These were the last few temples I visited in Bagan before leaving in the evening for Mandalay. Even if I enjoyed the sunrise and visited a few sites in Myinkaba, I already felt templed-out come mid-morning that I just wanted to head back to the inn to pack my things and get ready for the evening bus ride. But Mime insists we do a few more stops on temples on our way. I guess he wants to get my money worth so I obliged and it did pay off. I get to meet another interesting character in one of the temples in Old Bagan.
From the lacquerware workshop we headed to Gubyaukgyi, also known as the Great Painted Cave Temple. Like Upali Thein, the interiors of this temple boast colourful painted artworks from the walls extending up to the high ceiling. The artworks, dating as far back as 1113, the time it was built, are protected by glass to avoid people from touching. A powerful torch (available from the caretakers) is needed to view them from the dim light inside. Again photography inside isn’t allowed but that is understandable. The stucco work outside though is worth noticing.
On the pathway outside the entrance are numerous vendors doing their artworks for people to see, and hopefully entice them to buy. I get the usual annoying vendors approching but I seem to be oblivious to them now as I head to Myazedi, just behind Guyaukgyi. Aside from its gilded stupa, It also has an important cultural monument, a pillar where it relates the chronology of Bagan Kings in 4 languages on each side, Pyu, Mon, Old Burmese and Pali. Behind the pool where people bathe some Buddha is the original stupa umbrella.
Reaching Old Bagan, we stopped by Gawdapalin Pahto, the 2nd highest standing at 197ft is also one of the largest temple in Bagan. A crown achievement when it was constructed then, now its main attraction is its imposing feature. Inside, it’s quite modern already due to the 1975 quake where it stands on its epicentre.
The Mahabondi Paya, built in 1215 is unique for its Indian inspired stupa. But what I remembered here most is the lively lady caretaker Phyu-phyu who seemed to be a friend to a lot of Filipino visitors lately. When she showed me that her Filipina friend was Nina (of justwandering.org), I was ecstatic because somehow we have a common ground. We had some good laughs and she applied thanaka on my face before I went off. I also bought a longyi from her.
On the bank of Ayeyarwady River is the golden and circular Bupaya looking over the river, an access point for those who would like some river sightseeing. The original stupa was destroyed by the 1975 earthquake. What caught my attention was the egg like statues guarding the gates. Were they inspired by humpty dumpty?
Finally there’s Thatbyinnyu Pahto, the highest temple in Bagan standing at 207ft. It’s also called the Temple of Omniscience for its monumental size which is a perfect example of Bagan’s middle period architecture. Visitors are not allowed to climb to the terraces and the ground floor has Buddha statues on each side. There is nothing spectacular on the ground level there except for the many vendors waiting to annoy visitors. But I did buy a bootleg copy of George Orwell’s “Burmese Days” from this young girl who insists it was for her schooling.
Finally we left Old Bagan through the Tharabar Gate, the only best preserved remains of the city walls from 9th century. There’s a local belief that one should give respect to the Nat Spirit guarding this gate for safe passage and protection during the journey. As we exit the gate heading to Nyaung U, I realized that I’ll be moving on from Bagan soon. It was everything I had imagined it to be – grand, mystifying and mind-boggling in its vastness.
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.