Temples of Bagan

Behind the temple ruins of this ancient Myanmar city, lie tales of drama and inspiration

Over 2,200 Buddhist ruins vie for attention in the fields of Myanmar’s ancient city of Bagan. Each seems to whisper secrets of its past, never revealing the full story. With scattered records and few definite answers, Bagan remains somewhat a mystery to historians and visitors alike. Out of this mystery emerges legends and folklore. Take for instance the Dhammayangyi Temple, the largest remaining temple in Bagan. It echoes a gruesome past.  King Narathu built the temple to repent for murdering his father, brother and a wife. The legend is that Narathu's wickedness was so perpetual that he chopped off the hands of temple masons for faulty workmanship. Then there is Ananda Pahto, one of the largest and best preserved temples in Bagan. The story goes that King Kyanzittha was so inspired by the tale of eight monks meditating in the Himalayas that he built the temple to emulate the scale and coolness of the mountains. To this day, Ananda Pahto dominates the temple fields of Bagan. In 2011, The Archeological Survey of India pledged money to renovate and restore the Ananda Pahto. These legends are about just two of Bagan's myriad temples that lie densely packed along the banks of Myanmar's Irrawaddy River. 

For more than 200 years leading to 1287, Burmese kings commissioned over 4,000 Buddhist temples around Bagan – a building fest triggered by the region’s shift from Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism to Theravada Buddhism. At its peak, Bagan was a vibrant religious and cultural center.  The exact cause of Bagan’s decline is contested, but a combination of invasions and natural disasters (most recently a 6.5 Richter scale earthquake in 1975) compromised original structures and drastically reduced the population. Despite the physical damage, Bagan still holds the world's most concentrated area of Buddhist religious structures. In 1990, in an effort to convert the area to an archeological zone and tourist destination, the government relocated all remaining inhabitants of Bagan to New Bagan. However, Bagan continues to woo visitors with ruins yearning to share tales of the past. 

Most of Bagan’s temple grounds are quiet and open for exploration. There are minimal barriers between visitors and the ancient ruins, particularly at the less visited temples. A handful of temples draw tour groups. The others are either completed deserted or guarded by a watchman who, if befriended, is happy to unlock the gates for a private tour.  Those visitors who brave the dark staircases and are willing to wander through narrow passageways are often rewarded with intimate places to view the plains. Bagan seems to take on different personalities throughout the day.  As the sun ascends, it reveals layers upon layers of temples, beginning in a pink hue at dawn and glowing red in the mid-day heat. Dusk casts a golden spell on the brick ruins

Unlike ancient sites that have long been explored, Bagan is relatively new to mass tourism and it is still possible to visit the temples of Bagan at a leisurely pace. For a bird’s eye view of the region, go on a sunrise hot air balloon ride.
 

Where to Stay
Kamudara Hotel:
Tucked away in a corner of New Bagan, this modern 50-room boutique hotel has unobstructed panoramic views of the temple plains. Second floor rooms have private balconies and guests can enjoy the small pool. The hotel provides bicycles at a nominal rate and can arrange for in-room massages. Breakfast is a basic spread of continental and Burmese food, and the a-la-cart menu during the day is varied. Be sure to ask for a room in the renovated building.
Corner of 5th & Daw Na St., Pyu-Saw-Htee Qtr., New Bagan, Myanmar (061 65142; www.kumudara-bagan.com)

Thiri Marlar Hotel
The staff of this 20-room boutique hotel in New Bagan offers personalised services in fluent English, which can't be taken for granted in Bagan. The facilities are spotless. The charming rooftop dining area, where guests enjoy breakfast with a spectacular view of the temples, makes up for the lack of a pool. Bicycles can be rented at a nominal rate.   
Thiri Marlar Street, Bagan, Myanmar (9561 65229; www.bagan-thirimarlar-hotel.com) Doubles from Rs 1,537

When to Go
Bagan is hot and dry throughout the year. Between April and September, the temperature is about 32 degree Celsius, while the rest of the year drops to 28 degrees. The Ananda Paya Festival is held during a full moon in December or January and raises money for the upkeep of Ananda Pahto. It is advisable to visit temples in the mornings and late afternoons, as the mid day sun can be very strong, particularly if touring on a bicycle. 

How to get there
The best way to reach Bagan from India is via Yangon. Carriers such as Thai Airways (www.thaiairways.com) and Air India (www.airindia.com) fly regularly from Indian metros. From Yangon there are daily flights to Nyaung U airport, Bagan. Carriers on this sector include Yangon Airways (www.yangonair.com) and Air Bagan (www.airbagan.com). The flights take about an hour and ten minutes from Yangon.
An increasingly popular alternative is to take an eight hour boat journey down the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay. 

 

You may also like:

MEET INDIA’S HIGHEST FLIERS- 16 MILLION MILES AND COUNTING

TIPPING ETIGUETTE AROUND THE WORLD

5 WOMEN FRIENDLY HOTELS

Diya Luke

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

On Now: Hyderabad vs Rajasthan

On Now: Hyderabad vs Rajasthan

Rajasthan stumble in 134-run chase at Abu Dhabi. More »

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

The Kings XI batsman blasted a 43-ball 95 to help his team pull off a massive chase against Chennai Super Kings. More »

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

As two of the most glamorous sides in the Indian T20 league, the focus of the match between Mumbai and Bangalore will invariably be on the middle-order… More »

BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srinivasan, says Manohar

BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srinivasan, says Manohar

Two former BCCI presidents, Shashank Manohar and Jagmohan Dalmiya, have reacted strongly to the news of the BCCI calling an emergent meeting on Sunday… More »

Pietersen ridicules idea of day-night Tests

Pietersen ridicules idea of day-night Tests

Kevin Pietersen has ridiculed the idea of day-night Test cricket, saying the game would be so different to proper Test cricket that we will need a whole… More »

Beleaguered Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Beleaguered Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj Singh was hardly convincing to begin with against Delhi, but a big dose of crowd support and a helping of poor bowling meant he had the opportunity… More »

Stressed Trott stands down again

Stressed Trott stands down again

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday confirmed that batsman Jonathan Trott is to take another break from all cricket with immediate eff… More »

PCB starts another coach hunt

PCB starts another coach hunt

The PCB has decided to not extend the contracts of head coach Moin Khan, fielding coach Shoaib Mohammad and batting consultant Zaheer Abbas, and has invited… More »

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistani cricket authorities have launched an investigation after a number of current international stars played in exhibition matches in the United States… More »

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

England all-rounder Ben Stokes admits he must keep his anger under control if he is to end his international exile. More »

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

"Integrity is non-negotiable..." says the BCCI's interim chief ahead of Season 7 of the tainted league. More »

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Chennai have an emphatic 8-3 lead in the head-to-head with Punjab, with one game tied More »

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

The 38-year-old South African veteran turned it on for Kolkata Knight RIders in the opening match of IPL-7. More »

Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

A quality that defines Rajasthan and Hyderabad is consistency. Rajasthan was one among two teams to enjoy complete dominance at home last season. Hyderabad… More »

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

The court emphasised that the tainted administrator can no longer work for the BCCI. More »

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

New-look RCB will play their first game of IPL-7 on Thursday. More »

IPL: News Line

IPL: News Line

A round-up of all the news from this season of the IPL. More »

Shane Watson issues moral warning

Shane Watson issues moral warning

'Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong and if you do the wrong thing it will be found out' More »

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Welcome to another season of a league that many watch but few trust. More »

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Australia's Mitchell Johnson may quit limited-overs cricket to prolong his test career with an eye on the 2015 Ashes series in England, the fast bowler… More »

Nepal players call off boycott

Nepal players call off boycott

Thaw in relations after formation of an advisory committee that would work in tandem with the Cricket Association of Nepal. More »