It had been ten years since I last came here to Bagan. As soon as I arrived after taking the coach from Yangon, I remembered how peaceful this place is: open fields, no cars and little noise.
It was nearly 6am and not a soul was in sight as I made my way to the hotel, taking in the temples as they started to become visible.
Bagan, with its nickname the Heart of Myanmar, is an ancient site measuring 13 by 8 km and contains more than 2500 Buddhist monuments built from the 10th to the 14th centuries AD.
I got to my hotel, refreshed myself with a shower and watermelon juice and hit the road with an e-bike, which are electronic motorcycles.
Motorbikes are banned in Yangon, so it felt great to be out of the big city, riding around with breeze on my face and in my hair.
As I headed towards old Bagan, I saw butterflies, flowers, and a herd of goats enjoying their breakfast of grass, with the temples in the distance.
The streets to Bagan are lined with trees. As I approached the town I noticed how simple and laid back the lifestyle is here.
I saw a man fixing his horse cart; kids in green-white school uniform with cotton shoulder bags running and playing; and the city’s famous lacquerware shops.
The place is neither crowded, nor are people in a rush. It made me reflect on why we city folk are so keen to rush around, and barely take a minute to enjoy the simpler things in life.
I rode past Tharabar Gate, built in AD 849. It’s the only gate left of 12 in the old city and the one that separates old and new Bagan.
U Win Tin, a small dark-skinned man, has been a guard at the Tharabar Gate since he was 17 – he’s now 59. Dressed in a t-shirt and traditional longyi, he said he doesn’t have a uniform, despite being employed by the government.
Sitting on a bamboo bench under a tree, U Win makes sure no big trucks pass through the gate from 9 to 5.
“I think I have been dutiful”, he said, recalling his long career in the role, ahead of retiring next year.
When he started as a teenager his salary was K 100; he now earns around K 145000. Over the years U Win Tin has seen many changes.
“The gate is slowing leaning. Sometimes rain goes into the cracks. If people love it, they should maintain it,” U Win Tin said.
The earthquake in September damaged more than 400 pagodas and temples in Bagan, including the 12th century Sulamani Pagoda. However, Bagan is not new to natural disasters. The earthquake in 1975 destroyed almost half of the relics.
As it grew close to midday, I was really feeling the heat. I stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Myo Myo. I was offered almost 10 kinds of side dishes, including sausages, tomato curry and various types of fired and dried fish.
The man dishes include prawn, beef and chicken. There’s no pork on the menu as the people are mostly Nat-worshipers, and believe certain meats should be avoided. My total bill came to K 3000.
I resumed my tour of the temples.
I met 58-year old U Win Aung, a puppet seller. U Win advertises his puppets to tourists by hanging them from a tree – there’s no shop as such. Traditional Burmese puppet theatre dates from the 15th century.
Despite making profit only K 300-500 for each puppet he sells, he maintains he was right to quit his job as a gardener in a hotel in Bagan to run his own business.
I had an afternoon snack at a little food joint under a shady tree run by an elderly woman. Wooden tables are laid on a bed of bamboo. The owner prepared me a meal of deep-fried corn, onions and other vegetables. I soaked them in tamarind sauce and chilli. Served with sliced cabbage and green tea, the meal was delicious as i was surrounded breezes .
As the evening set in, I headed to catch Bagan’s sunset. Clouds crowded above me, dashing hopes of a sunset, yet as they turned orange and red, and I rode towards the beautiful horizon ahead, I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect end to the day.
Sunrise & sunset (Accessible pagodas)
1. Pya-that-gyi @ Pya-tha-da
3. South-gu-ni(Taung Gu Ni)
4. Gu-byauk-nge (Myin-ka-ba Village)
7. Shwe-kyaung (Golden Monestary)