green tea and a range of nibbles. We meet his heavily pregnant wife, his young son who is very shy and his Mother-in-law, the owner of Priscilla the bus. Georgie will not be with us for the next part of our tour as he is needed with to be around for the birth. Photos are taken and we force ourselves to eat something, particularly the mango. We notice very old photographs on the wall of Aung San – hero of early Burma (1920), during and following the British. He is the father of Aung San Suu Kyi. The frames, high up on the wall, look as if they have been gathering dust for decades and have escaped notice.
Thatbyinyu inside the area of Old Bagan, is the largest of the temples. Built by King Alaungsithu (1113-1163) to atone for his sins, it was never quite finished before he died. Its whitewashed walls, stained with age lend it a sinister atmosphere.
By the time we get to Manuha temple, it is raining hard and we scurry with umbrellas into a long building to marvel at the size of a reclining Buddha. Having left sandals and umbrellas at the other end of the building, it’s a dash back to retrieve them.
It’s still raining by the time we reach our sunset Pagoda – Shwe San Daw. It’s a clamber up the steps with camera slung over my head, clutching umbrella in one hand, and a hand-rail in the other, this feels like an adventure. I’m wearing my longyi today, so have to tuck that in to avoid treading on the hem. Rain and sunshine pour down, but the light is amazing.
Peter thinks this view is better than the modern tower (some of the guys went there early in the morning) as everything is much closer. We’ve become photo buddies, looking out for the best shots and angles. Peter’s results on his ipad are breathtaking and I get to use it to take a few of him. We are both raving about the rain washed light shining on the pagodas to the East.
It’s too early to see the sunset, so we indulge looking the other way, while everyone else huddles under umbrellas looking west.
The sun strikes the golden stupas one by one on its journey behind the hills across the Ayeyerwady River.
After dark, with hints of rain still in the air, we visit a functioning temple lit up as if it was Christmas.
There is water lying everywhere – just as well I’m bare-footed, though Ray is not so lucky and ends up having a nasty fall. I don’t find out about this until the next day when his bruised ribs come to the fore. Onwards to our restaurant which tonight is Burmese and delicious with great service, so no obvious drama at the end of the day. Ray is being stoic and cheerful as ever.