On our second day in Bagan, we were hosted by Tour Mandalay. (Read about our first day here)
We were greeted by our guide, Mr. Han, a native from Bagan who knows exactly where to take you depending on your interests.
We were really interested in seeing the local village life and a few other major pagodas and temples we didn’t get to see the day before.
Nyaung Oo Local Market
Our day started off at the lively and colorful Nyaung Oo Local Market. One of the best ways to see local life is to roam around a local market and take it all in.
We saw ladies carrying heavy products on their heads, young novice monks collecting alms, locals selling produce, meats, spices, cooked foods, apparel and ordinary daily articles. It was a great experience and we got to interact and bargain a bit.
Our second stop was at the golden Shwezigon Pagoda. After converting to Buddhisim, the founder of the Bagan Kingdom, King Anawrahta, constructed this monument. The king built the gilded pagoda to enshrine Buddha relics, which includes the tooth from Kandy in Sri Lanka.
The pagoda is significant for several reasons. It merged traditional Burmese religion and Theravada Buddhism. The king allowed statues of Nats (spirits worshiped by the Burmese people) placed in the pagoda. The other important fact of Shwezigon, is that it became a prototype for other pagodas throughout the region.
Like many of the other temples and pagodas in Bagan, this one has a story behind it. According to the legend, the spot where the pagoda was built, was chosen by a white elephant carrying the relics.
The next place we hit up was Htilominlo Temple, named after King Htilominlo. This magnificent monument also has a legend behind it. Htilominlo’s father had 5 sons. In order to chose an heir, the five sons had to stand in a circle with a white umbrella in the middle. When the umbrella would tilt and point towards one of the sons, that son was to be the next King. The umbrella pointed towards Htilominlo, and the spot where he was chosen to be King is where his namesake temple sits. Inside the temple there are many umbrellas, statues of Buddha and murals.
We visited Bagan’s best known, best preserved and most beautiful temple, the Ananda Temple. The story behind how this temple came about is that during the 11th century eight monks from India visited Bagan and met with King Kyanzittha. The monks told the King about a fabulous cave temple in the Himalaya mountains.
Apparently the King was fascinated by the legendary Himalayan temple and decided to create his own replica. To ensure that no one else would be able to copy the majestic temple, the King executed the architects involved after it was constructed.
Mr. Han took us to a village in Bagan which was the highlight of the day for us. Yes, the temples were awesome and full of history and wonderful stories – but seeing local life and just wandering around the village was an experience of a lifetime. We got to see farmers, their homes, neighborhood clinics and artisans working on lacquer products. The most memorable part, was walking into a local elementary school. The school was basically a bamboo hut, with just 2 teachers. I could have stayed there for hours. It was such an awesome experience. One that I’m truly grateful for.
Our last visit of the day was to a small, not well known pagoda to see the sunset. Mr. Han went in first to make some noise. He mentioned he does that just to ensure there are no wild animals or snakes hanging around. Mr. Han also told us that when he was a kid, they would play in these abandoned temple ruins. They would spend their days there to hide from the scorching sun.
The temple was in pretty bad shape but he guided us through all the way to the top. Parts of the stairway didn’t exist and there were some areas that was a little hairy scary to pass through. We made it to the top and it was pure bliss. We were the only ones there and we had gorgeous panoramic views of the Bagan plains all to our ourselves….well until others apparently saw us from down below and joined in. Oh well, the short time we had it to ourselves was just perfect!