Last night I met a couple from the United States and a fellow Canadian at the roof top restaurant of the Thiri Marlar Hotel in Bagan. We had a lively conversation about our travel experiences and in particular Yangon and the countryside of Burma. I had a very good dinner of sweet and sour chicken with rice done Chinese style along with a Myanmar beer. The beer unfortunately tasted like “beer flavored” water but never mind. I did not come here to drink beer anyway.
We collectively decided to travel together with a hire car for the full day. The total charge for an air-conditioned SUV with driver was $45 US dollars all-inclusive. So split among 4 people it was a bargain. The day started at 7:00am and we toured around the temples of the old city of Bagan. We had incredible luck as the sun was blazing all day. Only yesterday it was pouring rain so we were quite fortunate to get decent weather.
We would head back to the hotel at noon for a nap until 3:30pm. This was essential as the temperature reached 40C between 12:00 and 3:30 and was simply unbearable.
After the afternoon break the light changed significantly and turned many of the structures into a gold color. The old stone was alive with hues of red, pink, silver and gold. It was as If ancient spirits were painting the walls as we gazed at them. The green grass and trees surrounding the structures created a stunning contrast to the red stone. This was a mythical sight and to our amazement it was a sight all to ourselves. We hardly saw any other tourist’s or westerners. We are truly in untouched land.
I loved seeing Angkor Wat in Cambodia a few months back and it was a fantastic place. However my memory is tainted with the sight of pink and red umbrellas from tour guides and throngs of people milling about in a mass of picture taking. There were very few moments of solitude. What makes Bagan, Burma so special is its intimacy. You can walk away from the road and through wild country surrounded by temples of all shapes and sizes. There are so many in your field of view. Time seems to slow down as you process and absorb the sights before you. There is simply no place on this great planet, that I have seen, that looks anything like this. There is simply no comparison.
The penultimate moment was standing on the roof of a towering Pagoda and watching the sun set on a horizon. Small peaks dotting the landscape in the hundreds as a mist formed above the tree line. The view was a panorama of an ancient time; the view was also of myth and legend. There were only a few others there with us watching the sun move along the horizon.
The entire moment was deeply personal and private for all of us. I looked at my fellow traveller on this day and asked, “Pick a century?” He smiled and said “1612”. Nothing could tell us otherwise except the clothes on our backs. There were no telephone lines in our view. No cell phone towers, no aircraft overhead … just a horse and cart kicking up dust from the road far in the distance. The sky turned pink and the day ended with a wisp of wind that came and touched us all on our cheeks. Perhaps this was the kiss from the ancients, who stood alongside us, in a place that has only just welcomed the 21st century.