Sunday, May 13, 2018

Day in Bagan Part 2: Shopping, More Temples and Sunset

Earlier I requested my tour guide Mr B to show me some shops for lacquerware, so we went to one just before lunch in Myinkaba, or the Bamboo Village, an area near Old Bagan filled with small workshops/ateliers for lacquerware, which Bagan was most famous for other than its sights.

One we went was called Mya Thit Sar, and from inside I was given a tour by the owner on how these beautiful pieces of lacquerware was made by hand and over a long period of time. The process started with the base or frame which was made with bamboo strips or wood and sometimes mixed with horsehair, then the lacquer resin (coming from the local tree) was mixed with ashes and applied, then dried in the shaded den for a week or so for it to set. It was then polished and washed with this process of applying resin, drying, polishing and washing repeated several times – as many as 16 for the most elaborate pieces. Then it was etched with the desired pattern, and painted with color made by tree gum mixed with different minerals. Each piece involved such labor intensive process entirely by hand right on the premise in small, family-run scale and may take as long as 6 months to make from start to finish – learning that made me appreciate even more the beauty of the piece and what it took to make one.

I spent quite a bit of time at the shop in front after the workshop tour, picking and choosing the pieces I want. I was in the hunt for items that can complement my ceramic collection at home and there were so many to choose from, some in more traditional patterns but some more modern, similar to those I saw in Japan, with the traditional black and red color. Let’s just say I took home more than quite a few of those, especially they were more than reasonably priced even before much haggling to get a further discount.

After shopping and lunch, we continued touring around the Old Bagan, visiting the old city gate then a few more pagodas. I knew very little about Burmese culture and history, and Buddhist beliefs and art, and I was glad Mr B gave me a thorough crash course on those as we walked through different religious sites, albeit a little hurried given the time constraint of a short day trip. For example, different poses and mudra (hand gesture) of Buddha status have different meaning – a seated Buddha represents one meditating or teaching, the reclining one resting or achieving Nirvana while a standing one may symbolize travelling. Then there were the mudras or hand gestures – some may mean blessing, some preaching, some meditating or providing protection. Learning all these trivia information did make the visits more interesting as I was able to see many of the different statues in one day in many of the pagodas.

There were quite a few more of pagodas on our itinerary: Thatbyinyu Temple is the tallest of it all at 200 feet; Dhammayangyi Temple was the biggest and one with the unusual settings of a double Buddha statues on one side to symbolize the past and present lives of the Buddha; Ananda Temple was known to be the prettiest and the grandest, with one golden standing Buddha statue facing each direction, and the Manuha Pagoda with its giant golden alm bowl in the hall.

It’s a pity that many of the temples were damaged by the earthquake in 2016 and many restorations were still underway – some stupas were still in scaffolding when I went there. That also means that visitors were forbidden to climb up to the pagoda either from inside or outside - that used to be a popular activity for people to watch the sunset. So now visitors could only see the sunset at the designated observation point up on the hill as opposed to from the top of a temple. After a small break in late afternoon back in my hotel, Mr B picked me up and took me to the spot, where I was joined by literally hundreds of visitors waiting for the sun to come down. You do now need a much longer lenses to capture the right sunset moments than before, but I am glad that I could see that on a much solid ground with a much safer climb, and be able to take a few good photos of the iconic view of Bagan sunset over the backdrop of a thousands pagoda.

More pictures from my Myanmar journey:

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