Photo: Don't forget your torch.

A south of New Bagan detour

Hpetleik Ashe and Hpetleik Anauk Paya (monument 1030 and monument 1031) are set near the southwestern extreme of Bagan and sit on the road that runs down to Lokananda Paya on the bank of the Ayeyarwady River.

Photo of A south of New Bagan detour

From the road the temples look unremarkable, with a modern exterior wall and a super ugly cement roof (to both support the upper structure and to protect the jataka tiles within) that replaced what was originally a barrel vault roof, making it look like a truly botched renovation, but this is certainly worth stopping at, with the western temple in particular displaying an impressive collection of jataka tiles.

You'll see on both towers niches that would have once held Buddha figures, sadly long gone along with more than half of the jataka tiles -- what remains of them though is very interesting. There were originally some 550 unglazed tiles, running in a counter-clockwise fashion around the pagodas, and each one tells a tale. Look for polished limbs and features from where thousands of visitors have touched or rubbed parts of a tile.

A restoration by the Archaeological Survey of India between 1907 and 1915 saw a number of jataka tiles reinserted in the wrong niches, but casual visitors probably won't pick up on that -- we certainly didn't. Of the two, the western (closer to the river) pagoda has the better collection of tiles, but both are worth a look. Allow at least 30 minutes to an hour for the two sites. They may be locked but the keyholder should be around as she'll be keen to try and sell you a trinket afterwards -- we went with an elephant.

Follow the road down towards the river and it veers to the left to deliver you to one of Bagan's most revered stupas, Lokananda Paya. The stupa is believed to hold a Buddha relic (in this case a tooth) and it was here that one of the few stone footprints of the Buddha in the greater Bagan area was found.

Legend has it that King Anawratha received the tooth relic from Sri Lanka and it magically cloned itself into a sack of fangs. Anawratha had them transported back to Bagan from Sri Lanka on the back of a white elephant, and at each point the elephant knelt, Anawratha had a stupa built and interred a tooth there. The elephant apparently could go a long way without kneeling as it held off doing so until reaching modern-day Yangon, kneeling at the site of Shwezigon pagoda. Following on from there, it knelt again on the far side of the river from Bagan, then crossed the river and knelt here, at the site of the Lokananda Paya.

Today, the site makes for an attractive riverside viewpoint and the glistening stupa is photogenic. In a building to the side you'll find the old rusted finial which has now been replaced with a new glittering one. The riverside setting is a welcome respite from the midday heat thanks to a large shade tree that overhangs the bank.

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Last updated on 29th December, 2013.

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