The Road to Mandalay: Exploring the monuments of Bagan – 4

IMG_3110 ezABOARD RV KINDAT PANDAW – From the 11th to the 13th centuries, when Europe was building Gothic cathedrals, Bagan, capital of the first Burmese Empire was frenetically constructing thousands of temples and pagodas. These Buddhist monuments also were beautiful architectural masterpieces. Eventually the empire fell, and a city that may have reached a population of 200,000 or more, faded away. But over 2,000 of those monuments remain as testimony to the power, wealth, and piety of earlier generations.

Unsurprisingly, they are also the country’s biggest tourist attraction. Our on-board guide Kywa led us on visits to 10 of them on three excursions during a 27-hour period beginning the afternoon of our arrival and continuing through the next day. Those we visited include Htilominlo Temple with four massive, gilded Buddha statues, one facing each cardinal direction, Shwezigon Pagoda, considered a prototype for Burmese stupas (pagodas), the impressive Ananda Temple, the largest temple in Bagan, and the massive, gilded Dhammayangyi Temple. We concluded our final excursion at Shwesandaw Pagoda, where we climbed steep terraces for stunning sunset views.

IMG_3161 ez2Another highlight was a visit to a health clinic outside of New Bagan, established and supported by Pandaw Charity. In operation for less than two years, and staffed by volunteer medical professionals, the clinic offers completely free care and treatment for any local who seeks it. Open only on weekends, in its relatively short life it has received over 40,000 patient visits. During our tour a young woman physician was seeing to a waiting-room full of patients.IMG_3165 ez

We also found time to visit a lacquerware production facility where we observed the entire production process from hand-splitting bamboo, to shaping various objects, to lacquering painting and finishing, all by hand. Afterward there was a chance to tour a small gallery with exquisite and expensive examples, as well as a large shop with thousands of more reasonably priced items for sale.

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Bagan lacks piers or berths for river vessels, thus Kindat Pandaw was tethered to shore with ropes tied to stakes in the riverbank, and secured with anchors. A gangplank from the lower deck to the beach provided access to and from shore. Crew members guide and steady passengers as we board or leave the ship, but the arrangement suggests that the cruise might not be suitable for people with certain disabilities. While we would estimate the age of passengers aboard for this cruise at 55+, all have had little trouble getting on and off the vessel, and no one has missed-out on any activity.

Our stay in Bagan culminated in a traditional puppet show on deck flowing dinner. We enjoyed a dozen dances performed by string puppets operated by two local men who are considered among the best at this ancient art. We depart Bagan at 6 am tomorrow morning.

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