Myanmar (Burma)

Bagan: panoramas and temples

Bagan sits on an arid plain between the banks of the Irrawaddy River and the Shan hills, between Yangon and Mandalay.

From  the 11th to the 13th centuries AD it was the capital of Pagan, an early Burmese kingdom. And what a capital it must have been. A building frenzy went on here for a couple of centuries, with more than four thousand temples built by the Kings of the time.

It was about more than just buildings. All this activity coincided with the establishment of Theravada Buddhism as the dominant religion in the region.


Looking across the plain to the Shan hills

Looking across the plain it’s easy to see why Marco Polo is said to have been impressed. In its hey day Bagan was a thriving metropolis, famous for its wealth and beauty.

Eight hundred years later only the stone temples remain. They’ve survived in large part because the dry climate has helped to slow decay. Nevertheless, they only hint at their former glory. In addition to gilt many were covered in colourful mosaics and frescoes.


Sunset in Bagan

The first temple we visited was the Ananda Pahto. It’s a working temple and is one of the most famous in the archeological zone. The  Sulamuni Paya in Taunggyi is modelled on it.


Ananda Temple, Bagan

Built in the 11th century it has three hallways, the outer for the ordinary folk, the next for royalty, and the inner most hallway was only accessed by the monks.


One of the hallways, Ananda temple, Bagan

Tourists are required to remove their shoes and to behave with decorum while visiting.

Sentries guard the Buddhas, their extended hands warning you to stop unless you have permission to proceed .


Halt! says the sentry in Ananda Temple

Our guide told us the Buddhas face to the North, South, East and West and that one is made from teak, one from sandalwood, one from pine, and one from magnolia.

Along with different hand positions, the one below has a teaching posture, the Buddhas have different facial features representing Burmese, Chinese, and Indian ethnicities.


Buddha in teaching mode

Each was protected by a huge set of doors. They’re carved from teak and weigh more than one metric ton each (at least, I think our guide was talking in metrics).


Teak doors

They operated on a socket and ring system, which has now seized in place so that they are permanently open, which is surely  a relief for whoever is responsible for security. Moving them must have required herculean strength.


John learning all about the restoration of the Ananda temple, Bagan

Frescoes like those in the photo once covered many of the walls and arches but over the centuries they were lost to soot from fires and then white washed. Now, they are slowly being brought back to life as part of a restoration project assisted by aide from the government of India.

The restoration of the temples and the archeological exploration of the region has its share of controversies. The methods applied in the past haven’t met international standards and some say they have done more harm than good. Although the cultural and historical significance of this region is undeniable it has yet to be awarded UNESCO  heritage status.

Nevertheless, for me, visiting Bagan’s plain of temples, steeped as it is in history and culture, was a pinch-me-because-I-can’t-believe-I’m-here  experience.

Thursday Doors

41 replies »

  1. This is fascinating on so many levels. It puts a lot in perspective to learn of many cultures that flourished centuries ago and that we in the west know so little about. We are the “johnny come lately’s” and are often oblivious to what has gone before us. The architecture of centuries ago should humble us, no matter how tall our sky scrapers are. And the fact that so many of the architectural achievements of the past have been in the honor of God not commerce.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exploring SE Asia over the last few years has made me very aware of the limitations of my history classes when I was at school. I had to learn by rote the dates pertaining to the conquests of the British Empire in Europe. There was never a mention of what had happened in India and Burma and elsewhere!


    • Hi there Janet, thanks for checking out my post. I just couldn’t get enough of tha panorama when we were there —there’s something very mystical about the way those temples have remained through hundreds, and now nearly a thousand years


  2. Wow what an amazing place. Beautifully captured, thanks for sharing this. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to swing by and add it to the link-up list so others will find it too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Norm, and thanks! Events in real life took over last week (a flooded kitchen, sigh, amongst other things) and I’ve been out of action in the blogosphere so I missed the link. Nevertheless, I, like so many others, love your Thursday Doors feature and I’m sure I’ll be back there agin before too long!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh Jill, how utterly awesome it must be to see these amazing sights in person. I have been languishing a bit in my latest recovery, but oh how wonderful to see your incredible, colorful journeys – so great as pick-me-ups. Someday I am going to follow in your footsteps. Until then, take me where you will… sigh…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Robyn —here’s to a speedier recovery!! I think you’d love Myanmar. In fact, just this afternoon John and I made a solemn promise to go back. I’d love to see how things are in a year or two, once the new government has had a chance to bed in some changes.


    • Hi there, Dan. The work involved in building each temple is mind boggling. No machinery in those days. And what you can’t see from my photos is the detailed decorative features, ceramics and engravings as well as the mosaics. It must have been very beautiful in it’s hey day —like the Sistine Chapel or a Chagall window, perhaps.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I always try to imagine building things this big and beautiful without modern tools and without a real plan. If you ever have the chance to read “The Axemaker’s Gift”, I wold recommend it. It gives a unique insight into the some of these activities.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’m grateful for the Internet every single day, Carrie. It’s opened the world to me. When I’m home, here in New Zealand, the rest of the world doesn’t seem as far away as it once did.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Vicky and a belated welcome to my blog! Bagan is a wonderful, historic and atmsopheric place to visit. If you ever find yourself in SE Asi I hope you have the chance to visit.


Nau mai, Haere mai. Come on in and join the korero (conversation)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s