07 August 2013

temple safari

in my last post i focused on incredible scenes of daily life that we saw when we got out of yangon. but back to the main draw of bagan: TEMPLES EVERYWHERE. we stopped to explore nine of them, though of course we saw literally thousands more. each had a unique characteristic: unusual architecture or proportions, beautifully preserved wall paintings, massive buddha statues, an interesting backstory.

let's play "spot the pagoda."

the government has done a better job recently of preserving the sites according to international archaeological standards, as old bagan is likely to be declared a unesco world heritage site soon. so the golden pagodas are being regilded, but new earthquake damage will be fixed up but not rebuilt. sadly, the temples have also fallen victim to looters and vandals over the years, so some of the giant buddhas have been built or repaired recently and some paintings and statues are lost forever.

learning about buddhism via these temples was tough, because we caught so many random details or obscure stories, but no overview. i'd really like to learn more of the basics of buddhist teachings in the future.

temples we visited:

shwezigon pagoda, which is like a mini shwedagon and where we spent way too long - unfortunately our patience was short because we got up at 4:30 a.m. that day for our flight. i learned from our guidebook that the ruler building it was killed before its completion when he was attacked by a rampaging buffalo.

it has a bit of a pigeon problem.

inside one of the minor shrines. these buddhas are in the traditional burmese style, unlike many other indian-influenced figures here.

this tree is supposed to be a seasonal bloomer, but the one at shwezigon mysteriously blooms all year.

gubyaukgyi, one with amazingly preserved colored paintings of the buddha's life, but of course we couldn't take photos inside. my mental images will have to suffice. sadly, large portions of the murals were removed by a german man in the 1800s.

not gubyaukgyi. this actually doesn't even look anything like it.

htilominlo temple, which houses four massive seated buddhas... and some lovely satin lamp things.

the satin things: WHY??!!

the buddha.

not the buddha.

looking for some gargoyles.

ananda phaya, which has four 30-foot teak-and-gold-leaf buddhas and is built in a perfect greek cross/square shape. the enormous doors are also incredible - original carved teak from the 11th century.

doing some renovations.

tiger makes fun of me and my friends' inside-joke poses, parts 1 and 2:


wheel pose is the greatest.

for the sunset, we joined every other tourist in bagan to climb the steep, five-story shwesandaw temple, which boasts an incredible view but terrifying drops between levels. the 360-degree panorama of old bagan was an unparalleled experience.

climbing up was scary. looking down was scarier.

phet lake pagoda is smaller and less touristed than the previous ones we saw. this one had sculpted terracotta scenes of the buddha's lives along the inner walls, notable because they hadn't been glazed over, so you could see the detail work cut into the stone.

lawkananda pagoda was another gold, bell-shaped stupa that has been recently regilded and is still frequently used for worship - though many of the other larger temples we saw also had people praying or fresh offerings. this pagoda had beautiful views of the irrawaddy river. the international flag of buddhism was hanging everywhere.


before entering the pagoda, we sat right outside it, on top of a hill, and just admired the river view.

a little everyday-life tableaux played out on the riverbank below: fishermen at their boats, women washing, dogs chasing, horses eating, people cooking.

manuha temple, which had a giant rice bowl of offerings and, inside, three seated and one reclining budha, all in cramped spaces representing the captivity of the defeated king who built them. i also learned there that the rows and rows of donation boxes aren't just redundant - each is labeled for a specific cause, such as retiling the temple grounds, regilding the buddha, electricity to illuminate the shrine, supporting the resident monks, or benefiting the new local all-ages home.

the buddhas here are covered in pigeon poo.

my favorite temple was the last one, abeyadana temple, and again we couldn't take photos inside. built by a man for his bengali wife, it incorporates local therabada buddhism along with mahayana buddhist and hindu influences. the paintings on the walls and ceilings inside had been restored to vibrant colors and mind-blowing detail depicting the buddha as well as the hindu gods and various other elements.

abeyadana is the one on the far right.

outside the temple walls.

detail of a "window" from the outside.

thanks again for reading this blog. i know it's wordy and photo-y (but not longyi! that's a burmese men's skirt). i love writing and i love having a place to share my photos that's not facebook or instagram.


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