|Wikepedia's picture of an Air Mandalay ATR-42 at Yangon Airport.|
We took 3 flights, and Air Mandalay owns 3 aircraft so there is a 70% chance we travelled on this one
We were met by Tin, a thin, friendly man in a long skirt. Yangon had been hot, but Bagan, Swe had warned us, would be hotter still and we should beware the strong sun. We arrived in a temperature of barely 20º, with drizzle hanging in the air and low-level mist. New arrivals usually go straight to the Dhammayaziki Pagoda, climb onto the roof and enjoy a panorama of the Bagan plain. Tin suggested we leave Dhammayaziki until tomorrow, and the weather gave us no choice but to agree. Here, though, is a photograph taken the next day, to give an idea of what Bagan is all about.
|Bagan Plain from the Dhammayaziki Pagoda|
|The Hotel at the Tharabar Gate, Bagan|
|Golden stupa, Shwezigon Pagoda, Bagan|
acres of tiled flooring - lethally slippery in the drizzle -
|Shwezigon Pagoda, Bagan|
and all the usual statues and storytelling paintings of a Buddhist temple.
|Scenes from the life of Buddha|
Swezigon Pagoda, Bagan
|Gubyaukyi Temple, Bagan|
The nearby Htilominlo Temple is larger. The Empire reached its height during the reign of King Sithu II (1174-1211) when laws were first codified and Burmese began to replace Mon and Pyu as the official language and script. Sithu had five sons, and chose his successor by lining them up in the sun, planting an umbrella in front of them and waiting until it leaned towards one or the other. And so Htilominlo became king and built his temple on the very spot where he was chosen. Tin believes there may well be truth in the legend but very much doubts that the umbrella was allowed to tilt at random.
|Htilominlo Temple, Bagan|
Outside there are the predictable lines of stalls. At one the stallholder was selling his own exquisite sand paintings. Not unreasonably, he wanted quite a lot of money for them, but the problem with Myanmar is that there are no ATMs; you must guess how much money you will need for the trip and bring it all with you. Running out is not an option, so making substantial impulse purchases in the first week seemed unwise. Tourism is in its infancy in Myanmar and the atmosphere is generally relaxed, but some hawkers and even some stallholders are beginning to resort to the aggressive selling that mars so many major tourist sites.
Everything is done by hand from the very simple tasks – even the lathes are rotated manually - to the most complex and highly skilled. They start by making vessels from bamboo; these are then coated with lacquer – the sap of the varnish tree (melanorrhoea usitatissima) which grows wild in local forests – mixed with turpentine. Lacquer is brown when first tapped but turns black on contact with air and brushed onto the bamboo frame it forms a hard shiny coating. Drying can be done artificially, but for the top quality, as in this factory, they let it dry naturally for a week. Another coat is applied and then dried and this is repeated up to seven times.
|Smearing on the lacquer|
Lacquerware factory, Bagan
Patterns are scratched on – by hand - and colours can be added, also by hand, processes requiring extraordinary levels of skill.
|Scratching on the pattern|
Lacquerware factory, Bagan
We had chicken, pork, mutton, dried fish, pickled vegetable, fermented sesame seeds, fresh salad and much more. The meat dishes – known as ‘curries’ though they are very lightly, if at all, spiced – are covered with a film of oil, which makes them a touch greasy. That apart, we enjoyed the huge range of flavours, some familiar, some new. Even with the help of Tin we could not get close to eating half the food brought to us and we wondered what happened to it after we left.
|Lunch near the Tharabar Gate, Bagan|
The nearby Ananda Temple, named after Buddha’s cousin, is contemporary with the Shwezigon pagoda.
|Smirking Buddha, Ananda Temple, Bagan|
|Temples and Stupas dotted across every field, Bagan|
Firstly, I am allergic to horses.
|It is all right for Lynne....|
I thought I would be all right if I did not touch the beast, but seated on the cart beside the driver I soon discovered that was optimistic. My eyes start to itch and swell, and before long it felt like they were full of grains of sand. Despite applications of anti-histamine and eye-drops they did not return to normal for 48 hours.
|...but this is as close to a horse as I should get|
Secondly, the drizzle that had threatened in the morning came back as rain. At the back under cover Lynne was sheltered, but I was soaked. Tin had observed that the crops, largely sorghum and maize, were behind this year as there had been too little rain during the wet season. Sadly neither they nor I were helped by this dry season deluge.
|Through a village in the rain|
|We pass a friendly local, Bagan Plain|
|Even without the puffy eyes I am probably not the person you most wanted to see|
on a bed strewn with petals - but here I am