New on the UNESCO World Heritage list this year (2019) is Bagan. And that made me think back to our own wonderful trip to Mayanmar in February 2015, and the days spend in Bagan.
All the photos in the collage below are clickable, so you can view the larger photo.
Ballooning over Bagan
Sunrise over Bagan from our hot air balloon
It is early, very very EARLY; not even 5 o'clock when my alarm clock starts ringing impatiently. "Time to wake up!", it seems to be skreeking in my ear. And it is not the only alarm clock that I have set today, no no, each and every clock available is set. And even the hotel lobby will phone in 15 minutes to wake me up, just to make sure ;-)
I am not what you call a real 'morning person', so I decided to take every precaution possible to prevent the risk for oversleeping today. Not that I ever do, but well, why take the risk?? :-) So why all the fuss, you probably wonder? Well, today we will go ballooning across the Bagan plains! Something I have been looking so much forward to ever since we booked our trip all those months ago.
I open my sleepy eyes and rush out of bed to turn all the other alarm clocks off, before their noise will wake up the entire hotel.
We quickly get ready before we will be picked up from our hotel at 5:15, of course checking that all the essentials are with us:
Extra chips for the camera... yes
Voucher for the balloon flight... yes! :-)
We are ready to go! I put on a light sweater as there is a chill in the air this early in the morning, and a sweater is really needed. Underneath it I wear a thin t-shirt, because as soon as you land and the sun has come out, it does get warm very quickly.
It is still dark as we leave our hotel, but the short drive to the launch site, a field located just outside of Old Bagan, was smooth. On arrival we are greeted with some hot coffee and tea and some croissants and pastries, while big spotlights help us see in the darkness of the early morning.
There are quite a few people gathered here, and quite a few balloons as well! The organisation is very good however; and we are swiftly assigned to 'our' balloon, where we receive a thorough safety briefing from our pilot, which is a very experienced lady ballooner from Bristol in England. She has been ballooning all over the world, and I feel safe in her hands right away.
preparing our hot air balloon
The preparations are on the way....
After the safety briefing we wait while our hot air balloon is being prepared for the flight, and it is quite an interesting process to watch. We freely walk around the field of balloons, looking at the preparations in their different stages of readiness. And I am feeling nervous and excited all at the same time, as soon we will be off in 'our' balloon! This is not my first hot air balloon flight, but still.... And we are not the only balloon here, around 20 balloons are here today, which happens each morning in Bagan, weather permitting of course (from mid October to early April). There are three balloon companies operating when we were here: 'Balloons over Bagan' (the red balloons), 'Golden Eagle Ballooning' (yellow balloons) and 'Oriental Ballooning', which we fly with, having the green balloons.
Below you can see some photos of these preparations. Huge tarps are spread out over the ground to protect the balloons when they are spread out on the ground. The wicker baskets are being put into place by tractors and fans are positioned to inflate the balloons with air. The pilot makes a final check before the crew is allowed to fill the balloon with air, and ignite the burners to heat up the air flowing into the balloon. I feel the heat from the burners in this early morning chill, and hear the roaring sound of the burners cutting through the quiet of the morning. And slowly the balloon starts to expand as the heated air inside the balloon makes it buoyant, this due to hot air having a lower density than the colder air outside the balloon. And slowly but surely the balloon is moving upright.
The crew request us over and it is time to climb into the wicker basket using the footholds in the basket. And a graceful process it is not, lol, but with some help I got myself inside the basket. The pilot communicates with the crew and by radio with the other balloons, waiting for our turn for lift-off. One of the crew is so kind to take our photo while we eagerly and full of anticipation wait inside the basket with big smiles on our faces.
And then it is time! Our balloon starts to rise, ever so gently and quietly. We slowly gain height, floating up into the air. We look down onto the field, now almost emtied of the balloons, but a few are still there, in their final stages of preparation. Within short, they will also start to rise up in the air like us. Such a fantastic feeling to float in the air!
We took some short videos of the preparations of the hot-air balloons that you can see below:
And we are up in the air....
And off we go
And we are up into the air.... our journey had begun :-)
It is still so early in the morning; the sun is not even showing up over the horizon. And in this twilight it is neither dark nor light outside, giving a mystical mood to our surroundings. The landscape is still embrased with a veil of fog. And below us a mystical land of temples and pagodas appears in a tropical, misty landscape, making it all look magical. I feel so privileged to get the chance to have this bird's eyes view over this beautiful place, with over 2000 Buddhist and Hindu temples and pagodas, winding dusty roads, and hundreds of palm trees.
Shwezigon pagoda in the distance
As soon as we get above the treeline we see the Shwezigon pagoda in the distance (photo above).
And even with this tiny bit of morning light creeping over the horizon, the light is reflecting from the gold plated pagoda, making it stand out from all the other pagodas and temples surrounding us. The Shwezigon Pagoda is one of the oldest and most impressive monuments of Bagan and it was built by the founder of the Bagan empire, king Anawrahta.
The pagoda is bell-shaped, in the tradition of the Mon people, and one of the oldest and also most impressive monuments of Bagan. Most people visiting Bagan will visit this pagoda, dating back to the year 1090. As will we, but later today :-) So I'll show you a bit more of this temple in my next page about Bagan. This pagoda enshrines a number of sacred Budhist relics, which makes it an important pilgrimage site.
We float on, and slowly but magnificently Bagan reveals its secrets. The breathtaking site of stupa after stupa, in their hundreds, appearing through the delicate mist is just unforgettable.
The many temples and pagodas on the plains of Bagan
It is an amazing sight flying over all these temples and pagodas. And the number of these stupas still to be found here is quite mind blowing: it is estimated that aound 2200 temples and pagodas remain in Bagan today!!
The history dates back to King Pyinbya and the year 874 AD when this king moved the capital to Bagan.
Much later, in the 11th century, under the reign of King Anawathra, Bagan started its haydays. This was also the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later become Myanmar as we now know it. And in the period from the 11th to the 13th century the kingdom flourished, and over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries were built here. It is estimated that as many as 13,000 temples and pagodas once stood on this 42 square kilometer area.
Many of the temples and pagodas were constructed of wood, and unfortunately these haven't survived over time. And the temples made of clay and brick suffered from earthquakes, or simply didn't withstand the dekay over time. But having 2200 still here, although in various states of disrepair, is quite amazing.
In some of the temples you can still feel the times gone by, how these temples once were lovingly decorated with painting, carvings and engravings, all evolving around the life of Buddha.
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see some people sitting on top of the pagoda, waiting eagerly for the spectacle of sunrise to start. It is very popular to climb the pagodas to get a good spot to view the sunset and sunrise. All these people climbing the pagodas and temples is unfortunately damaging them, and they are being closed to the public one by one to prevent people climbing on them.
And than the sun comes up, turning the sky in a palette of orange and red tones. We are so lucky with the weather today.... Thankfully, the wind was blowing perfectly for the optimal flight path and the skies were clear. and greet the sunrise. During early season the flight path might be more challenging, and not always able to go over the plains of Bagan. But today the weather was more than perfect!
Some temples are in urgent need of repair....
Some 400 pagodas and temples—out of a total of 3,252—across the Bagan plain were damaged when a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Burma on August 24.
The Sulamani Temple was built in 1183 by King Narapatisithu. It is one of the most-frequently visited in Bagan
Is it a temple or a pagoda or a stupa?
The term pagoda is used to describe both temples and stupas. The word pagoda is derived from dagada , the word used for relic chamber in Sri Lanka.
We slowly float towards the Pyathadar temple
The Pyathadar temple is absolutely gorgeous to view from the balloon, with its huge statue becoming visible as we slowly float by. It is one of the last of the large temples built in Bagan
Pyathadar temple, Pyathatgyi temple from First half of the 13th century by Kyaswa. Style: Late period, “Double cave” temple. Pyathatgyi is one of the few remaining “double cave” monasteries. Most of these temples were built of wood and have long gone. in the 13th century land was becoming scarce in the Bagan empire. The late period temple shows the progression in architectural skills of the Bagan builders in the use of large vaulted rooms and broad corridors. The Pyathadar enshrines several large sitting and standing images of the Buddha in various postures. A project to restore the Pyathadar temple was completed in 1998
The Pyathadar is a symmetrical structure but for the Western entrance porch which protrudes out from the building. The massive porch is flanked by two smaller entrances on either side.
At the center of the East wall is another huge vaulted entry porch. The central entrance is flanked by two smaller vaulted entrances. Inside the structure seated on a pedestal is a large Burmese style image of the Buddha in the “Calling the Earth to witness” posture, which is visible from the outside. Inner passageways lead around the temple’s entire structure. Niches in the walls enshrine images of the Buddha.
The temple’s terraces
A staircase leads to the large terrace on top of the Pyathadar. At its center is a smaller structure shaped like a temple. The symmetrical structure has en entrance hall on each of its sides, that protrude out from the structure. On top is a sikhara, similar to that of the Ananda pagoda. The sikhara is topped with a golden multi tiered ornamental spire, called hti.
From the terraces visitors have good views of the surrounding Bagan plains and its countless temples, including the Sulamani and the Dhammayangyi. The Pyathadar is a popular place to watch the sunset. Candles on the stairways illuminate the pitch dark way to the temple’s terrace. The temple is designed with large vaults and broad corridors to connect one building to the other.
There is a huge vaulted entry porch at the center of the wall. A large image of Buddha is placed inside the structure. Other images are enshrined in niches in the walls. The terrace on top of Pyathadar Temple is connected with a staircase. At the center of the temple, there is another temple-shaped structure. The Pyathadar is topped with sikharas on which hti-ornamental spires are adorned.
'Pyathadar Temple, also known as Pyathatgyi, is a massive brick temple that was constructed during the 13th A staircase leads you to the top terrace where you have great view of the plains of Bagan and its temples and pagodas. Pyathada Temple was started during the later period of temple building in Bagan. This huge, Indian-influenced pagoda features impressive arches vaulting over broad corridors and halls
Ta Wet Hpaya
Ta Wet Hpaya...
My eyes were unavoidably drawn to the Dhammayazika Pagoda,with its large gilded bell shaped dome glistering in the early mornings sunlight. The pagoda was build by King Narapatisithu towards the end of the 12th century to enshrine a number of sacred Buddhist relics given to him by the King of Sri Lanka.
Everyday life goes on around the ancient temple ruins..
Time for landing....
As we came in to land we were asked to put our cameras away and adopt the landing position (seated, head back against the basket and holding the two hand grips tight). One hard bump and a smaller follow-up got us safely onto the ground.
The top of the balloon usually has a vent of some sort, enabling the pilot to release hot air to slow an ascent, start a descent, or increase the rate of descent, usually for landing.
The flight took little over an hour...(70 min)
Time for champagne!
Simone & Åke, Bagan, February 2015
It would be great to hear from you! So please leave a comment or a question. :-) Simone