Bagan: the other Angkor Wat from Asia in Myanmar
From temple to temple to soak up the beauty of the Burmese locality.
The stupas, pagodas and temples of Bagan are a sight worth seeing. © Getty Images
When the sun begins to say goodbye behind the mountains that escort the west bank of the great Ayeyarwady river, the stupas, pagodas and temples of the imperial Bagan They glow in golden tones, first, and oranges and violets later. Your traveler's heart shrinks before such a beautiful show.
He Cambodian archaeological ensemble of Angkor Wat has a brother, and not exactly a minor, in Myanmar.
In the ninth century the city of Bagan was founded. Its location was the result of tactical planning. He Ayeyarwady river - also known as Irrawaddy, the longest in Myanmar with its 2,200 km extension - served as a border and protective barrier against possible enemies in the west, while the mountains guarded the east flank of a plain of fertile lands.
The Ayeyarwady or Irrawady River is the longest in Myanmar. © Alamy
Bagan's population, agriculture, commerce and military power flourished without pitfalls, until the coming to power, in the 1044 A.D.of the great King Anawrahta It meant the achievement of higher goals. He He is considered the father of the great Burmese Empire.
Anawrahta began to be interested in the buddhism practiced in the neighbors lands of the Mon, an ethnic group that still exists in present-day Myanmar. After King Mon's refusal to request the assignment of monks and Buddhist scriptures by Anawrahta, the Burmese king assaulted the foreign kingdom and he took the religious booty longed for by force.
Anawrahta thus began the history of Buddhism - of the Theravada branch - in Burma. It was he who ordered the construction of the first pagodas in Bagan. Some of them were really splendid - like that of Shwezigon, whose magnificent stupa covered with gold continues to shine and is one of the most visited today - but his successors managed to overcome him.
The fever of the construction of stupas, pagodas and temples did not stop until the decline of Bagan's power, at the end of the 13th century, when the Mongols conquered the area. However, by then the architectural and historical legacy left behind was already immense. Of the more than 10,000 stupas, pagodas and temples that were built between the 10th and 13th centuries in Bagan, some 3,700 can be seen today in an area of only 42 square kilometers. And, thanks to the work of archaeologists, the account is increasing every year.
Shwezigon Pagoda is one of the most visited today. © Getty Images
When you arrive at Bagan you have the feeling of having appeared in a movie set and looking for your Indiana Jones clothes in your backpack. Wherever you look, you always find a pagoda (The best, and most general, way to unify the concepts of stupa, temple and pagoda), and none is equal to another. You could spend months exploring the roads of Bagan and you would not stop being surprised.
If you hire the services of a good guide, it will show you the most important and impressive monuments. The ideal is to make a route where you can appreciate the differences that occur in the construction of pagodas over the years. The first were stupas, of solid interior, in which you could not enter. Then they began to arrive temples, holes inside and with one or two entrances. Finally, the four-entry temples - with a statue of Buddha blessing each one of them - they would become the general tonic.
The pagodas are the main tourist attraction of Bagan. © Getty Images
Also they materials (increasingly resistant to frequent earthquakes that ravage the area), the windows, the kind of natural lighting, he styling and size of Buddha statues, and the magnificent frescoes, stucco and other ornaments, would vary over time.
The glittering gold of Shwezigon Stupa; the imposing indian styling and the huge Buddha statues of Ananda; the precious ones frescoes that narrate the life of Buddha in Gubyaukgyi; or the macabre story surrounding Dhammayangyi temple, built by order of King Narathu, who came to power after killing his father and brother. All this is part of the magic of a place that is among the most beautiful works of man.
Such is the beauty of Bagan, that the only reason it was not declared Heritage of humanity by unesco It is the arbitrary reconstruction that the Myanmar Department of Archeology has been doing for decades. Fortunately, this has changed and the Burmese are hoping to get that prestigious title.
But beyond the great important temples, Bagan's true exotic beauty lies in the thousands of unknown pagodas.
All pagodas hide impressive Buddha statues. © Alamy
A tangle of dirt roads invites you to lose yourself in the dense vegetation to discover these magnificent red brick constructions. Some imposing and proud; others partially demolished or almost covered by vegetation; the most, with its original dirt floor. Buddha statues receive you with that calm that emanate, as if you were the first to be welcomed after centuries of waiting. You feel special. And you are. You are alone - because Bagan has that unique gift of getting you alone as soon as you deviate a few meters from the tourist route - exploring the remains of an empire that left a religious and monumental legacy unmatched.
The best way to travel the arteries of that body with life that is Bagan is in electric motorcycle, but bicycle, horse car (and even oxen) or tuk-tuk They are also part of the range of possibilities.
When the sunset approaches, Seek the advice of the friendly locals and let them show you some of the temples that you can still face. Until January 2018, they were many - highlighting Shwesandaw above all of them - but a new law banned them all. Now, the "affordable" temples are changing every so often and only local people can help you find them.
Find one in which there aren't many people. Go up the interior stairs and sit on those bricks that hide centuries of history. Stay silent, close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the field at sunset. When you open them, you will have one of the most spectacular sunsets that you will be able to contemplate in your life. Bagan will seem to burn in flames, with that layer of green vegetation interrupted by roads of red earth and the stupas that crown those witnesses, in the form of a temple, of the greatness of a long forgotten empire.
The landscape of the Shwesandaw temple at sunset offers one of the best prints. © Alamy