Bagan, one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, is also regarded by many as one of the three most impressive Buddhist sights, along with Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Borobodur in Indonesia. This former capital of the first Myanmar Empire is of course the main tourist destination as it offers one of the richest archaeological sites in South-east Asia. Situated on the Eastern bank of the majestic Ayearwaddy River, there are thousands of temples, pagodas, stupas and shrines. During its heydays one could count up to 13000 temples – nowadays ‘only’ about 4,000 remain as a testament to the religious fervor of the ancient Burmese kings.
How to get to Bagan
It takes about one hour and twenty minutes to fly from Yangon to Bagan. There are daily flights to Bagan from Yangon, Mandalay and Heho. By overland, it takes 14 hours from Yangon and 7 hours from Mandalay by coach. There is a regular train between Bagan and Mandalay too. The newly constructed railway between Mandalay and Bagan was unveiled in September, 1996. Express trains from Yangon to Mandalay stop at Thazi, from where it is accessible to Bagan by a 3-hour drive. There is also a double-decker steamer service between Mandalay and Bagan and the cruises “the Road to Mandalay” operated by E & O Express, RV Pandaw 1947 operated by Ayravata Cruises, and Irrawaddy Princess.
The Tharabar Gate was built during the 9th century, by King Pyin Pyar Min (A.D 846 -878). He built the fortress of Bagan with 12 gateways. The Tharaba Gateway was located on the east side of the palace. It was used as the main gate to the city. “Tharaba” meaning “The Gate which can prevent the arrows of the enemy”. The gate is guarded by Min Maha Giri (the brother) and Namadaw (the sister) spirits on each side of the gate.
Ananda Temple, completed in 1090, is King Kyansittha’s masterpiece and crowning achievement of the early style temple architecture. The structural layout plan is that of a perfect Greek cross with four huge Buddha images in standing position, facing in four different directions, and a series of eighty relieves depicting the early stages of the Buddha’s life from the Birth to His Enlightenment.
Ananda Okkyaung Monastery is a small red Brick Monastery situated within the temple compound of Ananda Temple. The inside walls are covered in 18th century paintings depicting Buddha’s life and elements of the history of Bagan.
The Thatbinnyu Temple is over 66 meters high and was built by King Alaungsithu in the middle of the 12th century. This white stucco building overtops all other monuments as the highest pagoda on the Bagan plain.
Nathlaung Kyaung, located slightly to the west of Thatbyinnyu and inside the old city walls, is the only remaining Hindu temple in Bagan. It was believed to be built during (A.D 931-964). In the early days of Bagan, people used to believe in Hinduism, and worshipped Vishu, Brahman and many other Hindu gods. This used to be a place to worship those gods. But afterwards, King Anawrahta brought Theravada Buddhism to Bagan with the conquest of Thaton, and made the Hinduism vanish. It clearly is one of the earliest of the Bagan temples. Ngakywenadaung Paya is a medium size early Pyu type brick masonry stupa. Its date of construction remains uncertain. On the external walls and each face had been carved in brick the ten misadventures of Vishnu. These statues were placed upright in niches decorated with the pilasters. The murals are contemporary sculptures. The center of the temple is occupied by an enormous brick mass surrounded classically bricks. It is this mass which supports the dome and will sikhara it. The name even of the temple is curious, it means: “the temple where the spirits are confined” and perhaps announces a relation with the nats, which had taken refuge here, not being able to do it in a traditional Buddhist temple. Shwegugyi Temple is standing on the high brick plinth. This temple was built by King Alaungsithu in 1131 AD. The arch pediments, pilasters, plinth and cornice molding are decorated with fine stucco carvings, evident of Myanmar architecture of the early 12th Century.
Gawdawpalin Temple was built by King Narapatisithu during the 12th century. It is about 60 meters high with a fine view over the ruins of the Bagan plains and the mighty Ayeyarwaddy River. The Myoe Daung Monastery is the oldest and the finest monastery of that age. The complex contains two monasteries, numerous pyathats, pavilions, rest houses and ancillary buildings. Located in the north of Old Bagan. The Nat Taung complex actually contains two monasteries, numerous pyathats, pavilions, rest houses and ancillary buildings. The main monastery building, with an east-west orientation, is approximately 130 ft. x 115 ft. (40 m. x 35 m. Its glory and what should be a major claim to prominence lies in its numerous woodcarvings which are also mostly from the late Kon-baung period of the mid- to late 19th century. The Archaeological Museum, which is run by the Archaeological Department, is situated near the Gawdawpalin Temple. It has a collection of more than 2,000 items including Buddha statues, stucco pieces, terra-cotta cups and pots. It is open daily except on Monday and public holidays. The Dhammayangyi Temple was built by King Narathu during A.D. 1165 and it is Bagan’s most massive shrine. Among the four extraordinary temples in Bagan, Dhammayangyi is well known for the mass and thickness of the temple. Bupaya Pagoda, standing on the brink of the Ayeyarwaddy River, is a conspicuous landmark for travelers along the river. This pagoda with bulbous dome resembling the ”Bu” or gourd is a favorite spot for visitors to watch the sunset.
Sulamani Temple is one of Bagan’s premier temple attractions. The name itself means Crowning Jewel or Small Ruby. It was the first and most important temple of the late period (1170-1300) of Bagan monument building. It was one of many temples and stupas built by Narapatisithu. This temple is similar to Htilominlo and the Gawdawpalin in architecture but with better interior lighting. It stands beyond the Dhammayangyi Temple. Important features of the Sulamani include its fine brickwork and use of stone in both load-bearing areas as well as on vulnerable external corner elements. The interior was once painted with fine frescoes but only dim traces can be seen today.Pyayhatgyi is a monastery of Indian influence which is situated southeast of the Sulamani. This monastery of Indian influence probably had around the timber structures, even a hall of ordination, even a small palate. Pyathatgyi is really the most interesting monastery if one is interested in the last pagoda of Bagan, and with the techniques of construction. It was perhaps the last great construction of the dynasty of Bagan. The technique of the vaults on corridors intersected from/to each other is completely exceptional. Mingalazedi Pagoda is the last pagoda of the Bagan dynasty built by King Narathihapatae (1256-1287). Started building in 1268, and before it was finished, a prophecy arose that “once the pagoda is finished, the Kingdom would be destroyed”. The King thus stopped the works for 6 years. He resumed works in 1274. Ten years later, he had to run away from Bagan to escape the invading Mongols.
Shwesandaw Pagoda was built by King Anawrahta in 1057. The five terraces once had terra-cotta plaques showing scenes from the Jataka. The pagoda bell rises from two octagonal bases, which top the five square terraces. The upper terrace of Shwesandaw Pagoda has become a popular sunset-viewing spot. Try the place for sunrise. Shinbinthalyaung is a long low, rectangular brick structure, a little to the west of the Shwesandaw Pagoda. The temple itself is not very distinguished, but it houses the Shinbinthalaung Buddha image made during the 11th Century. The temple in which the Buddha image lies is about 84 feet in length, and the image itself is 70 feet in length. The Buddha is in the position of Parinibbana, the Decease, lying on his right side, his cheek resting on his right hand. Close to the Shwesandaw stands the Lawkahteikpan Temple – small but interesting for its excellent frescoes and inscriptions in both Myanmar and Mon.
NYAUNG OO & WETKYI-IN
The Gubyaukgyi Temple in Wetkyi-In is a 13th century temple with a spire resembling the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya in India. This temple is known for its wall paintings depicting scenes from the Jatakas (life stories of the Buddha). The Htilominlo Temple, built in 1211 AD by King Nadaungmya, is one of the largest temples of Bagan. It is a double-storied structure rising 50 meters in height. This temple is noted for its fine plaster carvings on the arch pediments, frieze and pilaster.
The Dhammayazika Pagoda was built by King Narapati Sithu in 1198. At first glance looking much like the famous Shwezigon, the Dhammayazika is unusual because it has pentagonal terraces instead of the usual square ones. Above the three receding terraces, which are ornamented with glazed Jataka plaques raises a bell-shaped dome, which merges directly into a sharply tapering conical finial. On each of the five sides of the pagoda there is a small temple. The temples themselves are of the usual form, square in plan, with a porch for entrance, and surmounted by terraces and a curvilinear spire.
Both the Nanpaya and the Manuha Temple were built by Mon King Manuha of Thaton, who was a prisoner of war by King Anawrahta. Some say King Manuha used Nanpaya as his residence during his years of exile in Bagan. The quality of masonry in both of these temples is very fine. The finest feature of the whole temple is the stone relief carvings of the Hindu deity Bhrama in Nanpaya. The Gubyaulgyi Temple was built during the A.D 1113, by Raza Kumar, the son of King Kyansitthar and Queen Thanbula. The Gubyaukgyi Temple is a fine temple in the Early Style, square, with a vestibule in the east. The Gubyaukgyi is also noted for the paintings, which cover the walls of the vestibule, the corridor and the sanctum. These paintings are among the earliest now extant in Bagan. A portico in the north, paved with green glazed stones and having niches holding stone reliefs of the Buddha, provides access to the Nagayon Temple. Within the temple itself, the central shrine contains a huge standing image of the Buddha. Two smaller images flank the main one. A corridor, also paved with green glazed stones, runs around the central shrine. Dim light comes in through the perforated windows of the outer walls. The walls of the corridor have niches holding stone sculptures depicting the Buddhas previous to Gotama, as well as paintings showing scenes from the Jatakas and the Final Life of Gotama Buddha. Abeyadana Pagoda, built by King Kyanzittha in adoration for his wife, contains a seated brick Buddha that has now been mostly covered concrete. However the true attraction lies in the stunning paintings that cover the inner walls, most representing images from Mahayana Buddhism, such as Brahma, Indra and Vishnu.
A 50 minutes’ drive and 29 miles southeast of Bagan, make your ascent to the mystical place of Mt. Popa, the home of the nats. The mannequin-like display of the 37 nats at its base is one of the highlights of this excursion. Like pilgrims, you climb up the winding, covered walkway to the top. From there you are able to see the monasteries, stupas and shrines and experience the glorious views.
It takes you one and a half hour and 54 km along the Ayeyarwaddy River to reach the home town of the “Shakespeare of Burma”, U Ponnya, the most celebrated poet of king Mindon’s court. No wonder that his monastery is one of the most beautiful in this country! Youke Sone Kyaung Monastery is carried by 154 teak pillars, it was donated by King Mindon in his honour in 1879 and displays many of the poet’s original writings. Splendid teak-carved three-dimensional reliefs decorate the exterior walls of the entrance. Bagan Era Monuments, among the 103 ruins which are similar in design to those in the outer circle of the Bagan monuments you will find the Nan Paya, dating back to the 13th century and being the largest lacquer Buddha image in Myanmar. The legend says that the 8 meter tall Nan Paya floated on the Ayayarwaddy to Sale
This charming little town is on the way to Mt. Victoria and the tobacco trading center in central Myanmar, offers a huge variety of local goods and is famous for jaggery, thanaka logs, longyis, checkered blankets made of cotton and of course the famous cheroots, so popular with millions of elderly Myanmar ladies! You can also find there the popular home making industry for the paper mache toys which are produced there and then distributed to all the pagodas in the country who sell it to the pilgrims – very popular among children.
A 19th century town with an archeological museum, and PAK HAN NGAI KYAUNG, the largest existing monastery in central Myanmar with 332 teak pillars.