Saturday, December 16, 2017

at long last, Bagan



20 years ago this month, I was in Northern Thailand and met a woman named Linda on a day trip in Mae Hong Son. We went to Bangkok and then she left for Myanmar. She had written her masters thesis on Bagan, and invited me to come with her. Keith was arriving from Japan, and we had an amazing time, but ever since then, I've wanted to go to Bagan.


We started the day at subtle Shwezigon Pagoda. Burmese aesthetic is not acetic.
You would never guess this was made out of bricks. Bagan's peak period was 11th through 13th century. The gold leaf came long after.

This is a shrine to nats, the spirits Burmese people worshipped before the Buddha. There was a holiday, with many local tourists making offerings of rum, swords (!), cigarettes, and incense. I was interested to notice several trans women working at this pagoda.
Nearby, a reclining Buddha

Even the ceilings in the temple complexes are beautiful.
Modest dress is required. We wrapped scarves around our knees. Cover up that spaghetti blouse!
We ran into this well-dressed group of middle school students and amused them by posing. 



This temple is noted for its vaulted arches.
It did remind me of Gothic architecture. Here the outer layer of paint is cracked.

Personally I would film a Bollywood movie at Ananda.

It's one of the prettiest complexes.
Pam said it looks like Hindu temples she'd visited in India.
This is Phyo, our wonderful guide. We learned so much from her! 
The architectural detail is exquisite. This reminded me of cake decorating. Not all the restorations use classical materials, and Bagan has gotten into quarrels with UNESCO over historic preservation.











Vendors sell arts and crafts and postcards and snacks outside the temples. Sand paintings, lacquerware, t-shirts, and honey. This woman had honeycomb with bees still on it! 


The King who built this temple had killed his father and brother to ascend to the throne. Later he felt bad about it, so he honored them with statues. He was still assassinated. His temple is also full of bats.


I was struck by the sensuousness of the Buddha's garb. Most of these Buddhas are made of wood. Look at the curve of the cape.
The lights went out while we were visiting the smiling Buddha. (He only smiles when you're far away.) That added a bit of magic. We've had a lot of experience with power outages, first in Yangon and then in Pyin oo Lwin.
Pam said this one reminded her of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. 
I was thinking a giant Oscar myself.

There was an earthquake last year, so some of the temples are closed, and others are in the process of being restored. Even the faded frescos are lovely.
 
The lesser guardians of the Buddha are fab too.

The Yayoi Kusama Buddha. Son told us that Buddhas are dressed for the winter in warm sweaters and coats.
 These women are painstakingly designing lacquerware, made in Bagan.


Just before sunset, we joined a flock of tourists on the second level of a pagoda, and watched in awe as golden hour set in. I can't wait to explore more tomorrow.