Over 3000 temples, pagodas, and stupas, many in ruins, and all in various states of disrepair, are scattered across the plains of Bagan, capital of a Myanmar empire between 1000 and 1300. The Irriwaddy River, which runs beside our door, still supports peanut farmers who have been been ploughing and planting on the sandy banks with oxen teams during the four mornings of our stay. Tomorrow at 5:30 a.m., we depart on the express boat to Mandalay, a journey of 11 1/2 hours. the slow boat takes two days, and even the bus takes seven hours.
View from our terrace at Bagan Thande Hotel
The days have been hot, the nights pleasantly cool. Every morning but our first, when we walked and hired a ihorse cart to take us home, we have rented bicycles for the mornng, which we have found quite long enough, as by noon the heat and sun become really oppressive.
We are staying at the Bagan Thande Hotel, the main building of which was built for a visit of the Prince of Wales (later Edward viii who abdicated) in 1922. The rooms are bungalows set in the gardens, with some, including ours, overlooking the river with a terrace outside. I really have enjoyed this, even opening the door in the middle of the night to look at the stars and see how warm it still is.
On our first evening in Bagan, we walked to Shwesandaw, said to be THE place to watch the sunset, if you'd like to share it with a few hundred other folks. On the way, we took a shortcut on paths through fields where we saw deserted temples with interesting carvings, to which we intended to return, but never did.
Our favorite temples tended to be those we just happened upon, rather than the "must see" temples which tended to have parking lots, a few tour buses, and lots of hawkers of souvenirs, some very persistent. After awhile we found them quite tiring, and the art they sold the same at every site. One man had a painting of birds that was somewhat amateurishly done, but had a certain charm. "Are these Myanmar birds?" I asked him. "Yes," he said. I was rather dubious about the Cardinal. "Where in Myanmar do you find them?" "In the zoo," he said. No sale.
We took our sandals off at every temple, ruined or not, sometimes trotting through pigeon-infested interiors with a stench so awful we had to go outside. We climbed countless stairs to upper levels, sometimes inside and sometimes outside the buildings. The temples were in various states of ruin.
It was lovely to be in the countryside on quiet roads and dirt tracks. Some of the temples felt peaceful, while others were heavy and oppressive. All were Buddhist temples, but some had Hindu elements as well.
Some of the Buddhas were lit up with neon or LED lights, a modern invention!
We loved our time at the relatively luxurious hotel. The bathroom was huge -- perhaps 8x8 feet. The pool was lovely, and I enjoyed cooling off after an expedition in the heat. Everywhere in Myanmar the people have been smiling and welcoming, and often genuinely interested in practicing their English with us.
On our final afternoon at the hotel we tried to vote by our absentee ballots, which would not download onto my iPad. So we used the hotel desk top computer available in the lobby. One of the clerks managed to transfer the downloaded PDF files to a thumb drive, something I usually have along, but hadn't brought this time, so she could print the files on their office computer. We managed to read the lengthy small print ballot about which Albuquerque voters have been complaining, and fill in all the little ovals. I am sure ours, on standard-sized paper was even harder to read. Kent fetched our flashlight as hotel lights were very dim, and light was fading fast outside at shortly after 4 p.m. I then scanned the ballots by photographing them with my iPad, and emailed them along with copies of our signed affidavits. I haven't yet heard if the ballots arrived and are legible enough to count, and whether we did everything right.
We are now on our third and last night in Mandalay. Tomorrow, Bangkok!
I don't know how much I can write about fabled Mandalay, famed perhaps mainly for its rhyming possibilities.