Among the Payas

Travel arrangements in Burma are not the easiest to coordinate, so I became somewhat apprehensive upon receiving a message from my travel agent in Mandalay warning that there had been a problem booking a train ticket to Pagan (renamed Bagan by the junta government). He would have to explain in person, he said, and promptly arrived at the hotel lobby. The engine had broken down and the train schedule for the next day was uncertain, especially given that the spare parts had to come from France. The alternatives were either a bus journey or a flight. In consideration of my age, the agent thought bus travel on a bad road was not the best of ideas. But I was determined to visit Pagan, so, additional costs notwithstanding, I decided to fly.

Eager to see the architectural wonder that is Pagan, on arrival I quickly took up a friendly tonga driver's offer to take me to the ruins. Even the leisurely ride to the main site itself turned out to be a treat. On either side of the road, innumerable pagodas and stupas of all shapes and sizes dotted the fields as far as the eye could see. This peaceful atmosphere continued (almost) up to the site itself: despite its history, the site is left almost completely alone – no ticket handlers, archaeological department attendants, nor security guards in sight. The serenity is only broken a bit by overeager touts and abundant guides. But those milling around the site are mostly local residents who come to worship. There seem to be fewer foreign visitors here.

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Himal Southasian