Surviving the heat in Bagan: a photographer’s paradise.

DSC06411It was almost unbearably hot in Bagan. The temperature often crept towards 45°C in the afternoon so we’d get up ridiculously early in the morning to explore some of the 2200 temples in the area. Then we’d try to find someplace relatively cool to hole up for the afternoon to avoid dissolving into a sweaty mess during the heat of the day. That’s easier said than done when there are frequent multiple-hour blackouts with no AC to cool you down, or even a simple fan to crawl under.

Fuseboards like this one behind the reception desk of our hotel might have something to do with the electricity problems

Fuseboards like this one behind the reception desk of our hotel might have something to do with the electricity problems

Luckily, the beauty of Bagan makes it all worthwhile. As with everywhere in Burma, the people are almost comically friendly and helpful. Even in this touristy part of the country (touristy by Burmese standards that is), they were always curious about who you are, where you’re from, and what you think of their country. Even more so than in the remoter parts of India, people regularly see you and ask  to take a pciture with you just because you are such a novelty to them. Anybody that speaks English has already met a lot of tourists, but still any conversation I had with a local had a very genuine feel to it. They don’t spend any time trying to sell you stuff either. Maybe they ask once, but after you politely refuse they stop immediately and start asking questions simply out of interest.

Lidia and our friend Immanuel included in yet another Burmese family photo!

Lidia and our friend Immanuel included in yet another Burmese family photo!

Burma is a land that is lost in the past and this is apparent everywhere you look. For the first few days here I had the feeling that something was off, or maybe just different, when I was looking around. It took me a while to realise what it was: a complete lack of advertising. Advertisers give out huge shop signs for free in most developing countries with the caveat that they also bear the logo of whatever corporation is paying for the sign… and the logo is usually twice the size of the shop name. No matter where we looked, there was never any escape. Adverts have visually assaulted us everywhere we’ve been on this trip. A Coca Cola sign here, a Vodafone sign there, and so on, ad infinitum. Burma is different, at least for the time being. At most, all a shop will display is a miniscule little sign with the name in simple text and that’s it. It makes for a nice change!

A small golden temple.

A small golden temple.

This is the closest thing to an ATM you'll find anywhere in Burma!

This is the closest thing to an ATM you’ll find anywhere in Bagan! (Although that is changing fast, as they can now be found in the capital, Yangon)

After my last post on meditation (some have called it an ocean of words – thanks Magda!) I’ve decided to keep this one short and let the pictures mostly speak for themselves. That’s pretty easy to do when the post is about Bagan, which is a photographer’s paradise if I’ve ever seen one. Before I dump a tonne of photos though, there is one scene that I will write about as it’s one that will stay with me forever. We were driving down to Salay in a taxi, a village a few hours south of Bagan. Burma is not a rich country in general, but travel more than 5 minutes outside any city and it’s like steeping back in time to the middle ages. No cars, no motorbikes, no bicycles, just walkers and the odd ox drawn cart for heavy loads. At one point we crossed over a dry riverbed about a kilometre wide. There was no bridge – it’s only passable in the dry season. As we made our bumpy way across on the makeshift track, I saw two buddhist monks making the trek across the dusty, desicated riverbed in the scalding heat of the day. Dressed in traditional maroon robes, they carried their alms bowls with them to the town (more than 4km distant) to collect food from generous givers. The sun beat down on their bright red paper umbrellas through the hazy sky. I was too mesmerised by the image to take a photo, but I figured I’d mention it here anyway…

Ox carts are the main mode of transporting goods outside of the major cities.

Ox carts are the main mode of transporting goods outside of the major cities.

People everywhere chew betel nut mixed with a paste and wrapped in a leaf... This is a mild narcotic, similar to nicotine, that turns your mouth blood red while at the same time giving you mouth cancer. Sounds great!

People everywhere chew betel nut mixed with a paste and wrapped in a leaf… This is a mild narcotic, similar to nicotine, that turns your mouth blood red while at the same time giving you mouth cancer. Sounds great!

Nuns dressed in traditional pink robes, queueing for food donations in the morning

Nuns dressed in traditional pink robes, queueing for food donations in the morning

We burnt the soles of feet climbing to the top of this temple in the midday sun. It was worth it for the views though!

We burnt the soles of feet climbing to the top of this temple in the midday sun. It was worth it for the views though.

Like I said, the view from the top was worth it!

Like I said, the view from the top was worth it!

A local Burmese bus

A local Burmese bus

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The Burmese seem to be pretty fond of rice...

The Burmese seem to be pretty fond of rice…

This enormous bowl at the base of a temple is filled with money - donations from the locals, many of whom survive on a dollar a day or less.

This enormous bowl at the base of a temple is filled with money – donations from the locals, many of whom survive on a dollar a day or less.

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A monk paying his respects at the base of a giantic golden statue of Buddha

A monk paying his respects at the feet of a giantic golden statue of Buddha

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The outsides of all the temples are covered in stucco artwork, statues and carvings.

There are 8 days of the week here in Burma, and depending on which day it was when you were born, you have a different birth animal. Typically, mine couldn't have been a dragon or lion, no. Had to be a mouse!

There are 8 days of the week here in Burma, and depending on which day it was when you were born, you have a different birth animal. Mine couldn’t have been a dragon or a lion, no, it had to be a mouse! (but I like to think it’s a fire-breathing mouse!).

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I think that this picture captures the heat of the afternoon sun very well.

I think that this picture captures the heat of the afternoon sun very well.

Mmm. Fermented tea leaves with mixed dry nuts anyone?

Mmm. Fermented tea leaves with mixed dry nuts anyone?

Walking down a dim stairwaell inside one of the thousands of temples in Bagan

Walking down a dim stairwaell inside one of the thousands of temples in Bagan

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It's too hot to cycle or walk (or breathe), and there aren't many taxis around, so horse and cart is the way to get about in Bagan.

It’s too hot to cycle or walk (or breathe), and there aren’t many taxis around, so horse and cart is the way to get about in Bagan.

A monk carrying a full alms bowl

A monk carrying a full alms bowl

Yes, that's a scorpion, just wandering around out in the sun.

Yes, that’s a scorpion suttling over the sand in the dark of night.

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Everyone wears makeup (made of mud paste) to protect their skin from the sun.

Everyone wears makeup (made of mud paste) to protect their skin from the sun.

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Even the gates are ornate outside this ancient teak temple

Even the gates are ornate outside this ancient teak temple

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