Forget seven wonders, there’re thousands in Bagan
Seven wonders of Bagan? At the last count, it was nearer to 2,200!
19 hours of bone-jarring, sickness-inducing train travel north of Yangon on a dusty, sandy plain the Gods have left humanity a present. Bagan may not have the fame of Angkor, Macchu Picchu or Chitzen Itza, but those temple complexes are Disneyland compared to this sleepy town.
2,230 temples, in all shapes and sizes, dot the jungle-clad landscape with the Irrawaddy glistening in the distance, offering a smorgasbord of places to worship. Though you may find yourself caught up in Bagan’s rush hour if you head to the temples at sunset, you will only have to jostle with around 30 people, not the thousands that join you for sunrise at Angkor or the hundreds scrambling up the stairwells of Borobodur and Teotihuacan.
It’s hard to fathom how the tourists are not flocking here in their droves – perhaps because until recently these borders were firmly locked to foreigners, perhaps because secretly they sacrifice westerners to the gods. No, I’m pretty sure it is not the latter.
Tour companies have only recently started to establish themselves in Myanmar and tours do not come cheap.
Obviously, the problem with so many temples is which to choose but here’re seven of my favourite sights to see in Bagan.
#1 Ananda Temple
The yellow sandstone hues of the restored portions of Ananda contrast with the sooty looking, crumbling stone of the old. A handful of tourists surrounds us, marvelling as much at the temple as the workmen clinging perilously to the uneven rooftop. We try hard not to gasp as they scamper up rickety, bamboo scaffolding with no hint of safety equipment to catch them should they slip.
#2 Sulamani Guphaya Temple
Navigating the steep, narrow stairwell to emerge onto the sun lead rooftop of Sulamani Guphaya reminds you that these temples were not intended for Giants. Legs dangling over the side, basking in the sun and solitude, it is possible to take in panoramic views of endless stupas stretching off to the horizon.
#3 Dhammayangyi Temple
One of the bigger complexes with an array of stalls surrounding the foundations, only its outer corridor is accessible. It’s cool and refreshing, an ideal hangout place.
#4 Shwezigon Pagoda
One of the glitzier temples, coated in gold leaf, Shwezigon is hidden away in an unassuming part of the village, easy to miss. Once inside, kick off your shoes and wander the cool concrete soaking up the magnificence of the glistening, golden stupa, shimmering in the sunlight.
#5 Any Temple At Sunset
Many of the smaller temples prove a draw at sunset when even the least impressive become a photographer’s delight. Clamber up steep stairs (beware vertigo sufferers) and squeeze yourself into prime viewing position to watch one of the most dramatic sunsets you will ever witness.
Seeing thousands of stupas bathed in deep red light, surrounded by jungle and nothing more than dusty, sand tracks crisscrossing between them is a sight to behold. A reverent hush descends on our little group as the sun tumbles rapidly and we hustle back on our bikes to chase the last rays of the sun back to our digs.
#6 Horse Carts
In a world which has become increasingly homogenised, Myanmar stands out like a black sheep. Here time seems to have stood still with the main traffic being herds of horse and cart, carrying weary tourists back to their hotels.
It all adds to the incredible charm of this beautiful, mysterious land caught between dreams of democracy and the tyranny of a dictatorship.
#7 Facial Decoration
In a similar vein to the horse and carts, another tradition which endures is facial chalk decorations, which I eventually realise are not the remnants of hastily applied makeup in the morning.
Over two thousand wonders
It seems apt to finish with the words of Marco Polo, as not much appears to have changed in Bagan since the 13th century. The temples; ‘make one of the finest sights in the world, being exquisitely finished, splendid and costly. When illuminated by the sun they are especially brilliant and can be seen from… great distance’ Marco Polo
I could not agree more!
The 7 Wonders of Bagan is written by Anne.
Anne is the brain behind TravelTheGlobe4Less, looking to travel to Myanmar, check out the handy guide from Anne where she shows you how you could create a DIY tour and save a fortune. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter
Have you visited Bagan, Myanmar? What are the places that you have visited in Bagan, Myanmar that you feel should make into the list of 7 wonders?