From legends to lacquer to lunch, Bagan has been a slam dunk of adventures.
|You see what I see|
Heading out early to beat the heat we made stops at a number of pagodas and even climbed a couple layers of one to get good shots of the incredible number of these holy structures in view. The real destination was to see two reclining Buddhas. These fascinate me because not only are the crowded into giant warehouse-kind of space but they are serene and comfortable at rest. I like the fact that Buddha rests, since he leads his followers into meditation. And throughout our Christian gospels, Jesus goes off from the crowd to rest, to be alone and refresh. Reclining Buddhas make for crazy photos, especially if you take the long view from the feet. On the balls of two feet today, there was no set of symbols or messages. They were just big feet.
The major pagodas have legends. It’s a family thing. The first King of Bagan (Pagan) was King Anawrahta. He began building Schwezigon Pagoda (contains relics of Gautama Buddha, two bones and a tooth). The King died and his son finished the project. It took 32 years. Then this son, who became king, built the temple which houses four enormous Buddhas, also visited yesterday, known as Ananda Temple and Monastery, built in 1091. Then the first kings grandson constructed the highest Temple in the Bagan range - Thatbyinnyu - in 1144. It sports four levels of terrace which the brave can get up to by tall brick steps to get an overview of the presence of hundreds and hundreds of temples of every style across the fields of acacia thorn trees and other scraggly growth surviving in this heat. And then the first King’s great-grandson built the largest Temple called Dhammayangyi. It looks like an Egyptian pyramid and is made out of large red bricks.This king has a bad reputation, having slaughtered his father, elder brother and queen. And had a rather violent demise himself.
|feet view of Buddha|
Ok That’s only one family of builders. I was anxious to see the Manuha Temple. Here a story unfolds explaining the presence of the regions biggest sitting Buddha. He looks like he is packed in a box that’s too small. There’s a reason. King Anawrahta had requested the holy Buddha papers written on palm leaf that were in possession of the Mon King, who refused to turn them over. Therefore the Mon King was confined to a small area from which he could not move, i.e. he was in prison. When the Mon King Manuha died, his son built on that very spot a temple and filled its walls with the largest sitting Buddha in such a cramped space one can field his discomfort and pain. In this compound is also a long stable like structure where an enormous reclining Buddha lays straight legged and immoveable, one hand under his head, with not much view of life on the outside.
In the compound of the Ganesh Pagoda (two hairs of Buddha are ensconced here) there is another enormous reclining Buddha a full 72 feet long and called Shinbinthatyaung, also seems to be in what resembles a too tight, torturous tomb. He faces east with head pointing south unlike the other reclining Buddha which is more regulation style, facing west with head to the north, the traditional position of Buddha prior to entering Nirvana. I think I’ve Buddha-ed out.
|Final lacquer plate|
|Takes all this for one plate|
As the morning steamed, we visited Bagan’s most delicate and dedicated crafts house called Bagan House. We were led through the entire process of a plate - being made from long thin pieces of bamboo swirled into a pot or a plate or a bowl - as it was painted with lacquer, a thick black mush from the lacquer tree, then left to dry a week, then painted again, left to dry another week, and again and again til a design was etched in, then colors one by one, drying between each addition, until 15 steps were completed and the highest quality of lacquer artwork results. Horsehair is another thread like substance used to weave in and out of bamboo to form cups. It takes six months to make one piece and a year to make the higher level lacquer ware. Of course there is a shop to wet your appetite. But the process is fascinating and the end result valuable. There is an university where these craftsmen are trained near our hotel.
|Tink with ingredients|
|Pickled tea leaf salad|
|May cooks fish curry|
Best in the day was the invitation from Tink, our local guide for Myanmar, to join him and his mother and sister for a cooking course lunch at his home. Not far from the lacquer factory, and under a prolific large mango tree, where an entire room is dedicated to Buddha imagery and adoration, sits his home. And on a rectangle bamboo table about the size of the double doors of a church was a bamboo mat where the family sits to eat and chat. We were given a table and a fresh limeade, having to wait a bit because the electricity had gone off. It goes on and off all over Bagan, day and night, even at the hotel. Meanwhile Tink discussed the little bowls of spices laid out on a bamboo tray: salt, tumeric powder, chicken broth powder, chopped peanuts, palm sugar, chili powder. These would be part of almost every dish. Once the electricity returned, Tink’s sister began sauteing scallions and tomatoes in oil in preparation for a fish curry to be made from a Feather fish from the river with added spices. Then the grated green mangos were adorned with the same spices and topped with fried onions in saffron for my favorite salad of the day. Bright green, tiny, tumeric leaf was the subject matter of another salad, and so was picked green tea leaf, mixed with salt, peanut powder, sesame seeds, tomato and fried beans (from a package.) This was just flat out delicious. Then to be offered fresh sweet mango from the very tree under which we lunched was a joy. Of course it was more than we could finish but we were grateful for the real time with real people of Bagan.
Other events included a visit to the best puppet maker in Bagan and a dusty stop by an orphanage run by a Buddhist monk who personally rescued 80 youngsters from the devastating cyclone 5 years ago. He has quite a large space with various opened and closed houses, and the boys are in the process of being normal boys and/or monks, if they want, even playing soccer in their rust red robes. We met the director, a modest monk with wire-rimmed glasses. He says various international groups give him support and a brick dormitory is about to be finished. These kids have no living relatives because of the loss in the storm. They are fed, educated, housed and loved in this ministry. Thank God for the Buddhist monks.