Oh, what a journey it was, that expedition to Bagan back in the year 2000! The moment I stepped off the plane, I knew I was about to experience something extraordinary, something ineffable. Bagan, the ancient city in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, beckoned like a mirage from the annals of history. With over 2,000 temples, stupas, and pagodas stretching as far as the eye can see, it was like entering a realm where time stood still.
Bagan is not just a place; it's a sensation, an emotional and spiritual journey that begins the moment you set eyes on that vast plain of temples. The landscape seems almost otherworldly, especially when bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun. There's a majesty to it that defies words—the terracotta spires piercing the sky, intricate carvings that have weathered centuries of monsoons, and the gilded stupas that gleam like beacons calling out to eternity.
The panorama is staggering, an awe-inspiring vista that stretches as far as the horizon. Each temple has its own story, its own distinct style, yet together they create a harmonious tapestry of architectural and spiritual grandeur. The air itself feels thick with history; you can almost hear the resonant chants of monks and the whispered prayers of pilgrims who have journeyed here for centuries.
I explored Bagan on foot, an unhurried pace that allowed me to truly absorb the vastness and solitude of the place. I would often find myself alone in one of the ancient temples, the silence broken only by the occasional cooing of a pigeon or the distant tinkling of goat bells. In those moments, surrounded by the artistry of generations long gone, I felt like a tiny but connected part of a vast continuum, a witness to something far greater than myself.
For all its beauty, Bagan is not frozen in time. It's a living, breathing monument to human ingenuity and faith. Children play among the ruins, monks meditate in quiet corners, and artists set up easels to capture the landscape's enigmatic beauty. Yet, there's a respect, an almost palpable reverence that permeates everything. This is a place that commands awe, not just for what it is, but for what it represents: a testament to human aspiration towards something greater, something divine.
As the sun dipped below the horizon on my last evening, I climbed the steep steps to the top of one of the taller pagodas. The ascent wasn't too hard, even on all fours, and from this lofty perch, the plain of Bagan stretched out before me like a mystical sea of temples, awash in the golden glow of twilight. This was a once-in-a-lifetime view, a sublime tableau that I knew would remain etched in my memory forever. But coming down, oh dear, that was another story.
Darkness was falling fast, making each step a murky challenge. Is there a proper method for descending, a technique that's not fraught with the imminent danger of stumbling and tumbling down step by stony step to the base? Questions flooded my mind: How many bones would I break? Would I even survive? How far is the nearest hospital? Did I remember to buy my travel insurance? A million questions.
Fear? Oh, there was an abundance of that, too. Trembling, it took a while, but on all fours, I made my way back down the steps, one at a time, — but backwards. By the time I reached the bottom, it was pitch black. Yet, even in that moment, I realised I had found something extraordinary in this remote corner of Myanmar—a place where heaven and earth seemed to touch.
It was more than just a trip; it was an odyssey into the sublime, a journey into the very soul of a place that has captured the imaginations and hearts of travellers for centuries. And as I left Bagan, I carried with me not just photographs or souvenirs, but something far more precious: a sense of wonder that no amount of time or distance could ever diminish.