After seeing so many amazing pictures of Bagan’s landscape with scattered temples and pagodas, we were really excited to finally get to see it in person!
The old ancient city of Bagan, located in the Archaelogical Zone is some what an attraction in Myanmar, like what Angkor Wat is to Cambodia.
From the 9th to 13th centuries, Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, which would later become modern day Myanmar. During the kingdom’s height, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries existed. Today, there is about 2,200 temples and pagodas left. We got to visit just a few during our short stay.
On our first day, we decided to hire a horse cart – one of the best ways to get around. It transports you not just around town, but to a different era.
We met our driver for the day, Miu Miu and his horse NeNe, outside of Thande Hotel where we stayed during our time in Bagan (more about Thande here).
We started off at Dhammayangyi Temple, one of the largest and widest temples in Bagan, which has a great story behind it!
The temple is rumored to have been built by King Narathu, in an effort to absolve his sins. Apparently, Narathu wasn’t a very nice guy. He became King of Bagan after murdering his father and brother, who was next in line to the throne.
Allegedly, the King was worried about bad karma, so he built the grand temple to gain merit. Guilty much Narathu???? Inside the temple there are two statues of Buddha sitting side by side. This is a rare find and said to be for the King’s brother and father.
King Narathu wanted the temple to be flawless. He wanted the bricks to be laid in such a way that there would be no space between them.
Narathu would check the masonry work with a needle, if it would fit between the bricks, the worker would pay a hefty a price. The cost being a hand and ultimately, his life.
As Karma would have it, what goes around comes around and the King was later murdered himself, before completing the temple. There are several stories going around about the death of King Narathu. One of the rumors for his assassination was in revenge for the killing of his wife, the Hindu Princess of Pateikkaya. Another is that Narathu was killed by invaders from Sri Lanka.
Much of the temple’s interior was filled with construction debris and closed off. Some people believe it was intentionally filled with debris by resentful workers because of how crude the king was and maybe even to keep his ghost from leaving the temple.
Our next stop was at Thatbyinnyu Temple with its beautiful gilded tips. At over 60 meters, this fab temple is one of the highest in Bagan, towering above other nearby temples it is visible from much of the plains.
Along with several images of Buddha, a few statues of Nat spirits can also be found in the temple.
Near the Thatbyinnyu is Tally Pagoda. The legend of this small tower is that for every 10,000 bricks used at Thatbyinnyu, one brick was set aside to keep count of the number of bricks used. Once the majestic temple was completed these left over bricks, were used to create the smaller replica.
We moved on to the second tallest temple, Gawdawpalin. It doesn’t have such a fascinating story behind it, like some of the other temples, but visually it is quite alluring.
It has several statues of Buddha throughout the very narrow hallways. At some areas, you may have to wiggle a bit and suck it in to pass through. The temple used to have lovely murals which have now faded.
Our driver Miu Miu took us to Bupaya Pagoda. It’s wasn’t on our list, but we are glad we went. Bupaya pagoda is a charming shrine, not just because of it’s great location on the bank of the Irrawaddy River, but because of its age. According to a sign at the entrance the pagoda dates back to the year 300, making it to one of the oldest.
It is said the monument was built by King Pyusawhti. According to local legend, before he was King, Pyusawhti managed to free the Bagan Kingdom of different nuisances, one of which was a kind of gourd plant infesting the river banks.
The myth is when Pyusawhti became King, he built the pagoda at the spot where the plant was eradicated. The name Bupaya means Gourd (Bu) Pagoda (Phaya). The structure is a dome shame similar to the fruit of the gourd plant.
We followed our tour with Miu Miu to Mahabodhi Temple, a replica of the namesake in Bodhgaya in North India, the place where the Buddha reached enlightenment some 25 centuries ago.
Seven places near the Mahabodhi temple represent the seven weeks Buddha spent after reaching enlightenment.
Its numerous niches enclose over 450 Buddha images.
Our subsequent stop was to Shwegugyi Temple, who’s name means “the Golden Cave”. The temple was constructed by King Alaungsithu. Legend has it that because the king was so great a huge block of brick burgeoned out of the ground in response to his excellency. This large brick formed the base of the temple which just took a little over 7 months to build.
The temple was built across from the palace. When the king became ill, his son removed him from the palace to this temple and eventually killed him.
From the top, there are great views of Bagan and of Thatbyinnyu Temple.
Our final stop for the day was at Shwesandaw pagoda. Built outside of the city walls to provide spiritual protection, the pagoda was commissioned by King Anawrahta, founder of Bagan.
It is one of the taller pagodas in Bagan. At 328 feet, Shwesandaw offers stunning views of the Bagan plains, temples and pagodas. It is an excellent spot to witness the sunset over the plains.
It’s the only temple with stairs on all four sides. The steps are VERY steep. By the time you get to the top, you feel your legs burning but it is well worth the effort. You’ll be rewarded with gorgeous panoramic views.
It does get a bit crowded so best to get there a bit early for the spectacular sunset show.