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Artificial grass gardens project in ancient Bagan cultural zone causes higher voice of critical comments and complaints

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Artificial grass gardens project in ancient Bagan cultural zone causes higher voice of critical comments and complaints

A project of building artificial grass gardens in the compound of some 17 pagodas and places including Tharapa Gate and Dhammayangyi in Bagan Ancient Cultural Zone caused voices of critical comments among the people as well as on the social network.

Despite the Japanese grass brought there to build grass based small gardens, the locals and the heritage lovers called the grass artificial one as the Japanese grass does not naturally grow in the dry zone.

The public voices are getting higher now with regard to the project when some comments about reopening of the Tharapa Gate have remained risen.

The controversial situation also made questions on why such project is being carried out being against the ancient zone as all-out efforts are being made to submit the Bagan Ancient Cultural Zone on the list of UNESCO World Heritage.

It is learnt that the relevant authorities had already responded to the questions saying that the man-made grass gardens project was being carried out according to the decision made at a meeting of the District Administrative Committee. On the contrary, it is also learnt that the people had not been noticed ahead of carrying out the plan.

When contacted and asked by My Magical Myanmar in respect of the project and controversial situation, an official of the Bagan Brach of Department of Archaeology and Museums said,” Is there some critical comments about it? Yes of course. Let them do it. It would not have ending ever if such comments or complaints are handled whenever raised. Let them speak openly. For the time being, as I am handling an important matter, this is what I just told you about it right now.”

Regarding the answer by the official of a department which is responsible for the heritage, some people had different views. Some said they understood what difficulties the department is facing saying that some matters were not to be carried out by only the department but as per the collective decision made by relevant organizations and authorities and that was why they had nothing to blame the department’s branch on the project. But, some raised voice of critical comments on it.

Most of the people see that the department is fully responsible for the project being carried out in the dry zone. So, there are some questions raised by the people: Is it a kind of check over durability of pagodas existing for hundreds of years by developing some artificial grass gardens that need much water from time to time on just a purpose of creating beautiful gardens?; Is this project being implemented with proper advice of relevant experts? Is this project really, urgently required to be carried out?  

“I like to see a dry zone being a natural dry zone. Brick at the Bagan pagodas are naturally different from those in the Western countries. And, it has already announced that Tharapa Gate was closed and then now they reopened it. That means there might be a bit dangerous in the long term because of vibration from vehicles even though speed bumps were built at the gate. I think naturally, Japanese grass for man-made grass gardens will not working here at all.  They need much water supply. What will happen if water does not drain off the grass gardens? Man-made earthen hills are also inappropriate and this one as well. Why don’t they wait for a while when we all are try to submit the zone to be on the UNESCO World Heritage List? There are experts who know about such project and I would like them to do the project at the experts’ advice,” said Kon Soe Than Htaik who also help the team who are working on submitting the ancient cultural zone to the list.

According to the locals and photos, it is learnt that artificial grass gardens had been built in front of the Nat Shrine located at entrance of the Tharapa Gate on the route coming from Nyaung-U since August 8 as well as in the compound of the Dhammayangyi Pagoda. People would like to know if this project causes damage to Bagan’s heritage image.  

“I would like them to do nothing new until the ancient cultural zone is on the list of UNISECO World Heritage. Frankly speaking, I am worried to see any barrier to the efforts for this goal. Now I see some issues about the project and etc. Some constructive comments might be given if we were noticed that this project would be implemented at the advice of experts. Now people do not trust it and are of the opinion that they (the relevant authorities and organizations) are carrying out it without having any expert advice,” said Ko Naing Htun who has been a tour guide for 20 years in the Bagan zone.

It is also learnt that there was no any effect though they gave some advice not to reopen the Tharapa Gate when the relevant ministry let them notice about it and asked for advice. Presently, UNESCO is working on a survey over some durable pagodas so as to reopen them for the visitors to climb. According to sources in the tourism industry, there has been a decrease in number of visitor arrivals to the ancient zone after the ban on climbing the pagodas was imposed.
There are many unacceptable issues by the people in Ancient Bagan Cultural Zone such as QR Code scan system, the ban on climbing the pagodas, and reduction of stay permit for foreign travellers from five to three days. It might be interesting to see how the authorities will handle the critical comments or complaints about the project. 

Ko Thura Aung of Myanmar Archeology Association wrote about the man-made grass based park at Dhammayangyi Pagoda on his social network page as mentioned below.

He said that:
“If it is necessary to plant the grass in the zone, the grass is not a problem but the man-made grass park. I do not know that it is not sure this grass is a locally grown one or foreign one like Japanese grass. Here is the question: Do they acquire expert’s advice whatever they do something in the ancient zones? If a grass or tree is planted in the zones, a decision should be made by archeological researchers at the professional advice of experts like horticulturalist or environmentalist. That is a professional practice. Now what experts did they consult with for the places where the grass parks were built?

Potential threat

If a grass is planted in the zone, the wild grass that grows in Bagan zone should be properly steamed. Even doing so, you should not supply much water extremely to make the grass grown. Because Bagan pagodas and temples like the Dhamamayangyi were not built in a quite big hill shape but was an indivisibly built building with the earth. That means the foundation of the pagoda could be decayed when water does not drain off the ground.

Most of the builds in other countries were built with sandstone. I have told that preserving Bagan pagodas and buildings is more difficult as they are brick-based buildings. In our archeology, there is a process of restoration. That is how to do a remedial task of essentially replacing things which a deteriorating building needs. So, in other countries, a badly deteriorating sandstone building could be replaced with a sandstone block cut in a shape as you like. Why? Because the basic material is the same. Sandstone is sandstone. When have we scientifically tested the type of earth or soil used in Bagan era? Even if yes, we could not go that way to carry out a reservation work. In other countries, if you do something to reserve a heritage, a decision is made through having a seriously discussed meeting.

If you have a sudden idea to do something good and do it, some errors could be acceptable in some other fields but not in reserving the heritage. Once damaged, never restored.  It is just like having no replacement for a late mother. I do hope the project might be closely supervised.  


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Theingi Htun is a journalist who worked for two years at Yangon Times Journal and Flower News. She also worked for two years at Democracy Today News as Senior Journalist. She wrote many articles about culture, the travel sector and lifestyle stories too. Now she is working at My Magical Myanmar as a travel writer and social media executive."


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