We got off the train after twenty hours of bouncing around on the tracks, bouncing so much that I would occasionally go flying off the bench. We had a sleeping cot and it was much easier on the body to be horizontal but it was impossible to sleep as the trains creaking and the car’s incessant rocking stole away any thought of relaxation. Originally, we thought that we would be sharing our sleeper car with Rohan and Jill but as we boarded we found out that single men travelled in the single men car and single women travelled with the single women. We ended up sharing with Susan & Gerard, an Australian couple and the only other couple in the group. They were very nice but it was nearly impossible to have a conversation due to the deafening sound of the train.
Bagan was our destination, the land of about 2,000 pagodas (originally there were 3,000). On arrival, we headed to our hotel and then began exploring the area. We decided to rent electric bikes and ride to a huge pagoda for sunset. From the top we had an aerial view of the surrounding pagodas. They just go on and on, seemingly forever.
The “Old” Bagan area is well conceived and it is easy to ride on it’s wide roads and internals trails. We had a lot of fun racing to the pagoda and back as the electric bike was fast and required little effort. The next day we would use manual bikes with the group, getting some much needed exercise.
Our tour guide, Lewis, took us to several pagodas over the course of 2 days, making our small dent about six pagodas of the more than 2,000 pagodas in Bagan, barely scratching the surface. Lewis took us to a number of pagodas that were, seemingly, all attached to terrible stories of nasty, murderous kings who commissioned them. Executing bricklayers who didn’t lay the bricks tight enough or murdering the architect so that they wouldn’t give the design to anyone else. One particularly odious king killed his family and then built a pagoda in tribute to them as a kind of penance.
One thing that caught my attention was that nearly all depictions of Buddha in Burma have the same “touching the earth” mudra. This hand gesture or “mudra” relates to a story of the Buddha. If I recall correctly, shortly after the Buddhas enlightenment he met a few ascetics on the road. They quizzed him on his awakening and asked how did he know that this had occurred at which he reached his right hand to the ground and said, “the earth is my witness.” I’m not really clear as to why all the pagodas house only these Buddhas but it is interesting.
We found a favorite restaurant called Bibo, which I had found on Trip Advisor. It’s a two person operation run by Thant & Thu Thu. Thant takes the orders and makes the drinks (an excellent mojito was $1.50). Thu Thu was six months old in 1989 when her family was forcibly removed from their home among the pagodas in order to create an archeological park for tourists, which is now called “Old Bagan.” This cute couple met while working at a hotel in Bagan and then opened their own restaurant, Bibo. They are expecting their first child in April.
The morning we left there was strange music playing in the early morning air. Lewis told me that it was coming from a nearby monastery. It was the most complex and even chaotic music I have ever heard. I could have sat and listened to it all morning but we were rushed onto a bus that would take us on a boat up the Irawaddy River to Mandalay.