Thursday, April 6, 2006

Bagan 17-01-2006

Just because I love to talk about guesthouses I’ll tell you about this one too, more fabulously friendly people (didn’t meet a single nasty, grumpy, narky, angry person in Burma in 3 weeks, a first!). $8 room with a bathroom, hot water, un-needed aircon, comfy beds, fabulous! And clean too which was great after our last dingy room. Breakfast was on the roof, toast and egg (people all over Asia seem to think that’s what westerners eat for breakfast every day) and REAL tea, with condensed milk but at least it was real tea, made from tea leaves and not some dehydrated yuk out of a packet.
The first day we rented bicycles, Hero band, Made In China and especially designed to give you doubts about your ability to comfortably have children at a later date.
Bagan was very dry, very dusty and sandy. It was like trying to ride a bike through a sand pit. Whenever we saw an interesting looking temple – which was about every two minutes – we left the bikes at the side of the road and went bush bashing to get to them.
Turns out Bagan is the most prickly, spiky, sharp and scratchy place I’ve ever been to! There were even prickles which attached themselves to bare skin, thoroughly uncomfortable. More visited temples were sweep clear but the non-touristy ones were a bit of a bugger to walk around in bare feet (bare feet needed for all temples). Still it was fun, sometimes it seemed like we were the only people who had ever been there which is cool.
At each temple we’d see another one that looked cool and trot over, and then another, then another (depending on the source, there are either over 2000 or 4000 monuments in the area). We had to put limits, like ‘we’ll go to that one then no further!’
The big temples were tourist madness, walkways were lined with souvenir sellers selling the same lacquerware, the same carvings, the same bells and bits and bobs and silk paintings. Taiwanese tourists played ‘the beneficent rich person’ tossing sweets from bus doorways to the children, like a king throwing coins out a carriage to the ‘poor downtrodden masses’ (at least that’s the feeling I got), Christ, no wonder we get bugged for ‘presents’ all the time in some places. We managed to visit one we’d seen the day before in the morning when it was packed with people. We wandered around thinking ‘this is weird, it’s exactly like the one we saw yesterday’ when a guy came up with a ‘hey you were here yesterday! Buy silk painting now?’.
We sat around the far side of the temple while the light went golden and watched all the squirrels that were running about all over the building (vertically over the stone work!) now that people had left, that was nice.
Day 2 we walked in the other direction (it felt like we were on an island even though we weren’t, maps can make you feel like that sometimes). Even though the village seemed OK cleanliness-wise we were in for a nasty shock on the less-visited side of town, yes, yep more rubbish scattered over what would have been quite a nice landscape otherwise. We wandered about half lost (no, not lost, just directionally misplaced) before we found the cave temples we were looking for. One comprised of half a dozen doorways in the hillside leading into the darkness, lacking a torch we didn’t go too far in but it was cool. Surprisingly even though the entrances were low we could stand up inside. The second temple was on the other side of the hill, it had larger entrances with locked gates. We spent ten minutes peering in at the enormous Buddha’s inside before a little old man materialized and unlocked the gates and led us through the passageways. He let us out, locked up the gates again and de-materialized into the distance (didn’t ask for a penny I might add).
That afternoon we took a pony cart back to Old Bagan where it waited for us while we went on foot around some temples we hadn’t yet looked at. Bit of the same old same old really (more sand, more prickles).
I felt bad for our little pony, it was a bit of a scruffy elderly thing that the driver kept whipping all the time, not hard but the noise grated on my nerves. We were going to buy it an apple but didn’t find stall in good time.Two men stick out in my memory, one rolled out all his paintings to show us (‘yes yes, very nice, no not today thank-you’, then his brother whipped out a couple of cut rubies (so he said) in a piece of tissue; I hold the opinion that you’d have to be an idiot to buy a ruby off some dude who rolls up on a motorbike while you’re sightseeing. Upon refusing the gems, he gestured us close and unwrapped a piece of newspaper containing a stone carving which he indicated had been taken off a temple.
I wanted to shake him! ‘what kind of person do you think I am?’ I came to Bagan to see carvings ATTACHED to the temples not in some guy’s pocket nicked off the wall. God, I get so sick of seeing headless statues and spaces in the walls where murals should be and broken priceless artworks, gives me the shits it really does.
OK third day (man, this is getting really long!). As we had booked seats on the bus to Yangon leaving that afternoon we decided that all we would do touristy would be to go out to one of the biggest temples in our village that we hadn’t seen yet. It turned out to be a pretty crappy morning.
First we decided to go by trishaw as it wasn’t very far away, something I’m not overly comfortable about in the first place. The guy stuck us both on the same one. We were almost there when he hopped off and started pushing us along by hand. I stuck this out for about 15 seconds before I couldn’t take it any more. I leapt off and marched up the road on foot much to the poor guys shock. Call it the full moon, call it a sugar low (too much condensed milk at breakfast) but I just refused to get pushed along like that, makes me feel like a big fat westerner (although they push locals too) and it made me feel just awful (almost in tears awful). Dylan jumped off, paid the man and we walked the last few hundred meters.
In the crowded pagoda we were harassed for money by monks (that’s OK) and beggars. Normally a tolerable situation but after the trishaw incident I’d had enough and soon after we escaped down a dusty walkway out of the crowds and heat back to town for lunch, to swap my book (to Robinson Crusoe the 300 year old original, good but a dragging read but most books were in German so I wasn’t exactly spoilt for choice) and wait for our bus to Yangon.
So that was Bagan

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