Bagan, Myanmar

Where is the road calling you?

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Bagan, Myanmar

Crazy Morning Hair And Balloons In The Air

I considered asking Jessie to twist my nipple, or at the very least pinch me to ensure I wasn’t dreaming.  For years I had looked forward to the day we would visit the world famous temples of Bagan, pining for the opportunity to witness what so many others had been privy to.  At last, our own time had finally come.  I was fully aware of the potential for being surrounding by hordes of tourists, but the excitement building inside me was far too great to Us at a pagoda in Bagan, Myanmarsuppress.  In very atypical fashion, we had pre-booked a room for the duration of our time visiting the holy grounds at a place fairly distant from the more popular guesthouses and hotels, though it proved to be the perfect choice.

In an area where renting a proper motorbike was entirely impossible, there was only one other suitable option.  The thought of pedaling a manual bike from temple to temple was as welcoming to me as agreeing to a Brazilian wax and screaming after every short and curly removing swipe simply to better appreciate the pain some women go through for their personal grooming.  Electric bikes with the capability of reaching nearly eighty kilometers per hour seemed to be the perfect compromise, not to mention one of the only ways we could thoroughly explore Bagan without having to hire a private driver to escort us from site to site.  Fortunately we had booked a room at a guesthouse no more than a ten second walk to a place renting some of the better bikes we could possibly rent, opening at five in the morning to accommodate those seeking to witness the widely rumored beauty of sunrise.

Few things could entice me to peel my ass out of bed earlier than I cared to be alive in the morning, but I knew well in advance the small sacrifice would reap plenty of reward.  The brisk morning air whistling under my helmet and sliding around my bare face served as the perfect alternative to a hot coffee, jolting me awake instantly while setting off down the road in the darkness.  Having already explored a bit the day we arrived, we already knew exactly where wHot air balloons at dawn in Bagan, Myanmare would be staking out the perfect spot to enjoy the rare occasion.  A sandy path leading away from the main road led us to the base of a tall, climbable temple following the survival of numerous fishtails and near wipeouts in the loose ground.  Although our electric bike possessed the appearance of a real motorbike, clearly it lacked the weight and stability I had become accustomed to in the past.

Nevertheless, we arrived safely nearly an hour and a half before sunrise, removing our shoes as required and carefully climbing the abnormally steep stone staircase with our headlamps illuminating the path ahead.  We crept slowly around the corner off the upper most level we could reach and secured the best possible seat we could find not occupied by the small group of tourists already at the summit.  Slowly the time ticked away, accompanied by a growing amount of spectators laying claim to every available spot at the peak of the temple.  I felt my eyes begin to fall heavy, reminded of my inability to remain fully alert so early in the day.  Fortunately or unfortunately, the spontaneous arrival of a small shadow sporadically weaving near my toes once again jolted my eyes open as if someone had snapped a rubber band on my bare ass.  Upon closer inspection my mind was allowed to return to its relaxed state, realizing the small figure was nothing more than a mouse versus the rats I’ve come to despise throughout Southeast Asia.

The horizon began to lighten with the gradual arrival of the sun, hidden behind the saturation of clouds in the overcast sky.  Every passing minute allowed for a more spectacular view of the unfathomable amount of temples appearing in the light below a haze blanketing our surroundings, slowly lifting in response to the welcome daylight.  Nate in Bagan, MyanmarAs important as it was to capture the moment digitally, it was equally as crucial to us to be still and enjoy the simplicity of the moment.  With over three thousand temples decorating the surrounding area, it was nearly impossible to determine where the greatest view could be found.  A majestic feeling began flooding through me as I gazed into the vastness.  There was no denying Bagan held a unique magic unlike any other sight I have ever laid eyes on.

Not even the frantic scramble of tourists attempting to set up massive tripods in front of us because they hadn’t arrived early enough to secure a proper location could distract us from the scene of serenity.  Of course each of them was quickly denied with a stern yet not overly aggressive stance.  Our patience was rewarded with a sight capable of enhancing our enjoyment, the rising of hot air balloons in the distance.  At a whopping cost of three hundred dollars per person, we couldn’t justify the hit we would have to endure to our meager budget.  In all actuality, we were grateful to be sitting exactly where we were to watch each of the balloons gently rise in the sky and drift over the plethora of temples in the twenty-six square mile area.

Feeling satisfied with our early morning event we cautiously retraced our steps back down the temple and left the remaining tourists to bicker over who was allowed to claim our coveted spots.  With so many sights to see we could hardly wait to continue surging through the slightly treacherous dirt paths.  Every stop granted us views of sights we’d only seen on the blogs of other travelers.  Massive statues of Buddha were housed in every temple, some dating back as long as fifteen hundred years ago.  Surprisingly enough, each sacred location held its own identity, whether defined by a specific pose of the statues inside or the original intricate artwork decorating the inner walls.

Horse carriage Bagan, MyanmarBecause many of the better known, larger temples are still utilized for worship by the people of Myanmar, local interaction was still easy to find.  Not surprisingly, Jessie consistently attracted the vast majority of the attention, sought out for family portraits and backgrounds on personal cell phones.  By then we had grown all too accustomed to peaked curiosity and persistent vendors surrounding us, welcoming each inquiry we received.   Even the children and teenagers hawking everything from handmade souvenirs to post cards compelled us to smile whole-heartedly through every encounter, especially the youngest of the small groups.  With their big brown eyes gazing up at us, highlighted by the thanaka (a yellowish, white paste made from ground bark the Burmese people use to beautify themselves) spread in various designs on their faces, we found it impossible not to.

Temple after temple we entered the same way, barefoot with our shoulders and legs completely covered to show our utmost respect.  In a country where even the men were dressed in full length loungys (a long piece of fabric strategically folded and tucked around the waist) and rarely showed their knees, it was easy to conclude anything more revealing would have been nothing less than insulting to a country full of the most wonderful people we’d ever been in the company of.  I imagined how those attempting to enter in shorts struggling to hide their ass cheeks and tank tops dangerously close to a nip slip must have been viewed the same as someone entering a church in a thong with twirling boobie tassels as if partying at Mardi Gras.  It was an expected dress code we had encountered before, other than the requirement of remaining barefoot including while walking around outside of the temples.  Needless to say, carefully stepping on ancient bricks or climbing chipped stairways to reach optimum viewing levels could become rather interesting in no time at all.  worshipping inside a paya in Bagan, MyanmarHaving torn flesh from various parts of my body during similar excursions on previous travels due to a personal coordination of a drunken sloth, I became quite proud of myself for escaping each exploration without injury.

As much as we had enjoyed our daytime adventures, a second sunrise was far too enticing to ignore.  Instead of choosing the same perch as the first morning, we decided to venture to a less popular destination in hopes of avoiding the same crowds we had already braved.  Again overcoming the absence of a proper sunrise courtesy of yet another overcast, dreary day, the serenity and magic of Bagan captivated us as if we’d never seen it before.  On more than one occasion we needed to remind ourselves of where we were in the moment, nearly losing ourselves and allowing our minds to drift with the mist hanging over the peaks in the distance.

As they had done the day before, hot air balloon pilots ignited flames not far from where we were seated, a crackling sound carrying in the still, crisp morning air.  We looked up over our right shoulders in response to a large object coming into our peripheral vision, tilting our heads back and staring at the basket of a balloon drifting no more than twenty feet from our heads.  The massive burgundy colored balloon towered above us, slowly shrinking as we looked on with slightly opened mouths and wide eyes slightly squinted with awe.

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect way to remember our time in Bagan, though we already knew in that moment…we’ll be back again.


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