Bagan: Land of golden temples


Approaching the Pyathada Paya not long before sunset

Previously known as Pagan, and one of the richest archeological sites in South East Asia, Bagan and its bewitching temples is best visited by bike. You need at least two days to get some idea of the immense beauty and grandeur of these temples built between the 11 and 13th centuries and which are spread over 40 square kms of plains on the banks of the Irrawaddy river.

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The best way to visit these bewitching temples is either by horse and cart or by bicycle which is the method we chose. At first it is slightly daunting as, even with a map, it looks like a forbidding task to locate the myriad of pagodas. But after spending several hours, first in the early morning, and then later in the afternoon, (escaping the heat in the middle of the day) you can get your bearings fairly well and it is possible to see most of the main sites in two days of intense sight seeing.

The best way to get an idea of the immensity of the area over which the temples are located is to climb to the upper terraces of one of the pagodas, sunset being a particularly romantic time, and to view the striking surroundings. If you have cash to spare, during the dry season, it is possible to take a balloon ride above the area.

POLISH SPEAKING SELLER

Inevitably, as with all major tourist sites, one expects to be hassled by the local sellers who make their living by offering local artifacts and longyis to tourists. It being the low season for travel, many of the pagodas we came across were almost empty of tourists. In one such pagoda, as expected, a young girl approached us and, as expected, her first words were (in English) : where are you from? To which Mirek answered: ‘Poland’, and expected as usual to have the country confused for Holland, but this young girl beamed at us and replied:” U mnie koszule sa najtansze!” (my shirts are the cheapest you’ll find) and followed this with : “Taniej niz w Biedronce” (‘cheaper than in the Polish supermarket ‘Biedronka’). Our bemused looks led her to continue with the few other expressions she knew in Polish and then she scratched one word out in the dust which she wasn’t sure how to pronounce : “Wyprzedaz” (Discount prices). By this time, increasingly non plussed, I told her I wanted to first visit the pagoda and started up the steep stairs on the outside of the temple, when she called after me in Polish:’ Powoli, powoli!!’ (‘slowly, slowly!’)

On chatting with her later we found out she was 17 years old, lived nearby and her dream was to become a tourist guide some day… She said she was able to communicate like this in about eight languages. I couldn’t help wondering how Polish managed to be one of those languages. After all, the number of Polish tourists in Burma is far outnumbered by visitors from other countries! She must have had a very fruitful encounter with some patient Polish tourist to have learnt to speak the words she spoke with such clarity. She finally told us we had better get going as it was getting dark and she didn’t want us to lose our way back to our hotel! I wish that bright and cheerful girl the world of luck and a fruitful and rewarding life.

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