Thursday, February 19: After leaving the Bagan Viewing Tower, my driver takes me to the Nyaung U area to visit the enormous gold-plated zedi, or stupa, known as Shwezigon Paya. It was built by King Anawrahta, who founded the Bagan Kingdom in 1044. The King built it to enshrine several Buddha relics, including a “copy of the sacred tooth relic of Kandy in Sri Lanka. According to legend, the spot where the pagoda was to be built was chosen by a white elephant carrying the relic on his back. Construction started around 1059, the pagoda was completed at the end of the 11th century during the reign of King Kyanzittha” (Renown Travel: Shwezigon Pagoda).
Before Buddhism was introduced to Bagan, Burmese people were generally either Nat worshippers or alchemists, according to The Temple Trail: Shwezigon. According to Wikipedia: nat (spirit): nats are spirits worshiped in pre-Buddhist Myanmar. They are divided between the 37 Great Nats and all the rest (i.e., spirits of trees, water, etc.). Almost all of the 37 Great Nats were human beings who met violent deaths.
King Anawrahta allowed the images of the 37 most highly venerated Nats to be put on the lower terraces of the Shwezigon Pagoda. The Nat images have since been moved and can now be found inside a small hall next to the platform. Nat worship is still very much alive in current day Myanmar (Renown Travel: Shwezigon Pagoda). Below are some of the nats in the hut at Shwezigon Paya.
I walk all around the beautiful Pagoda, glowing in the late afternoon sun.
I also get glimpses of some monks strolling around the pagoda.
The driver takes me back to the Central Plain to see sunset at Pyathada Paya, a 13th-century temple that has Bagan’s largest open terrace, perfect for sunset-viewing. I can see the temples dotting the plain before me.
I chat briefly with a man from north of San Francisco who traveled two weeks in Thailand and two weeks in Cambodia before coming to Myanmar. Like me, he’s loving Myanmar so far.
As I’m watching the sun go down, I see a caravan kicking up dust on the plain. As it gets closer, I can see the chaotic group consists of cattle, tour buses, cars, SUVs, motorbikes, horse-drawn carriages, walkers and bicyclists. Yet another thing I love about Myanmar: the blend of the modern with the traditional and surprises around every corner. 🙂
After sunset, the driver takes me back to my hotel. I’m exhausted from this day of visiting 20 places: one village, one viewing tower, and 18 temples! After settling in briefly at the hotel, I walk down the street to Mother’s House, where I enjoy a dinner of fried noodles with vegetables and a Myanmar beer.
Tomorrow, I plan to rent a motor scooter for the day to explore more of Bagan’s thousands of temples.