About cruising the Archaeological Zone of Bagan from sunrise to sunset and the things that happen along the way.

What I did yesterday would have been considered a total waste by any casual visitor to Bagan.  But sometimes I just can’t get out of my “art history skin”.  I had to know a bit about the background of Bagan, its building phases, its main decoration themes, its sculptural programs, its architectural types.  It made me so happy today when I recognized most of everything I had read about yesterday.

There are basically three ways you can “do” Bagan: a standard way is to hire a vehicle and a guide and to see some of the highlights in a day or two or three (or however much time you designate) and have some local expert explain it all to you.  Most likely, it will be overload as you will not be able to remember all the details and all the different paintings and things you will have pointed out to you.

The opposite end of the spectrum of this approach is to just hop on your bike, or e-bike scooter, walk or ride around randomly and go into any temple that happens to put itself into your path or that captures your fancy, and enjoy what you see.  Don’t worry about what it might mean, it does not matter.  It’s awesome on any level.  It might be the peaceful setting, the amazingly weird Buddha with his “missing neck”, the gnome-like creatures used in the decorative garlands on temple exteriors or the awesome sunrise and sunset views you will experience each and every day.

Or you try what I did: a bit more of a systematic approach.  I left it to the experts David Raezer and Jennifer Raezer who wrote a book © 2014 by Approach Guides called Guide to Bagan.  I let them preselect some of the most typical temples of each type for me to make sure that after seeing about 15-20 of them, I got “the spectrum”.   And I followed “the program”.  I had marked their temples on my map and adjusted my route through this 26 square mile open-air museum accordingly.  That meant that I passed by some damn spectacular buildings without stopping.  It meant that at times I had to go great distances to reach the next dot on my map, etc.  It definitely is not for everyone to do it this way but I had a mission and a goal.  It worked for me.

The final deluxe version of “doing” Bagan is of course to come back again and again.  I met one of those guys on the slow boat.  He has been to Myanmar/Bagan 14 times by now!  That’s when you really can dive into things your way.  But how many of us have that luxury?

You might think that my approach would be a bit boring and rigid, but let me tell you this: no matter how much you map out your itinerary, there are a gazillion things that come your way unpredicted.  There are all the dogs, cows and goats you have to share the road with.  There is the slipping and sliding in inches of deep sand along the tiny side paths nobody told you about.  There are the awesome fragrances you come across when turning a corner and the pastoral scenes of men plowing their fields with their cows, oxen or buffaloes in absolutely straight lines without a ruler or a digital compass.  There are the birds chirping and the rainbow that spans the full horizon after that sudden rain.  There is the getting lost and there are all the bruises from the fall you were afraid of…

Yeah…  I was spared the flat tire and the running out of the battery that seems to afflict a lot of the e-bikers.  Thank goodness!  I would have been all by myself and without a phone if this had happened to me.  And there are some very remote areas!  But you hear some bikers warn about falling and you see a lot of bandages on foreigners’ legs, if you start paying attention.  I had put an extra prayer in with St. Christopher to prevent all of these nasties.  But I guess he needed to teach me a lesson: I had to fall.

I don’t know if you agree, but it’s usually three things that go wrong when an “accident” happens.  In my case they were this: during the sunset I connected with two Italians.  They were headed where I was going and from sunset to dark it is just a short period.  I felt good about riding with them in tandem in order not to be alone in the dark.  But the first thing that was different for me now was that I had to keep pace with somebody ahead of me instead of just minding my own pace…  Number two was that I was in the middle of going through a particularly sandy spot… And number three was that just at that moment (me trying to keep up, and to maneuver the sand) a horse-drawn carriage came around the corner towards me demanding the use of the road… And that’s when it happened.   Good for me and my camera, the sand gave us a soft landing.  But no matter how you fall, the bike is always going to be on top of you.   And it has areas that can poke.  And it is heavy.  And that is where the bruises come from…  Pelvis, knee, ankle and foot…  Autsch!  But it could have been worse.

No time to dwell on hurt or damage — it’s getting dark, we need to move.  About 15 minutes later, the Italians got stranded — no more battery.  It was pitch dark now.  I took off without them only to promptly get lost.  See, there is never a shortage of adventure, no matter how many art historical missions you try to accomplish.

But I made it home.  And tomorrow I will get the e-bike scooter again.  No way I will let things like this discourage me or even worse prevent me from completing my “mission”.  On with the show!

Really, I have not had this much fun in a long time!  Fall aside.  To scoot around this amazing site where at every corner a picturesque fairytale land from the 11th to the 13th Century unfolds in front of you is the unquestionable highlight of this trip.  And to cruise around on this e-bike scooter was just like letting a kid loose in a candy shop.  I could not have imagined me riding around like this had anyone told me just three days ago.  And here I was and it was a reality.  And I loved every bit of it!  The bruises will go.  The memories will remain.

Good night.