Thursday, February 19: In Bagan’s Central Plain, we go to Dhammayangyi Pahto, a sprawling, walled 12th-century temple that is visible from all parts of Bagan. It apparently has a cruel history. It’s said that King Narathu built the temple (between 1167 and 1170 AD) to atone for his sins: he smothered his father, poisoned his brother and strangled one of his wives, an Indian princess, for practicing Hindu rituals. The temple was never completed and many passageways are walled off today.
According to MyanmarBurma.com: Dhammayangyi Pahto, the king required that bricks were to be placed so tightly that mortar was unnecessary. If even a pin could be inserted between the bricks, responsible masons were either executed or had their arms cut off.
King Narathu was assassinated in 1170, perhaps by his father-in-law in retribution for the princess’ murder, and the workers stopped laying bricks. The inner passages of the temple are stoned in and some people believe that the workers filled them in with rubble on purpose after the king’s death.
According to Lonely Planet Myanmar, “others quietly argue the temple dates from the earlier reign of Alaungsithu, which would refute all this fun legend behind it. It’s also likely that this bricking up of the passages was a crude way of ensuring the massive structure didn’t collapse.”
The western shrine “features two original side-by-side images of Gautama and Maitreya, the historical and future Buddhas. This is the only Bagan site with two side-by-side Buddhas” (Lonely Planet Myanmar).
In the dark reaches of the temple, some of the stucco reliefs and paintings are still intact.
Next we head to Minnanthu Village, an agricultural village which specializes in sesame and peanut oil production.
My driver drops me with a local guide, who takes me around the village.
We walk around and she tells me how the village produces sesame oil and peanut oil, and makes jam from sour fruit.
It’s quite hot at this time of day, around 2:30 p.m. and it seems life in the village has slowed to a long extended nap.
The village is also known for its cotton-weaving. My guide demonstrates the process.
As I head back to my driver, a guy with a scarf over his face buzzes into the village on a motorbike, kicking up a tornado of dust. He is lost and asks my guide for directions. Then he takes off in another cloud of dust.
Our next stop is Payathonzu, meaning Three Stupas. It’s a complex of three interconnected shrines. According to Wikipedia: Payathonzu Temple, the “interior of the temple contains frescoes, believed to be Mahayana and Tantric in style. However, the temple was not completed. The temple was recently renovated, with the completion of the three stupas atop the temple, which are lighter in color.”
No photography is allowed inside the shrine, but inside are white-washed walls and “vaguely Chinese- or Tibetan- looking mural paintings that contain Bodhisattva figures” (Lonely Planet Myanmar).
Just north of Payathonzu is Thambula Pahto, a square temple decorated with fading Jataka frescoes. It was built in 1255 by Thambula, the wife of King Uzana.
The Jataka frescoes are intricately detailed and beautifully done.
Nandamannya Pahto, a small, single-chambered temple, dates from the mid-13th century. It has fine frescoes and a ruined seated Buddha image; its murals are similar to those at Payathonzu and some art historians believe they may have been painted by the same artist (Lonely Planet: Myanmar: Nandamannya Pahto).
The temple’s mural of the ‘Temptation of Mara’ is its claim to fame; in the painting, “nubile young females (vainly) attempt to distract the Buddha from the meditation session that led to his enlightenment” (Lonely Planet: Myanmar: Nandamannya Pahto). It was once thought to be shockingly erotic, but not by today’s standards. Sadly, no photography was allowed inside the temple.
Iza Gawna Pagoda is our next stop, but I can’t find any information about it.
Finally, we head to the Bagan Viewing Tower, also known as Bagan Nan Myint Tower. The tower was built to “provide a high-rise vantage point for the public without interfering adversely with the Bagan skyline and secondly to help preserve cultural heritage by providing an alternative viewing point to the tops of the crumbling ancient pagodas” (BaganMyanmar.com: Bagan Nan Myint Tower).
I climb to the top, where I have amazing views of the Bagan South Plain. As it is after 4:00 in the afternoon and the sun is low in the sky, the views opposite the sun are the best for photos.
While atop the Viewing Tower, I meet Marsha from Baltimore, Maryland, who is here visiting with wealthy friends. She is staying at the fancy resort, Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort Bagan, shown below. She talks on and on for quite some time about her friends and family, telling me all the details of her holiday.
After leaving the Bagan Viewing Tower at about 4:30, we head to the Nyaung U area to see Shwezigon Paya and then on to Pyathada Paya for sunset.