Photographing Myanmar: Wonders of Bagan
Oh, Bagan! …Once upon a time I received a message from my wife, asking “what do you think about Burma?”. A quick google image search gave me all I needed to respond. “WE HAVE TO GO!!”, I passionately messaged back. Within a year, we both stepped foot on Myanmar soil. We were ready to start photographing Myanmar!
What sent us in this frenzy? Bagan!
Bagan is situated in the dusty central plains of Myanmar, and is amongst the world’s most mesmerising historical sites. In the small area of the Bagan Archaeological Zone, there are approximately 2,200 temples. Yes, absolutely astonishing! Though the area originally housed over 10,000 Bhuddhist temles, pagodas and monasteries during the 9th to 13th century when central Bagan was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan.
We arrived at night, so the fruits of this place were to be hidden for the time being. Here you have a choice of staying in one of three places; Old Bagan, a small village right on the edge of all the temples; New Bagan, another small developing village further south; Or Nyaung U, further north east and slightly away from the main temple action, it is cheaper here and has restaurants, small markets, etc. We based in Nyaung U and hired bicycles every day to get around, in which you have to regardless to see Bagan, as it’s spread over several kilometres (though, you opt for style and go in a horse and cart).
A celebratory beer between some new friends, my wife and I, sent us to bed happy and excited for what was to come the next morning. Before we knew it, we had mounted our tarnished bikes and set off down the long road between Nyaung U and Old Bagan, passing temple after temple during the rising heat of the mid-morning sun. These temples tower anywhere from 10 to 50 metres and are scattered throughout the sandy plain in their hugely vast numbers. Some you could enter. Some you could climb. Every one of them was unique. Due to the sheer amount of temples, visiting even a solid portion of them was impossible, so picking wisely was the key.
Traversing the hot powerful afternoon sun, scorching sand and prickles, we climbed temple after temple. Some left us hanging on tight with vertigo as we scaled the steep thin steps to reach the top, while others got us lost in the labyrinth of pathways inside. The real view comes from once you’re on top of one of the many temples. Here, Bagan is absolutely magic! Temple after temple, from near and far, soar above the tree line, creating one of the most enchanting sites one could see. You instantly forget about the blistering heat, the countless cuts and scratches from prickles and thorns, the sand that has invaded every nook and cranny, and just gaze upon the beauty before you. The view from on top is where Bagan’s comes to life.
One of the most impressive and memorable experiences I took from Bagan was an early morning sunrise from the top of one of these mammoth structures. Looking out over the plain early morning, you originally won’t see much. But as twilight hour approaches, the temples finally began to show themselves, and the magic was finally unveiled. But it kept getting better. When the sun finally peeked over the horizon, dozens upon dozens of towering temples silhouette themselves above the tree line with the plains dust drifting in between the shadows, glowing with golden light. It’s simply a scene I’ll never forget!
For those who do managed to make it to this enchanting place, make sure you read up on Bagan first and plan your days. The site is simply too big to explore it all, with too many temples and distances way to much. You’ll want to ensure you see some of the best Bagan has to offer before putting your real explorer hat on.