Bagan

Bagan

So many temples, so little time

The highlight for many first-time visitors to Burma, incredible Bagan forms the largest collection of Buddhist temples, monasteries, shrines and stupas in the world. More than 2,200 -- some say 3,000 -- ancient religious monuments stud a sandy, semi-desert plain, backing onto the Ayeyarwady River. The brick-red, gold and white spires and stupas rising out of a sun-baked, ochre landscape during dry season, or sea of green vegetation during monsoon, is not only one of Burma’s, but one of Southeast Asia’s, most evocative and memorable sights.

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Set at the heart of Burma’s dry zone, Bagan seems on first impression to be a particularly inhospitable spot to have developed a major urban centre. Though bordered on two sides by the wide Ayeyarwady River, the arid, scrub country, dotted with brick ruins interspersed with outcrops of cacti and gnarly acacias, is almost the polar opposite of the lush, jungle-clad stone monuments of Cambodia’s Angkor.

From the most magnificent ... : Mark Ord.
From the most magnificent ... Photo: Mark Ord

The two mediaeval metropolises are roughly speaking contemporaneous however and Bagan is considered to have been originally founded, on the site of a minor Pyu settlement, by the mid-11th century legendary King Anawrahta. Over the following 250 years, a series of kings and princes commissioned a mind-boggling number of temples, monasteries and stupas of stucco-covered brick. One archaeologist calculated that during the 13th century a new temple was undertaken on average every two weeks. Initial construction efforts began within the central walled city of Old Bagan, but soon monuments were popping up all across what in those days must have been a densely populated plain. As with Angkor, the extent of the monuments corresponds to the extent of the ancient city with gaps in-between being originally filled with wood and bamboo housing and municipal ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 2,200 words.)

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