A few temples of interest on the south side of New Bagan town itself can be done in an hour or as a stroll. This route takes you down to the waterside, so it's particularly good at the end of the day.
Ashea Hpet-leik and Anauk Hpet-leik temples are set near the southwestern corner of town on the road that runs down to Lawkananda Paya on the bank of the Ayeyarwady River. From the road the temples look unremarkable, as they are surrounded by a modern exterior wall and have an ugly cement roof; they look like a truly botched renovation. However the temporary roof, replacing the collapsed original, serves to protect the remarkable collection of jataka image tiles within and it is certainly worth stopping at.
You'll see niches on both towers that would have once held Buddha figures, sadly long gone, along with more than half of the jataka tiles. There were originally some 550 unglazed tiles, running in a counter-clockwise fashion around the pagodas, with each one illustrating a tale. Look for polished limbs and features from where thousands of visitors have touched or rubbed parts of tiles.
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 won't pick up on that. Of the two, the western (closer to the river) pagoda has the better collection of tiles, but both are worth a peek. They may be locked but the key-holder should be around as she'll be keen to try and sell you a trinket afterwards.
Follow the road down towards the river where it veers to the left to deliver you to one of Bagan's most revered stupas, Lawkananda Paya. The stupa is believed to hold a Buddha relic (in this case a tooth) and it was here that a supposed Buddha footprint was found. Legend has it that King Anawrahta received the tooth relic from Sri Lanka whereupon it magically cloned itself into a full set. Anawrahta had them transported back to Bagan on the back of a white elephant and at each point the elephant knelt, the king interred a tooth and ordered a stupa built.
Today, the site makes for an attractive riverside viewpoint and the glistening stupa is photogenic. The riverside setting is a welcome respite from the midday heat thanks to a large shade tree that overhangs the bank and there are snack and drinks vendors on the footpath opposite.
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 11th September, 2016.