IN PHOTOS: Beyond Bagan’s temples

Ayeyarwady Riverbank
The most elegant laundress I’ve ever seen

Temples are to Bagan what canals are to Venice: they are overwhelmingly its most defining feature. And of course they should be, because there are more than 3,000 of them and some date way back to the 9th century – and those that didn’t succumb to crummy “restoration” jobs are incredibly beautiful. But just for a bit of fun, I decided to post a photo essay of Bagan – sans temples. I admit this in part due to the fact that Bagan is so photogenic that I came back from a trip there in January with hundreds and hundreds of shots (as no doubt we all do…).

Stores selling Buddhist trinkets and the like line the inside of Bagan's most popular temple entrance walkways
Stores selling Buddhist trinkets and the like line the inside of Bagan’s most popular temple entrance walkways

Okay, so this is a shot taken from within a temple – but still arguably within my “no-temple” theme 😉

A Padaung woman in Old Bagan
A Padaung woman in Old Bagan

Photographing female members of the Padaung tribe (also known as Kayan Lahwi) is somewhat controversial, as many quite justifiably believe that doing so contributes to a “human circus” state of affairs – that is, paying money in exchange for a picture. In the late eighties and nineties, thousands of Padaungs fled to neighbouring Thailand and soon enough, the “Long Neck” sections of refugee camps became a hot tourist attraction, and remain so to this day (recently, the Padaung people have expressed a desire to return to Myanmar, but complained they are being prevented from doing so). The woman pictured was operating a traditional weaving workshop in Old Bagan which is of course geared towards tourists – I bought a scarf and took some shots…. judge me as you will! I’ve read several different accounts of how the brass-coil tradition began – my favourite is the one that claims the coils were devised as a means of protecting Padaung women against the threat of tiger attacks (tigers tend to aim for the jugular).

Padaung textiles
Padaung textiles

Looking back at this photo makes me wonder why I chose a black and white scarf…

Ayeyarwady River
Ayeyarwady River

Taking a stroll along the peaceful banks of the Ayeryarwady River is recommended, as it offers a chance to observe people going about their lives in a non-touristy type of way.

A couple of Bagan's varied transport options
A couple of Bagan’s varied transport options

I took this shot from the back of a horse and cart on the first morning we arrived. It was fun in a novelty kind of way, but we only did it the once as it’s much slower than hiring electric bikes (which was terrific fun, cheaper and highly recommended). It’s also possible to hire taxis or conventional motorbikes – but the latter, while being pleasantly cool with AC, doesn’t allow you to travel along the narrow paths – so you’ll end up walking and sweaty anyway. Plus, electric bikes are clean, green and easy to operate. Be careful when travelling along sandy paths though, as you may, like me, veer out of control! No scratches though – I soon learnt my lesson and learnt to slow down…

Penny for your thoughts...
Penny for your thoughts…

 

My husband and I shared the shade of a tree with this boy for a while. He looks as though as he’s on the move somewhere.

Beers, a picture perfect sunset, private boat and epic temples - what more could you want?
Beers on a chartered boat with a picture perfect sunset and epic temples – what more could you want?

Hiring a boat and cruising around the river during the late afternoon hours was a highlight of my experience in Bagan. It’s also possible to have a romantic, candle-lit dinner on a small sandbank with terrific views of the temples at sunset – but Sherpa and I were happy enough to stick with liquids!

A vendor selling fried snacks
A vendor selling fried snacks

 

This snack-food vendor’s thanaka had a distinctively blueish tone – despite paying a visit to the Thanaka Museum in Nyaung Oo, I never did manage to find out why… The museum itself is so-so – and for some reason, keeps two sad monkeys in a cage out the front.

Buddhists often lay flowers inside the shrines, where a huge Buddha is often to be found
Buddhists often lay flowers inside the shrines, where a huge Buddha is often to be found

 

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