Bagan (aka Pagan) is an ancient Myanmar city that is known for its many historical landmarks and relics. It is home to the largest area in the world where one can find so many ancient Buddhist pagodas, temples, stupas and ruins, many of which date back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Two thousand and 215 temples and stupas still stand from about, as what many believe, 13,000 temples and stupas that originally stood here. Many were damaged and are now in their present state only after the 1975 earthquake. Today, only horse-drawn carriages are given access to the site to ensure protection of the ruins. This mystical city is located on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwady River, about 140 kilometers from Mandalay and was the capital of ancient Myanmar kingdoms.
The city was first established as a major city by King Pyinbya in 874. After unifying Myanmar or Burma under Theravada Buddhism in 1057, King Anawratha (also spelled Anawrahta or Aniruddha) made Bagan the capital city and constructed the thousands of temples just within a 42-sq km area. Marco Polo described the site as a “gilded city alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sounds of monks’ robes”. Of the remaining temples today, some are well maintained, some are badly damaged and some are hidden in overgrown grass, but all never cease to amaze tourists for just the overall awe that the place exudes. Visitors are advised to be respectful by removing their shoes when stepping in or on one of the ruins no matter how tumbled-down they are. The glory days of these temples and the city ended in 1287 when the Mongols arrived and pillaged the region. What remains today is a stunning view of ancient ruins that equal the fascination created by the Egyptian Pyramids. It is such a site to behold, despite the fact that UNESCO has not declared it a World Heritage Site. The reason for this is that many of the stupas and temples were haphazardly restored by the military government and so have altered the original architectural styles. The government has also constructed a golf course, paved highway and modern watchtower within.
The Bagan landscape is completely stunning as stupas spike to the heavens to as far as eyes can see across the horizon. A few of these ancient structures are Ananda Temple built by King Kyanzittha, Bupaya Pagoda built in 850 but was damaged by the 1975 earthquake and now restored, Dhammayangyi, the biggest temple but unfinished, Dhammayazika Pagoda built by King Narapatisithu, Gawdawpalin Temple, Mahabodhi Temple, which is a small replica of the Bodh Gaya Temple in India, 61-meters high Thatbyinnyu Temple, the tallest temple and Tharabha Gate constructed in 850, among many more. Also found in the area is the Myazedi inscription, which is considered as Myanmar’s “Rosetta Stone” containing four ancient languages.
The fastest way to get to the ancient city from the major cities of Yangon and Mandalay is by plane on board Air Bagan, Air Mandalay or Myanma Air. There are modern hotels, accommodations and tourist facilities in New Bagan, which is a few kilometers from the ancient site and about 15-20 minutes away by car from the domestic airport. There are also overnight train and bus rides from Yangon and Mandalay.