Bagan or bust!

In November, we had a four day weekend for Full Moon Day. We traveled with our neighbors Amy and Okkar to Bagan, Myanmar. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 temples stood in Bagan. Now just 2,200 exist.

In the months leading up to our move to Myanmar, Bagan was an obvious “must do.” Bagan seemed unattainable and the idea of thousands of golden temples against a lush green background seemed surreal.  After months of fantasizing about the reality of standing amongst those ancient stupas, the reality felt no different than the fantasy. Bagan truly is magical.

While we all admire the courage of Anthony Bourdain’s 18 hour plus train ride to Bagan  in the Myanmar, Parts Unknown episode, an 8 hour bus ride seemed like the more logical option.

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Scott, Okkar and Amy as we start our bus ride to Bagan – 8 hours later, we arrived.

 

Our guide explained the structure of the pagoda and how it relates to the teachings of the Buddha.

Our guide explained the structure of the pagoda and how it relates to the teachings of the Buddha.

As we walked around one of the pagodas, we found this precious little one sitting by herself.

As we walked around one of the pagodas, we found this precious little one sitting by herself.

Each pagoda is more beautiful than the next. Each has a striking contrast of moss against  deep red bricks.

Each pagoda is more beautiful than the next. Each has a striking contrast of moss against deep red bricks.

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They keep going and going…

So excited to finally be standing on the top of a pagoda looking over the plains with thousands more.

So excited to finally be standing on the top of a pagoda looking over the plains with thousands more.

Scott found his happy place.

Scott found his happy place.

Did you know where Sesame seeds came from?

Did you know where Sesame seeds came from?

Approaching a temple with beautiful and ornate details.

Approaching a temple with beautiful and ornate details.

Local women organizing lotus flowers that they will eventually manipulate the flowers to create thread. They use the lotus thread to  weave fabrics.

Local women organizing lotus flowers that they will eventually manipulate the flowers to create thread. They use the lotus thread to weave fabrics.

This ancient pagoda was built by a father for his youngest son who would eventually become king.

This ancient pagoda was built by a father for his youngest son who would eventually become king.

Thrilled to be in Bagan.

Every pagoda has a stunning Buddha hiding behind red bricked walls.

Every Pagoda has a stunning Buddha hiding behind red bricked walls.

Amy is courageous to try the water leading into a pagoda.

Amy was courageous to try the water leading into a pagoda.

This Buddha figure was so large that it was difficult to fit into a photograph.

This Buddha figure was so large that it was difficult to fit into a photograph.

The view from the Bagan Observation Tower.

The view from the Bagan Observation Tower.

This guy blew my mind!

This guy blew my mind!

The Tourist Lounge at the Bagan train station. The staff at the train station insisted that we sit inside. The Tourist Lounge at the Bagan train station. The staff insisted that we sit inside this room and wait for the train… no thanks!

Scott getting situated on the train.Scott getting situated on the train, quite an ordeal.

The "Ordinary Class."

The “Ordinary Class.”

Smiling and clean! My look was much different as we got off the train 21 hours later.

Smiling and clean! My look was much different as we got off the train 21 hours later.

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Just like The Darjeeling Limited.

Just like The Darjeeling Limited.

And we're off!

And we’re off!

Leaving the Bagan train station.

Leaving the Bagan train station.

I fell in love with these sweet kids instantly. They ran over to the window of the train when they saw us pull up.

I fell in love with these sweet kids instantly. They ran over to the window of the train right when they saw us pull up.

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Watching the sunrise.

Watching the sunrise.

 

The 16 hour ride slowly turned into a 21 hour trip.

The 16 hour ride slowly turned into a 21 hour trip.

 

 

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“One for Buddha, one for father, one for mother, one for Wednesday and one for good luck.”

Someone recently told me, “Shwedagon Pagoda isn’t technically one of the 7 wonders of the world, but it should be!” Agreed.

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Our second visit to Shwedagon Pagoda.

Our second visit to Shwedagon Pagoda.

Shwedagon Pagoda is an icon of SE Asia and the Buddhist religion. It has also been symbolic of our move to Myanmar. When I would daydream about life in Asia, Shwedagon was the place I envisioned exploring. It was the place I expected  to fall in love with.

The size alone is striking. You can enter the pagoda from four entrances; North, South, East and West. Each offers a different perspective of the enormous structure and each has a different feeling of grandeur.

Every column at Shwedagon is more beautiful than the next. A lot of them are made out of pure jade, this one is glass mosaic.

Every column at Shwedagon is more beautiful than the next. A lot of them are made out of pure jade, this one is glass mosaic.

Bells like these hang from the umbrella (the top of the stupa). These bells surround the grounds and provide enchanting tunes.

Bells like these hang from the umbrella (the top of the stupa). These bells surround the grounds and provide enchanting tunes.

Entering through the South Gate offers a massive marble staircase with teak ceilings. Vendors line the steps selling flowers,  mala beads, Buddha posters, paper umbrellas, fruit, incense and anything else that could be considered an offering to the thousands of Buddhas and shrines.

Offerings made by locals in a large meditation room.

Offerings made by locals in a large meditation room.

At the top of the stairs awaits many middle aged men in Longyis eager to take you on a tour. For 10,000 kyat (pronounced “chat”) they will show you “all important places” and “all beautiful Buddha.” We decided that seeing “all beautiful Buddha” was very important.

"All beautiful Buddha."

“All beautiful Buddha.”

Myanmar is famous for its Teak. This Buddha is about 4.5 feet tall and made from one solid piece of Teak.

Myanmar is famous for its Teak. This Buddha is about 4.5 feet tall and made from one solid piece of Teak.

The first thing our tour guide wanted to show us was one of the seven shrines that surrounded the golden stupa. He took us to “Wednesday Corner” and asked “What day you born?” Hmmm, well frankly, we weren’t sure so he said, “Okay okay. Wednesday is okay.” He showed us how to take the small tin cup on the edge of the fountain, fill it up with water and then pour it over the head of the Buddha. Each cup full of water that is poured over the shrine has a different meaning, “one for Buddha, one for father, one for mother, one for Wednesday and one for good luck.”

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“One for Buddha, one for father, one for mother, one for Wednesday and one for good luck.”

The structure itself sits on the top of a hill surrounded by hundreds of smaller buildings. Each smaller building is the home to shrines, Buddhas and offerings. In every building, you will find locals meditating, eating,  socializing and texting. The people watching is spectacular.

A monk taking a nap. Lots of naps happen here.

A monk taking a nap. Lots of naps happen here.

Smaller stupas frame the large pagoda.

Smaller stupas frame the large pagoda.

A local man meditating in one of the many rooms at Shwedagon.

A local man meditating in one of the many rooms at Shwedagon.

A little boy squats into prayer position below four golden Buddhas.

A little boy squats into prayer position below four golden Buddhas.

A young couple prays together in front of the Bodhi tree.

A young couple prays together in front of the Banyan tree.

This is a typical contrast. Person praying and person on their smart phone.

This is a typical contrast. Person praying and person on smart phone.

Each time you visit Shwedagon, you will discover something new. It is so large and has  so many nooks and crannies to be discovered. I love finding new rooms that I have not visited and new perspectives that I have not yet discovered.

One of many rooms filled with 15-20 foot tall Buddhas.

One of many rooms filled with 15-20 foot tall Buddhas.

Mala beads and flowers hang in front of many statues.

Mala beads and flowers hang in front of many statues.

A large meditation room. The monk in front is  about to kneel down in front of the LED lit Buddha in the center.

A large meditation room. The monk in front is about to kneel down in front of the LED lit Buddha in the center.

There is so much to learn about this true world wonder. I will continue to go back again and again and open my heart to this incredible place.