Thursday, April 10, 2014

Exploration of the Ancient City

Today we explored Bagan! We started at 8:30am with a guide recommended by our new Burmese family friends. Our guide was very bright, spoke good English, and was extremely nice. You can tell being a tour guide is a fairly profitable business because our guide had a bigger motorbike and a nice purse. Normally a day guide cost about $35. I don’t know what percentage she receives after her company takes their portion and I’m sure the government does as well. Today hopefully was under the table so she could keep it all.

We started the tour at Shwezigon Pagoda, then Ananda Temple, Thatbyinnyu Temple, Shwesandaw Pagoda, and ended on Dhammayangyi Pahto. Each of these are very famous. Shwezigon Pagoda is a good one to start at because it’s on the far north side of town. Ananda Temple is known for its beauty. Thatbyinnyu Temple is the tallest while Dhammayangyi Pahto is the largest. Lastly, Shwesandaw Pagoda is one of two pagodas left which you can actually climb to the top. The view was nothing I’ve ever seen before. Began is defiantly a world beauty. There are 3,122 temples, pagodas, stupas, and monasteries. Some are made of brick, some sandstone, some are painted, and others are left raw. There was period of time when Burma was wealthy and had a good economy. During this time, every king had a temple or pagoda made for him, even if he was a bad king (Dhammayangyi Pahto for example). In addition to these structures, most common people built little structures before they passed away. Before the earthquake in mid to late 20th century, there were over 4,000 structures! Throughout the tour we learned facts, history, and religion behind these structures. There are three main kinds of religious structures. You can walk inside temples, you cannot go inside pagodas, but there are exterior stairs which you can climb, and stupas you cannot go inside or climb on the outside.

We also briefly spoke with our guide about the government. Myanmar had gone through many governmental changes. Before WW II, the British ruled the country. After they were granted freedom, the government turned into a monarchy and King’s rule was law. Then the military took control. In 2011 A president was elected. This president still has many militaristic views but is much better than when the military controlled. School have now become public, people have more rights, and tourism has greatly increased. Even with all of the reform, you must realize there are still many parts of the country that tourists are not allowed. Crossing the border by land is possible, but difficult. There are numerous military check points, the roads are bad, and at some crossings, you cannot legally go any further than the border town. There is still internal fighting between villages. We spoke with some traveler who were motobiking around the country. They were still in a “tourist safe zone” and were mistakenly shot at by a nearby village. Thankfully they were not hit, but defiantly hightailed their way out of there! Problems between Muslims and Buddhists also exists. Over the last decade many Muslims have been killed or run out of the country. Even with all the problems, the people are still some of the nicest people I’ve met.  The next election will be in 2015, and hopefully it will help the country continue to move forward.

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