vickygoestravelling

my journey to health and well being via exotic destinations

Burmese days 4 – ballooning over Bagan

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Pagodas at dawn

Pagodas at dawn

And so we arrive at Bagan, the centre of tourism in Myanmar, for this is Pagoda Central. From the 11 – 13th centuries, Bagan was a huge city dedicated by its various rulers to Theravada Buddhism, which was celebrated by the building of over 13,000 pagodas, monasteries and stupas. Amazingly, 2200 survive today, despite the sacking of the city by Kublai Khan – he of the stately pleasure dome – and innumerable earthquakes, natural erosion and decay.

Another pagoda - we ;lost count of names and numbers!

Another pagoda – we lost count of names and numbers!

Marco Polo, too, wondered at the exquisite site of Bagan’s temples ‘built of fine stone, covered with gold a finger thick, so that the tower appears to be of solid gold. Another is covered with silver… They make one of the finest sights in the world’. Some of the pagodas are still covered in gold and silver today, and are quite a spectacle.

Shwezigon Pagoda, dating from 1089, but much restored obviously. We were there during its annual festival

Shwezigon Pagoda, dating from 1089, but much restored obviously. We were there during its annual festival

Cack-handed restoration by the military government has denied Bagan UNESCO world heritage status, but there are signs that with the opening up of Myanmar to tourists and investment, this may be reversed and restoration improved.

And another...

And another…

We stay at the Tharabar Gate hotel, which has a lovely pool for the heat of the day, right by the old town, handy for seeing monuments, by both bus, horse cart and electric motor scooter (John and Hilary braved this adventure – it ran out of juice and it took them an hour to  wheel it back!).

Ox cart as seen from our horse cart!

Ox cart as seen from our horse cart!

Christine and DIego on their cart!

Christine and Diego on their cart!

The splendour of Bagan is best seen from the air – and NOT from the handful of temples that offer sunset views, which we find slightly alarming with hundreds of people jostling for position a hundred feet or so up – and so some of us take an early morning hot air balloon ride: there are 18 balloons being launched that morning, so it’s quite an industry!

Balloons over Bagan

Balloons over Bagan

Early morning mist rising from the paddy fields

Early morning mist rising from the paddy fields

Ross and I are both slightly anxious about what to expect, especially on landing, but we are pleasantly surprised at the silent smoothness of the ascent, the gentle floating sensation, punctuated by the occasional hot blast of flame to keep us afloat and then the gentle bump as we land into the waiting arms of the ant-like crew, who race to the landing area in anticipation of our arrival. And then, music to my ears, the pop of champagne bottles, perfectly chilled, to greet us. Brilliant!

Champers! yes please...

Champers! yes please…Mike, our pilot, on left

Firing the balloons up!

Firing up the balloons

Rick and Lucille enjoying the ride

Rick and Lucille enjoying the ride

Selfie in the air!

Selfie in the air!

Balloons everywhere you look!

Balloons everywhere you look!

Aside from the magnificent pagodas, our highlight in Bagan is visiting Phwasaw Village Primary School, which Ghi Ghi sponsors. Armed with exercise books, pencils, rubbers, sharpeners, soft drinks, sweets and the polaroid camera, we spend an enjoyable hour or so with the kids, disrupting their lessons (no one seems to mind, and it is impressive that several of the kids continue their copying from the board). Such discipline! The children are all immaculately dressed in their uniforms, girls with thanaka on their faces, four classes in one big room. The calm soon dissipates with the advent of the polaroid snaps…even the local Downs Syndrome boy is summoned for his moment of glory; he is thrilled. The children are very sweet, although some of the boys get a bit over-excited and rambunctious, in a good way. Ghi Ghi tells us she has chosen this school as it not one of the ones that normally befits from sponsorship.

Ghi Ghi with her doantions

Ghi Ghi with her donations

Older sister looking after her brother

Older sister looking after her brother

Studious little girl with her thanaka

Studious little girl with her thanaka

Christine handing out rubbers

Christine handing out rubbers

Loving her photo

Loving her photo

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New pencil with a rubber on top!

High fiving at the school

High fiving at the school

Bagan is the traditional centre of lacquer-making and we visit a workshop where we buy extremely high quality pieces to take home. The best quality is made from bamboo and sometimes horsehair, and 13 layers of lacquer are applied to make it water- and heat-proof. Some are even lined with gold leaf. Many of the items sold by the hawkers are made from plastic and have fewer layers, so you have to be careful. Fakes are the order of the day – poor old Amitav Ghosh would be a multimillionaire judging by the numbers of The Glass Palace that are changing hands…

This hawker followed us around!

This hawker followed us around!

The market is humming with activity too; there is a tourist bit, offering the best prices for all the normal tourist stuff, but good quality – lovely table mats, lacquer ware, antiques, longyis (sarongs), sloppy beach pull-ons and tee shirts  – but also an area where fruit, vegetables, thanaka, pan (betel nut), dry goods and fish and meat are on sale. It is quite splendid and we have to be dragged away.

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Greens as far as the eye can see!

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Wonderful fresh veg

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Custard apples

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Grinding thanaka to make into the face paste; the tree bark is in the foreground

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Doleful fish-seller

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Staple food!

We also eat the best food of the trip here, in a small vegetarian restaurant, Moon, right by our hotel. Ostensibly dry, beer and wine are served in black bin liners on request. Diego decides to join in the fun and brings some ‘Scottish tea’ in a black bag – the finest malt! The staff is highly amused.

Watching the sunset, precariously perched

Watching the sunset, precariously perched

So while Bagan is a must-see, it is difficult to avoid the crowds. For future visitors, make sure you brief your guide (if you have one) about trying to do things off the beaten track; with over 2000 temples to choose from, and a wide variety of transport, I reckon it is possible to have a quiet and hassle free time away from the hawkers – who are still at the charming stage, if persistent – employing your own transport and being directed to the more remote places.

Exhausted by the crowds at the Ananda temple

Exhausted by the crowds at the Ananda temple

Sunset golden lgiht

Sunset golden light

Ross at sunset

Ross at sunset

From Bagan we depart to Inle Lake, home of the unique leg-poling fisherman, and subject of the next blog.

Magnificent golden Buddha form 11th century

Magnificent golden Buddha from 11th century

Author: vickyunwin

I am a writer and traveller. Our darling daughter Louise died on 2 March 2011, aged 21 (www.louisecattell.com) and I started writing as therapy. We never know how long we have on this earth, so I live for every day...in November 2013 I was diagnosed and operated on for a malignant soft tissue sarcoma in the calf, followed by 6.5 weeks of radiotherapy, so am embarking on a different kind of journey which you can follow here. I also have another site www.healthylivingwithcancer.co with my blueprint for health and well-being. My husband works in Switzerland so we flit from place to place anywhere else that takes our fancy

9 thoughts on “Burmese days 4 – ballooning over Bagan

  1. Thanks for your input. I’ll make the changes. 🙂

  2. Great post! Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Rohith, that’s the one I’m following…

  4. Great read…

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