After a hot shower and a bit of unpacking, we were ready to see Bagan..
Our first stop was Shwezigon Pagoda. Once our cart arrived at the temple grounds and even before getting down from the cart, a few ladies came to greet us and asked us ‘ where are you from ?’ and then introduced themselves , I remember the lady that ‘escorted’ me introduced herself as LaLa, then we were given tiny colourful paper butterflies which were later pinned to our t-shirts and we were told that these were ‘ for lucky’. And when we reached the walkway to the temple, we were told to remove our shoes, and the ladies assured us that our shoes will be safe there. So, we left our sandals on the sand and walked on the walkway. Along the walkway were stalls selling lacquer wares, wood carvings, etc..
History of Shwezigon, extracted from http://www.sacred-destinations.com/burma/bagan-shwezigon-paya-pagoda.htm
The Shwezigon Paya was built in the 11th century by King Anawrahta (r. 1044-77), a recent convert to Theravada Buddhism. Anawrahta was Theravada Buddhism’s first major advocate in Myanmar and the first of the great builders of Bagan. The king had completed three terraces of the Paya when he was killed by a wild buffalo in 1077.
The king built Shwezigon to be a massive reliquary to enshrine a collection of relics, including the Buddha’s frontal and collar bones, a copy of the tooth relic at Kandy , Sri Lanka, and an emerald Buddha image from China. Legend has it that the site of Shwezigon was chosen by a white elephant.
The Shwezigon shrine was completed between 1086 and 1090 by King Kyanzittha (r. 1084-1113), Anawrahta’s successor. Kyanzittha was arguably Bagan’s greatest king and certainly one of its greatest builders: it was under him that Bagan became known as the “city of four million pagodas.” The Shwezigon Paya has retained to this day the essential shape it assumed on completion in 1090, which became the architectural prototype for many other stupas across Myanmar.
Like all Bagan monuments, this great pagoda has been damaged by earthquakes and other factors over the centuries. It has often been repaired, most notably by King Bayinnaung (r. 1551-1581), and the devastating earthquake of 1975 caused extensive damage that necessitated repairs to the top of the dome and the spire.
The Shwezigon Pagoda itself is oriented to the east and is built of solid sandstone blocks. Its graceful golden “bell” reaches a height of 160 feet, supported on a square base 160 feet on a side, an octagonal intermediate base, and three square terraces.
The golden bell is decorated with various designs, encircled by several thick moldings, and is topped with the traditional jeweled hti (umbrella spire) to symbolize sovereignty. It is lit up impressively at night.
The surrounding structures were equally impressive
Throughout our walk, we were occasionally approached by ladies wanting to pin ‘lucky butterfly’ on us. A lady who was carrying a child came up to me and wanted to pin another ‘ lucky butterfly’ on me, I declined but she was very insistent, I gave up, and she pinned the butterfly on me and then started to follow me around and asked for money.. it had reached to a point of irritation- i gave her a packet of biscuit that I had in my bag and asked her to leave. I could hear her cursing under her breath. I removed all the butterflies on my t-shirt. #$%^%$*@#!$#
There was a special area that housed the images of the Nats –free spirits, a total of 37 in all . Extracted from http://www.sacred-destinations.com/burma/bagan-shwezigon-paya-pagoda.htm : Probably the most significant aspect of Shwezigon’s history is that it marked the first royal endorsement of the 37 nat (spirits), a central focus of Burmese religion before the arrival of Buddhism.
King Anawrahta placed 37 figures representig the nat on the lower terraces. Eventually the nats were moved from the terraces to a small hall southeast of the platform called “37 Nats.” This can still be visited (when it’s unlocked) and is an important shrine for Burmese pilgrims, but the sculptures are unfortunately not the originals. These were swiped by a collector and are rumored to be somewhere in Italy.
When we get the chance, we do some eavesdropping – try to pick up what the tour guides were telling their charges. There was an interesting site at the eastern side of the pagoda, where there was a tiny puddle of water, this was intentional , and the purpose was to allow the Myanmar monarchs to look at the reflection of the top of the pagoda without having to tip their head backwards. We had to adjust our positions and then hey, yes, we saw the reflection of the hti just like the monarchs did a few hundred of years ago.
After walking around for a bit, we completed our tour and proceed back to the walkway. Then the ladies came at us again, one girl came to me and said that my shoes were at her stall, I followed her, and true enough, my sandals were neatly arranged in front of her stall…Oh..this was getting sinister and I knew that my other three traveling companions would be facing the same predicament. I put on my sandals while looking over her stalls and asking her for the price of some of the items, but I couldn’t see anything that I liked, I apologized and left her stall, she tried to persuade me to get back to her stall but I was firm and left. I was hoping to find the rest of the guys at the exit but no sign of them, then I saw AhPhenng coming towards me, her feet bare and said that the other lady did not let her take her shoes, I followed her back to the stall and the lady was there, arms akimbo and she didn’t looked very friendly at all..oh err…we asked for AhPheeenggg shoes and lady said that she knew what we want and we promised to buy something from her stall, we tried to reason with her while AhPheennggg sneakily put on her shoes and then we fled…haha…and yes, we could hear some curses thrown at us…
Htilominlo temple was built in AD1218 by King Nadaungmya, there is an interesting story behind the temple and why it was built , extracted from http://www.ancientbagan.com/htilominlo-temple.htm King Nantaungmya erected the temple on this spot because it was here that he was chosen, from among five brothers, to be the crown prince. Nantaungmya was King Narapati Sithu’s son. The selection of the heir to the throne had a tradition, which was to erect a white umbrella and the future ruler would be chosen when the white umbrella tilts in his position. After the event, it was decided by the state policy’s council.
When we arrived at the entrance, the care taker was there, it seemed that the place is usually kept under lock and key, Mr Caretaker let us into the hall- but no photography. He showed the remaining murals on the walls undamaged by the 1975 earth quake.
Extracted from http://www.photodharma.net/Myanmar/Upali/Upali.htm – The Sima was renovated during the reign of the Konbaung Dynasty in the late 18th century, which is when the mural paintings date from. They contain scenes of the Going-Forth of many of the previous Buddhas; other famous scenes from the Life of the Buddha, like his son’s Going-Forth and Ajita’s confirmation as the coming Metteyya Buddha; the Rains’ retreats; and the consecration of the Sima.
The building was badly damaged in the 1975 earthquake and has been roughly shored up to prevent collapse, though some of the paintings have been badly affected by the quake.
After out visit to Upali Thien, W.Hoong made a request to the drivers that we want to visit temples that tourist don’t usually go to.. we pointed to an interesting looking square building and a tall looming wooden structure and said we wanted to visit these. We stopped at the main road and took a short stroll- off the beaten track – well, we couldn’t see these structure mentioned on the Bagan map..
Then we finally came up close to the magnificent wooden tower/house- this structure looked so different from the temples that we have seen so far and was so grand and outstanding that we couldn’t figure out why it was not marked on the map. Apart from the stone stairs – the rest of the structure was made of wood. What is this unknown building built for ? We were expecting someone to come up to us anytime to chase us off the premise ..but there was not a soul around….