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Tag Archives: Bagan

Seeing Myanmar along the Ayeyarwady / Irrawady River – Bagan, A Cultural Capital

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The landscape of Bagan as viewed from the terrace of Htiliminlo temple is breathtaking. This scenery needs to be viewed at different times of the day to experience what was once the Cultural capital of Myanmar

The Irrawady river in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is the country’s largest river flowing from North to South and also a commercial waterway. Yes, the country flourishes along its banks. What better way to experience Myanmar. Towards the latter part of the Monsoon, we embarked on a 3 night cruise on the river on board The Strand.

The Strand Luxury Cruise boat on the Ayeyarwady complete with luxury cabins, great food, wines and the best of Asian hospitality
The Strand on the Ayeyarwady

In Part 1 of this blog series we explored the U-Bein bridge in Mandalay. In Part 2 of this blog series we explored the township of Mingun in the Mandalay region. In Part 3, we continued our exploration of Mandalay with a shore expedition to Innwa also called as Ava. Here we cruise on the Irrawady and arrive at the shores of Bagan, another reason why Myanmar is on the world tourist map.

After an early start to the day in Innwa followed by shore excursions, rest of the day was reserved for cruising downstream along the Irrawady river within the Mandalay region. It gave us a glimpse in to the daily life of people working in the water and along the shores of the river. Along the way, the cruise personnel kept us busy with activities like applying Tanaka on each other, different ways of tying a Longyi and of course a sumptuous high tea. The Longyi is a fantastic alternative to the trouser – During formal occassions let it down, during emergencies when one has to wade through water or slush, just lift it up and tie it around your waist. Its a fabulous utility attire. The same attire is called Lungi / Khaili and is worn extensively across the southern states of India.

Mid Day activities on board the Strand cruise to keep the guests busy plus give them an introduction to the daily lives of Myanmarese like tying the lawngyi and applying Tanaka.
Mid Day activities on board the Strand cruise to keep the guests busy plus give them an introduction to the daily lives of Myanmarese like tying the lawngyi and applying Tanaka.

The Kingdom of Bagan

Bagan’s glories stretched from the 9th to the 13th century under the Pagan Kingdom. The Kingdom is largely credited for unifying the various regions that make up the modern day Myanmar. During this period the Kingdom is said to have constructed over 10,000 religious monuments. These monuments also served as centre for studies and attracted Monks and Students from nearby countries. Given that the same period also saw influence of Hindu civilization stretch towards south east asian countries of Cambodia and Vietnam, Myanmar too must have benefited from the Trade, Economics and spiritual wisdom of Ancient India. 

Around 2000 of these temples remain. Earthquakes have been responsible for bringing down many of them. Lack of restoration expertise has led to shoddy reconstruction using modern materials. The price being paid – Inspite of such a rich past, Bagan is yet to get declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This, despite being a strong contender and thousands of tourists descending in to experience this heritage. 

Shwegugyi, ThatByinnyu, Dhammayangyi and HtiloMinlo temple

Shwegugyi means "the Golden Cave" in Myanmar. t was built by King Alaungsithu in 1140 A.D. There is a legend saying, that there was a huge block of brick about 12 feet high sprouted from the ground in response to the king's greatness of accumulated merit. So with the huge block of brick, formed the plinth in the formation of the temple. It was mentioned that the Shwegugyi was completed in 7 months and 7 days. (Courtesy : http://bagan.travelmyanmar.net)
Shwegugyi means “the Golden Cave” in Myanmar. t was built by King Alaungsithu in 1140 A.D. There is a legend saying, that there was a huge block of brick about 12 feet high sprouted from the ground in response to the king’s greatness of accumulated merit. So with the huge block of brick, formed the plinth in the formation of the temple. It was mentioned that the Shwegugyi was completed in 7 months and 7 days. (Courtesy : http://bagan.travelmyanmar.net)
Thatbyinnyu is Bagan's tallest temple at almost 200 ft. (or 61 m.; some indicate 217 ft. or 66 m.) and represents a transition from the Mon period to a new architectural style that would soon be followed at the Sulamani, the Gawdawpalin and at Htilominlo. Constructed during one of the high points of Bagan political power and during a period of re-dedication to Theravada Buddhism and religious scholarship, it reflected that era's innovative architectural and artistic creativity. Paul Strachan, the important Bagan scholar, calls Thatbyinnyu "an expression of the self-confident Burmese spirit of nationhood." (Courtesy : www.orientalarchitecture.com)
Thatbyinnyu is Bagan’s tallest temple at almost 200 ft. (or 61 m.; some indicate 217 ft. or 66 m.) and represents a transition from the Mon period to a new architectural style that would soon be followed at the Sulamani, the Gawdawpalin and at Htilominlo. Constructed during one of the high points of Bagan political power and during a period of re-dedication to Theravada Buddhism and religious scholarship, it reflected that era’s innovative architectural and artistic creativity. Paul Strachan, the important Bagan scholar, calls Thatbyinnyu “an expression of the self-confident Burmese spirit of nationhood.” (Courtesy : http://www.orientalarchitecture.com)
The Dhammayangyi (or Dhamma-yan-gyi) Pahto, extending approximately 255 feet (78 m) on each of its four sides, is Bagan's most massive shrine. As much as it is huge in its appearance, there is still considerable amount of controversy regarding the identity of its builder. Ghastly events are said to have been inflicted on its alleged builder who didnt exactly lead a life of virtue (Courtesy - www.orientalarchitecture.com)
The Dhammayangyi (or Dhamma-yan-gyi) Pahto, extending approximately 255 feet (78 m) on each of its four sides, is Bagan’s most massive shrine. As much as it is huge in its appearance, there is still considerable amount of controversy regarding the identity of its builder. Ghastly events are said to have been inflicted on its alleged builder who didnt exactly lead a life of virtue (Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitecture.com)
he Htilominlo Pahto was built by King Nandaungmya (r. 1211-c.1230 AD) early in his reign to commemorate his selection on this spot as crown prince from among five sons of the king. The white umbrella had tilted toward him, and he became his father's successor. (Courtesy - www.orientalarchitecture.com) Right in front of the Htilominlo is a narrow entrance which took us to a terrace from where we could get a panoramic view of Bagan's Temple landscape. The terracota structures set amidst greenery is a photographers' delight.
he Htilominlo Pahto was built by King Nandaungmya (r. 1211-c.1230 AD) early in his reign to commemorate his selection on this spot as crown prince from among five sons of the king. The white umbrella had tilted toward him, and he became his father’s successor. (Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitecture.com) Right in front of the Htilominlo is a narrow entrance which took us to a terrace from where we could get a panoramic view of Bagan’s Temple landscape. The terracota structures set amidst greenery is a photographers’ delight.

The Ananda Phaya Temple, Shwezigon Zedi and Wetkyi-in Kubyauk-gyi Temple 

A strong influence of Indian Architecture from many temples of Bengal and Orissa is very clear.The Ananda Phaya Temple - Bagan. A strong influence of Indian Architecture from many temples of Bengal and Orissa is very clear.
The Ananda Phaya Temple – Bagan. A strong influence of Indian Architecture from many temples of Bengal and Orissa is very clear.
The Ananda temple was built in the year 1105. The Buddhist temple houses four standing Buddhas, each one facing the cardinal direction of East, North, West and South. The temple is said to be an architectural wonder in a fusion of Mon and adopted Indian style of architecture. The Archeological survey of India collaborated extensively with Myanmar and provided assistance for Structural Conservation and Chemical preservation of the Ananda Phaya Temple.
The Ananda temple was built in the year 1105. The Buddhist temple houses four standing Buddhas, each one facing the cardinal direction of East, North, West and South. The temple is said to be an architectural wonder in a fusion of Mon and adopted Indian style of architecture. The Archeological survey of India collaborated extensively with Myanmar and provided assistance for Structural Conservation and Chemical preservation of the Ananda Phaya Temple.
The Shwezigon Paya (pagoda, stupa or zedi), is one of the Bagan area's, and Myanmar's, most significant religious structures.It truly is a 'national' pagoda, since it served as a prototype for many later stupas built throughout Myanmar. The Shwezigon is also a major national center of worship. Pilgrims come from many parts of Myanmar for its festival held during the Burmese month of Nadaw (November/December) both because of its historic character and because of its religious significance for Burmese Buddhism. It is said to be one of the earliest symbols of the triumph of the purified 'Theravada Buddhism'. Courtesy - www.orientalarchitectures.com
The Shwezigon Paya (pagoda, stupa or zedi), is one of the Bagan area’s, and Myanmar’s, most significant religious structures.It truly is a ‘national’ pagoda, since it served as a prototype for many later stupas built throughout Myanmar. The Shwezigon is also a major national center of worship. Pilgrims come from many parts of Myanmar for its festival held during the Burmese month of Nadaw (November/December) both because of its historic character and because of its religious significance for Burmese Buddhism. It is said to be one of the earliest symbols of the triumph of the purified ‘Theravada Buddhism’. Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitectures.com
The Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan has a very simple representation of the Four sights that led Siddhartha, the Prince on his road to becoming Gautama. An old Man speaking about the consequences of aging, A sick man suffering from disease and pain, Sight of a Dead body and finally the sight of an ascetic who devoted himself to find out the cause for human suffering.
The Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan has a very simple representation of the Four sights that led Siddhartha, the Prince on his road to becoming Gautama. An old Man speaking about the consequences of aging, A sick man suffering from disease and pain, Sight of a Dead body and finally the sight of an ascetic who devoted himself to find out the cause for human suffering.
Wetkyi-In Kubyauk-gyi temple in Bagan, Myanmar
The interior of the Kubyauk-gyi is filled with numerous mural paintings, including an excellent representation of “The Temptation of Mara” behind the east-facing Buddha, and 544 jataka tales along the side walls and ambulatory. However, a number of the jataka plates are missing as they were plundered in 1899 by a German art thief, Th. H. Thomann, who inaugurated the grim tradition of modern-day looting to resell Bagan-era antiquities on the international market. Although Thomann and his team were caught by the local British authorities, a number of items reached Europe where they were acquired by Museum of Hamburg in 1906, though they have subsequently gone missing. Perhaps because of the heightened awareness surrounding art theft at Kubyauk-Gyi, the temple retains a full-time guard who also ensures that visitors refrain from photographing the murals. Although this a sensible precaution as flash photography easily damages Bagan-era pigment, the prohibition also extends to long-exposure photography using ambient light (Image and Text courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitectures.com). Some of these murals have been whitewashed and unravelling these Murals by getting done with the whitewash without damaging the Murals is proving to be an ordeal.

Lacquerware in Myanmar

Myanmar is well known for its Lacquerware works. Transcends from trinkets, personal accessories to decorative pieces. A family business by name Bagan Lacquer House has a workshop where one can watch the craftsment at work and also an inhouse store to pick up a few items for personal use or gifting.

This is a Must see for all those visiting Bagan. Nominally priced there are numerous gifiting options. The process starts with the Inner shell being made with Bamboo followed by lacquering the interior and covering it with “Thayo” a made resin paste with lacquer and mixed ashes. This work is in general carried out with the hand (or with very fine gloves). When an application is made on the mould in bamboo, one must then dry it in an obscure and wet place. The duration of drying is of approximately a week. Once finished drying, the lacquers carefully are washed and sandpapered if necessary. This stage is important for the quality of the future lacquer. After the first drying, one carefully sandpapers the object, one washes it, then one passes by again, the second layer and one turns over to drying. The object thus makes several outward journey and return with the warehouse of drying. Each time it thus receives a new layer of lacquer. It is only on the last layer that one colours.Engraving is done with free hands, without model, entirely of memory, directly with naked hands, using a stylet and of a brush.
This is a Must see for all those visiting Bagan. Nominally priced there are numerous gifiting options. The process starts with the Inner shell being made with Bamboo followed by lacquering the interior and covering it with “Thayo” a made resin paste with lacquer and mixed ashes. This work is in general carried out with the hand (or with very fine gloves). When an application is made on the mould in bamboo, one must then dry it in an obscure and wet place. The duration of drying is of approximately a week. Once finished drying, the lacquers carefully are washed and sandpapered if necessary. This stage is important for the quality of the future lacquer. After the first drying, one carefully sandpapers the object, one washes it, then one passes by again, the second layer and one turns over to drying. The object thus makes several outward journey and return with the warehouse of drying. Each time it thus receives a new layer of lacquer. It is only on the last layer that one colours.Engraving is done with free hands, without model, entirely of memory, directly with naked hands, using a stylet and of a brush.

We end our cruise on The Strand in Bagan and fly out to experience the capital city of Yangon.

Getting to Myanmar

Travelling to Myanmar is now a breeze. Number of airlines fly in to Yangon with a single stop at any popular hub. Mandalay and Bagan are well connected from Yangon.

  1. China SouthernAll NipponBangkok AirwaysCathay PacificSingapore AirlinesThai Airways among the carriers from the Asian and South east Asian region
  2. Qatar Airways and Emirates from the middle east
  3. Air India offers twice a week flight between Kolkata and Yangon on Saturdays and Mondays. Its a surprise that the two countries which share such a common heritage still dont have good direct connectivity.

Tourists can check visa requirements on The Myanmar eVisa website. This is a government website and one can apply online for an e-visa. Check out for countries for whom Visa is provided on arrival. Indians can now apply for visa upon arrival. A recent government order to this effect. However, as a travel best practice it is always wise to utilize the e-visa facility offered. One however has to be careful while entering the passport details in to the Visa application form. Mismatch very clearly results in deportation.

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