Monday, May 11, 2015

Sunsets and Surprises: Thoughts from Bagan, Myanmar

The sunset from the top of the temple
(My trip to Bagan was not what we expected. The afternoons were intolerably hot, so I hid away inside the hotel room until dusk. Succumbing to boredom and monotony were a part of my days in Bagan, but on the very last day everything changed).

Excerpt from my diary:

Another day in Bagan. We spent the afternoon sleeping in to avoid the hot sun.  Around 3:00 pm I went outside to get a late lunch at Weather Spoons. I have eaten there every single day since we arrived in Bagan. I should feel guilty for frequenting the same restaurant and not trying others, I even ordered the same dish – hamburger and fries – two days in a row. I saw the same dog there again, sleeping lazily in his usual spot against the wall, between the fan and one of the chairs. That place is an oasis of comfort in this wild west.

I am tired of ambiguity, so I cling to what I know. There is already too much uncertainty here, it drains me. I don’t want to move because I don’t know if my next movement will be more or less uncomfortable than remaining still. The roads are getting dustier and drier with each passing day. And I grow to detest that red sand more and more.

I decided to go for another walk at 4:00 pm. I had only two options. One was the main road we had come in on from the jetty. It was a dirt path lined with cafes and shops. I didn’t want to deal with vendors and was feeling misanthropic, so I chose the path less-traveled. It’s a wide paved road, probably the most well maintained in the area, yet it seems rarely traveled by cars and it is completely devoid of pedestrians. Strange that the only well-maintained road is the least-used. I like the road because of its wide, even sidewalk, few potholes, no people, minimal traffic, and that it is lined with temples and pagodas on both sides. Here I can wander down tiny dirt roads, made only by the frequent tread of human foot traffic and mopeds to some isolated and scenic temples.

Last time I was on this road a police officer, one of the many who stand watch at various posts throughout the town, pointed down a dirt path and told us there was a good place to watch the sunset. He said we could climb the temple, a rare treat considering that scaling the temples is off limits to most tourists, given the structural instability. Today I meandered down a different path, but somehow arrived at the same temple, though I didn’t know it at the time. I walked around, took a few photos, and were getting ready to head back when I saw a woman on the roof of the large temple. This was it, I realized, this was the place the police officer told me about. 

On the ground floor, a maroon-robed monk sat quietly. I greeted the large Buddha, who remained alone in this solitary structure. Usually there are four Buddhas, one facing each direction in a single temple, but in this temple he was alone. I had to climb the steps on all fours limbs. They were very steep and narrow, and the ceilings hung low. I felt like I was climbing through a hole in a cave. At the top, the view was magnificent. There were only two other men sitting quietly, waiting for the sunset. There were no vendor selling souvenirs, no child peddlers asking for money, no large groups of tourists tainting every photo. There was just us.

I watched the sunset quietly. The only noises were the songs of birds, quieted by the distance. The sunlight changed from a dim orange to a burning gold, then to a pale blue. To east the sky was streaked with rays of white light. It was the most marvelous things I ever saw.

In the distance the sound of a man’s mournful chant was wafting through the air like incense. I love shoeing away tree branches and climbing over brambly thorn bushes, exploring the unexplored areas, unchanged for thousands of years. Seen by my eyes only today. 

 - November 8th, 2014 from our hotel in Bagan, Myanmar

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