Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by viravira on 7 February 2014 • Abroad
I’ve probably annoyed Mumun with my story about Bagan, Burma (or Myanmar) because I’ve told her too many times about it while she really wants to go there, too. But I’ve never told you guys about it except that one time where I failed to ride a balloon. I maybe unlucky that way, but I feel so fortunate to have been to many pagodas and temples of Bagan.
I still get that tingling feeling when looking at the pictures of these centuries old temples. I’m not over the curiosity of what really happened back then in 11th-13th centuries, when a lot of the temples and pagodas were built, and what happened later on, before the earthquake in 1975 ruined many of the artifacts. I wish the red brick walls or the Buddha statues could talk – though that would actually be scary.
Well, the walls and the statues are obviously being secretive, but I am sharing with you guys about some of my most memorable temples of Bagan and why I still can’t get over them!
Shwezigon is the largest pagoda (pagoda = paya or phaya) I’ve been to in Burma. It’s located in Nyaung U town, Bagan, and you can check out the historical and technical facts about it here.
It was one of the most visited religious sites out of all the pagodas and temples of Bagan, especially that time during Shwezigon Festival. Hundreds of commercial stalls were built outside the pagoda complex. Musical performances were held at night, locals and tourists were flocking around the area during all the time. People prayed among such a crowded place, chants were heard over a loud speaker almost nonstop, even from my hotel, which was at least 100 meters from the pagoda.
The golden pagoda is surrounded by causeways on the four sides that lead to villages around it. I got my longyi at one of the causeways, at the part with so many stalls selling souvenirs, food and daily needs. The seller nicely taught me how to wear the longyi, which I’ve forgotten by now, and I haggled it from 8,000K to 5,000 K. (USD 1 equaled to 1,000 K or Kyats). The better quality longyi with cooler design and mostly came in black was 15,000 K / piece.
There at Shwezigon Paya I saw the most Buddhist monks cramped in one place, young and old. People brought alms to the pagoda in the form of money, food, blanket, etc. There at Shwezigon Paya I also saw monks as human as they really are. They tried to hide from the sharp sun by covering their heads with fans, they hung out in shades, one of them even smoked a cigarette that he asked from Diyan. And I saw a very young novice walked to a man in a festival stall with his hand gesturing that he was asking for something, like food or money. Honestly, it kind of hurt my expectation about monks. But everybody’s gotta live, right?
Htilominlo Temple’s history is probably the only story with an umbrella having a very important role (of course there’s Mary Poppins, but that’s fiction). The King Narapatisithu of Pagan Dynasty had actually favored his youngest son, Nadoungmya, to be his successor, but wasn’t sure enough, so he had a white umbrella help him choose – I don’t know how exactly. Coincidentally, the youngest son was chosen by the umbrella. He then became King Htilominlo, which means “favored by the king and the white umbrella”, and had the temple built on the site where the umbrella was in action.
Aside to the unusual history, Htilominlo is also one of the biggest temples still remaining on the Bagan plain. And I personally can see why it’s such an important temple. I mean, just look at the intricate details!
Considered to be one of the main sites by the government, you can pay for Bagan entrance fee of $15 or 15,000K at Htilominlo’s gate, which is valid for a week. The guard would check on your pass if he thinks you’re a tourist. A fellow blogger Arief Rahman didn’t get checked, maybe he looked too local wrapped in a longyi, unlike me with a camera dangling from my neck. As it is the law to pay the fee, I suggest you pay anyway, whether they ask you or not.
Souvenir kiosks are built around the temple, selling paintings, decorated umbrellas, etc. I got a small sand painting of a monk, painted by the seller, for 1,000K. The sellers in Bagan actively persuade tourists to buy their goods, but they do it in a polite way with soft tone of voice like any Burmese would speak and behave. You’ll be told how pretty or handsome you are, and though that might be true, that could also be just to get you buy their longyis, paintings or Buddha statuettes.
Diyan was at first curious about Dhamayangyi because it’s the only big temple in Bagan with a pyramid shape. It’s different than the rest, and as we read more about it, it has an intriguing dark story kept within the terracotta walls. Some say, the King Narathu had it built in early of 12th century, to redeem his evil deeds of killing his father and brother among others. And almost all articles on Dhammayangyi that I read tells about how perfectionist the king was.
The bricked up walls inside the temple created another gossip, such as perhaps there’s where the king hid the proof of his evil deeds! As Indonesians who grew up hearing a lot of mystics and mysteries, these stories were more reasons for us to visit the temple. And I felt a little uncomfortable when Diyan was trying to see what was on 2nd floor and left me alone downstairs in the dark alleys. I was imagining what really happened behind the closed walls.
Said to be the highest achievement in architecture in the Pagan Empire, Ananda temple was amazing, indeed. It’s huge, meticulously carved, beautiful (especially on the restored sides) and consists of diverse building methods. The panels at the main entrance explains about the techniques applied, such as iron casting, wood carving and stone carving. From the look of many parts, I suspect Ananda Phaya is greatly influenced by the Bengals from India.
We visited the temple after having lunch at Star Beams restaurant. So taking a nap under the tree after walking around the temple in the sunny afternoon felt like a great idea. We ended up lazing under the tree while admiring the temple and trying to capture the greatness with our camera. Around 4 p.m. we left Ananda Phaya.
A newly made inscription in English on the yard of Bu Phaya says that this bulbous pagoda was built in the 3rd century. Wow! That makes it waaaay older than the rest of the temples and pagodas in Bagan! But some also say it’s from 9th or 11th century. And it’s also said to be a gilded remake of the original pagoda that collapsed into the Irawaddy River that runs by it.
The ambiance felt kind of different than the other pagodas or temples of Bagan that we had been to. Maybe because it’s located on a riverbank, hence it feels more laid back. Perhaps so laid back, that beggars also “hang around” the stairs that connect the pagoda and the riverbank. One beggar kid caught our attention, having red circles and a thanaka yellow circle on her forehead. I have no idea what the make up was about, and honestly I was kind of scared because she reminded of those rather haunting porcelain dolls with red cheeks.
Almost all the Burmese ladies we met wore thanaka on their faces and hands, like the one on that kid’s forehead. It’s a cosmetic, some kind of lotion to protect their skin from the piercing sun, keeping it fair and smooth. And they leave it smudging on the skin, obvious to see, almost like facial masks. I was wearing it too that day, simply to have another local experience.
These are only four out of so many pagodas and temples of Bagan that we visited in five days. They differ in shapes and sizes from each other. I am blown away thinking what great civilization the Pagan Empire (and the empires succeeded it) once was. These pagodas and temples weren’t only built by the kings but also royals or simply people with fortune, and were built for various reasons.
The plain of Bagan is so vast, we couldn’t go around it all. The pagodas and temples are scattered all over, with the main ones located in the Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung U.
– Bicycle, rented for $2 or 2,000 K / day
– Electric bike, rented for $8 or $8,000 K / day / person, or $10 or $10,000 K / day / 2 persons
– Horse cart with the driver (naturally!) for 25,000 K from sunrise until sunset
Other than that, you can also opt for rented cars (with drivers), especially if you can’t take the dusty roads and not so keen on wearing protective masks.