Our guide Aung was waiting for us after lunch, ready to show us more of what we’d really come to see: some of the 2000+ temples and pagodas here in Bagan. There are only nineteen of us on board the Ananda and two guides, so Aung has just nine of us to manage.
Our first stop was the Htilominio Paya where Aung pointed out some of the wall paintings. It had been constructed in the 13th century from brick which a plaster covering.
In places, the plaster had fallen off, leaving those fragments of the wall paintings I like so much.
In addition to the Buddhas painted on the walls,
there are, in the centre, four enormous statues facing the points of the compass. Lengthy explanations have been offered by Aung regarding the significance of the various positions of hands, feet and so on but my attention has usually been focused elsewhere, I’m afraid.
because these places are just so visually appealing!
Outside, we admire the other particular features of this temple, the stucco work.
Extraordinarily detailed, the light of the late afternoon was perfect to pick out every last detail.
As we stood taking photographs, business was rather slow in the marketplace behind us. One or two salesladies gave a half hearted attempt to sell us a souvenir or two, but retreated into the shade of their stall when it was clear we weren’t interested.
One thing which has interested us is the Burmese script. Consisting of an alphabet of 33 characters, the curves and circular form of each letter makes for quite an attractive style, I think.
Our next stop was at the Ananda Paya, 11th century and after which our boat is named. Our guidebook waxes lyrical about particular aspects of the architecture.
Another unrivalled shopping opportunity lined the pathway into the temple but again, we passed them by and focused on the temple.
The first feature we came across was a pile of money. There in the main thoroughfare was a fenced off flat pedestal around a metre and a half in diameter, upon which was heaped banknotes of all descriptions. I caught the edge of it in the photo above. The buddhas in this temple were stunning and each one was flanked by two guardians.
The three buddhas we saw were standing and cloaked in attractive robes, the like of which we’d not seen before.
Two of the four buddhas are original and two are replacements but I’m sorry to say I don’t know which is which. i was not being the model tourist, my excuse being that I have been up since 3.30am this morning!
Here, there were more wall paintings and Aung pointed out the way the natural light falls on the interior of the Ananda temple – one of the things which makes it special.
This light made the inside of the temple so photogenic – which could explain why I wasn’t paying attention to Aung’s commentary!
The fourth and final Buddha was undergoing restoration by a team from India. They were setting up the bamboo scaffold, working high up there near the ceiling this afternoon.
Outside, more cleaning and restoration was going on and the upper surfaces of the temple were markedly lighter in colour than the lower ones.
But it was time to go. Time to move on to the last activity of the afternoon, because we had one fixed appointment with the sunset later. Before that, though, Aung was keen to show us around a small village, to give us an insight to everyday life here.
The large CocaCola and telecom signs reveal how swiftly life is changing here but the fundamental lifestyle is the same now as it has been for generations.
The first building on the village boundary was the equivalent of the Parish Office, the place where the head of the village was to be found and where, not so long ago, people would be expected to report disloyal or disruptive behaviour of those around them. Aung explained how the number of mobile phones were restricted so that communication was tricky but now they are more widespread and as a result there is a far greater freedom of thought and expression.
At the entrance to the village were a couple of artesian wells. In this dry region, water is precious and at particular times of the year, difficult to acquire.
In the first house we passed, a woman was starting a small fire in her outdoor kitchen. Behind her were a few pots and pans and one or two essentials were tucked into the woven bamboo wall.
Just across the dry and dusty path were the neighbours – the ground here is sandy and it’s hard to imagine how those living in the village can keep anything clean without a plentiful supply of water.
Aung pointed out the satellite dishes on almost every house – orange being for subscribers to the cheaper, Chinese based company, and blue for the more affluent, who chose to subscribe to SkyTV. He explained that in most two storey homes, parents live upstairs.
Meanwhile, the occasional clang of a bell alerted us to a group of young men collecting alms for the local monastery.
The basic structure of the houses was made of bamboo. The walls were woven, the roof created from small “tiles” and the floor was wooden boards nailed the the wood or bamboo structure. We stopped by this open platform to hear Aung explain its purpose. Someone from the village would be delegated each night to sit and stay awake as a watchman, particularly keeping watch for fire. In this dry and dusty landscape where water is in such short supply, fire is an ever present concern and there, hanging underneath the platform is a piece of cast iron, ready to be struck with a metal hammer (hidden from mischievous children’s view!) as the alarm. Meanwhile, the platform was a meeting place, somewhere to sit and chat in the evening – and for small boys to try to attract the attention of passing foreigners.
Having just spoken about fire precautions, we began to notice that every house had a couple of long bamboo tools by the fence – a beater for putting out flames and a hook, to pull off a burning roof. Oh my. Doesn’t bear thinking about.
Whilst we pondered our good fortune to live where and how we do, Aung was looking at his watch. Half an hour to sunset – we’d better get going.