The chill of the early morning wind was really pleasant in Bagan this time of the year. Yes, I got up early and got out of the hotel just in time when Mime and Chune just arrived at the front gate exactly 5am. We started our ride again to the direction of Old Bagan while I survey the surroundings, now familiar even under the sheaths of darkness ready to wake up any moment. I have no idea which temple Mime plans to take me for the sunrise except that it’s somewhere between Old Bagan and Myinkaba, the next village. He has proven to be very reliable and knowledgeable as a guide aside from being just a horse cart driver so I’ll trust his recommendation this time.
The early morning dimness starts to fade as I make out figures of temples ahead of us. Chune again entered a dirt road to a temple, just moderate in size. There was a van there so I expect there were already people there at the top terrace. I pulled my torch and made my way up the narrow staircase which I’m used to climbing by now. When I got up, there were already a few people there and noticed they were mostly photographers as well.
“This is perfect!” when I saw the view upon reaching the terrace. Mime was right. It has all the elements I was looking for. I checked my compass to where the sun would rise, the surroundings on potential foregrounds and backgrounds for composition and finally where I would place myself. I climbed up to the 2nd to the top level of the stupa on a corner and grounded myself there.
The magic began when the sun started rising on the horizon. When long shadows extend on the temples giving them shape and highlight. The light intensified rendering a golden hue to the whole landscape. Meanwhile balloons on the horizon started venturing for the sky. Playfully moving around like a bee, checking out the temples. This was the scene I had imagined I would be seeing and it was right there before my eyes. It was nothing short of magnificent.
A thousand temples scattered in the plains of Bagan dating back to 1000 AD but is still not listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. One reason is they don’t approve of the methods of restoration being done by the junta. But that does not mean UNESCO is not working to preserve them, in fact some people are doing restorations on particular temples damaged from earthquakes. Not all the temples in Bagan are old, they are already mixed with new temples built by the Junta and it will continue to increase in numbers. “Why so many temples?” I asked. Well for Buddhism, the more the better to say it simply.
I was satisfied with that morning shoot. When the sun was high some of the people have already left. Again I was one of the last who went down the temple. There was only a lone vendor at the terrace displaying his paintings. I’m won’t mention the name of the temple here, I also noticed it’s not written in any books yet. I know it won’t prevent people from going there and I’m sure people would recognize it from the pictures. But who knows, I hope if ever I come back it won’t be as packed as Pyathada Paya was.
I went back to the horse cart and told Mime it was time for breakfast! It was a great way to start my 4th day in Myanmar and now we’re headed to Myinkaba nearby.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.