Not far from Sulamani stands the biggest temple in Bagan, the Dhammayangyi Temple. Standing majestically like an ancient pyramid, Dhammayangyi was perhaps a statement of remorse from King Narathu, who killed his father and elder brother and executed one of his wives for Hindu rituals. He also ordered the mortar-less brickwork to be so precise that not even a pin could fit between two bricks. Failing to do so the brick workers would be cruelly punished with amputation. However, before the temple was completed, Narathu himself was also assassinated in 1170. Since then, Dhammayangyi remained unfinished.
Compared with Sulamani, the interior of Dhammayangyi seemed much less polished. Our guide told us that after the death of Narathu, the locals hastily bricked up the inner passages and didn’t put too much efforts to maintain the temple because of their revulsion toward cruel Narathu. As we passed through the bricked up passages while touring the structure, a sense of mystery still captivated our imagination on what really lie beyond the bricked passages. Another interesting feature at Dhammayangyi was the original side-by-side Buddha statues with Gautama and Maitreya (present and future Buddhas). On the outside, we could admire the fine carvings on the external walls and at arched openings, where visitors gathered to pose for photos.
Looking from a distance, Dhammayangyi looked similar to an ancient pyramid in the Yucatan jungle.
After we took off our shoes, we followed a green mat to enter the temple complex.
On our way, we passed by a few trees where vendors displayed dozens of local puppets.
We entered Dhammayangyi through a worship hall packed with local worshippers.
The Buddha image at the altar was once again gilded with gold.
Behind the altar, we entered the main passage of the temple.
The ceiling of the passage was high and dark. Supporting arches appeared from time to time to provide braces for the walls.
We passed by a number of bricked up passages that led to the unknown.
Buddhist statues were placed at some of the opened niches.
Statues varied in styles and facial features might have come from different periods in history.
With the constant flow of visitors, walking in the dark passages of Dhammayangyi was hardly a spooky experience.
Finally we reached the west shrine, featuring the original image of the double Buddhas on one side, and a reclining Buddha on the back.
The dual statues of Gautama and Maitreya Buddha at Dhammayangyi was a rarity in Bagan.
At the exterior, local visitors enjoyed themselves at the arched openings.
Some of external ornaments and arched openings had become desirable backdrops for photo shooting.
We exited the complex from where we arrived.
Vending trucks selling fresh juices could be found all over the entrance parking lot.
A number of vendors gathered under a tree shade as Bagan braced for a scorching afternoon.
Often considered as the crown jewel of Bagan, Sulamani Temple is probably on every visitor’s itinerary in Bagan. The huge popularity of Sulamani probably comes from its magnificently preserved wall paintings along the long and dark corridors inside the temple, and the detailed ornaments of the pediments and pilasters. Built in the 12th century by Narapatisithu, Sulamani has withstood a series of earthquakes throughout history. The latest earthquake hit Bagan in 2016. Sulamani’s gilded spire and top umbrella collapsed, along with damages here and there that kept the temple behind scaffolding for much of 2017. Fortunately when we were there the temple had already reopen its doors to the public.
We left our shoes at the arched entrance gateway. From the entrance, we could notice the absence of the gilded spire.
The first worship hall where we entered the temple was packed with worshippers.
Many worshippers were busy applying gold leaves to the Buddhist statue.
Between different worshipping halls were the famous corridors with extensive murals.
Magnificent wall paintings include the reclining Buddha.
Even the ceiling was full of frescoes.
Our guide Win Thu told us a few Buddhist stories as we admired the frescoes.
Details of a Buddhist statue in another worship hall.
Atop another Buddhist statue we could find a chatra umbrella, a common auspicious symbol in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.
Another interesting fresco depicts groupd of worshippers.
We exited the temple from the worship hall where we first arrived.
From the exterior, we could admire the beautiful ornaments of the temple.
Local visitor at an ornate window opening.
A large part of the temple was under repair from the 2016 earthquake.
We took our time to walk around Sulamani to check out its exterior ornaments.
Its pilasters are some of the finest in Bagan.
Sulamani was undoubtedly one of the most important temples in Bagan for tourists.
The most remarkable and photogenic experience of our trip to Myanmar was undoubtedly watching the sunrise in Old Bagan. The romantic spectacle of hot air balloons floating over the plains of ancient pagodas has drawn every Bagan visitors to get up before dawn. We had high hopes for the experience long before we came to Bagan. Our driver came at 6:45 to pick us up at Oasis Hotel. He drove us to a pagoda in Old Bagan, and told us to walk up a staircase to the pagoda terrace. We turned on our head lamps and climbed up the narrow stair to reach the upper terrace. We were surprised to find that two out of four sides of the terrace were already packed with visitors. Without guessing which way to look, we stationed ourselves at a corner in the crowd and patiently waited for the sky to light up.
We stationed ourselves at a corner in the crowds and set up our tripod. Stars were still visible in the sky, and so as the flooded lights at some pagodas.
At a distance, what appeared to be Ananda Pahto looked gorgeous with the golden flood lights and the purple horizon beyond.
Ten minutes later, the foggy plain looked mysterious.
In every directions, silhouette of ancient pagodas and distant mountains formed an one-of-a-kind mystic landscape unique to Bagan.
A few minutes later, a cluster of hot air balloons appeared from the horizon.
At the same time, we had the first peek of the Christmas sunrise.
The hot air balloons went up just in time to catch the first glimpse of sunrise over Old Bagan.
The sunrise over Old Bagan was absolutely a stunning sight.
Watching sunrise of Old Bagan from the basket of a hot air balloon should be a remarkable experience. That would require us to book well in advance and cost each of us about US$500.
From the pagoda terrace, the hot air balloons provided the extra magic to the already otherworldly scenery.
Some balloons got pretty close to the spires of pagodas.
A hot air balloon seemed reaching the rising sun.
For several minutes, the entire Old Bagan appeared in layers of silhouettes.
The balloons gradually floated across the horizon while the sun rose up quickly.
On the other side, the scenery was dominated by ancient pagodas under the orange glow of the rising sun.
At 8:45am, about an hour and fifteen minutes since we first arrived at the pagoda terrace, dramatic low angle sunlight covered much of Bagan with a mystical ambience.
A group of locals walked towards a nearby pagoda under the early morning sun.
Silhouette of the distant Ananda Pahto was astonishingly beautiful.
At 9am, smoke from wood burning began to appear from the fields around us.
By 9:10am, most visitors had already left the terrace.
Down at the pagoda entrance, vendors were setting up their souvenir stalls for the day.
We quickly descended the pagoda and returned to the driver. We couldn’t wait to begin another day of Bagan’s temple hopping with our guide Win Thu.
Watching sunset at Bagan Myanmar from the top of a pagoda has been one of the most popular activities for tourists. However, according to our guide Win Thu due to recent accidental falls of some tourists, the government temporarily banned pagoda climbing during sunset. Instead, Win Thu took us to one of the designated earth berm where we could still see dipping of the crimson sun over the plain of Buddhist stupas.
Leaving Ananda Temple behind, we moved on to a designated lookout in Old Bagan.
Obviously we were the first to arrive at the lookout. It was nowhere close to as crowded as watching sunset atop the most popular viewing spots in Angkor of Cambodia, but it was not romantic and peaceful as one may wish either.
The view would be much better if we could climb onto one of the pagoda for the sunset.
Yet, it was still enjoyable to watch the colour of the ancient bricks changed from brown to orange as the sun dipped lower.
Behind the lookout there was a wetland, sort of a rare sight in the rather arid plains of Bagan.
Some tourists arrived in horse-carts.
As sunset approached, the distant pagodas and temples turned into layers of silhouettes.
The horse-carts and ancient pagodas made a perfect picture.
An Ox-cart emerged from nowhere and stole everyone’s attention.
The scenery of pagodas reminded us the spiritual ambience of Bagan during the Bagan period.
Pagodas in partial ruins standing against a rural setting provoked a romantic feel.
Gradually the foreground turned dark just before the sunset.
Beyond the pagodas and mountains, the sun dipped rather quickly in front of the crimson sky.
The sun set rather quickly and just a moment later, it completely disappeared behind the distant mountains.
After a brief rest at our hotel, Win Thu came to pick us up for another temple visit. We went further down Anawrahta Road from Nyaung-U towards Old Bagan to visit one of the most prominent icon of Bagan, the Ananda Pahto (Temple). Built between 1090 and 1105 by King Kyanzittha, the wonderfully preserved temple is often considered to be one of the finest structures in Bagan. The iconic golden spires of Ananda were not always golden. In fact, they were gilded in 1990 on its 900th anniversary. The exterior walls of the temple, on the other hand, were whitewashed from time to time. Four large standing Buddha were housed in the temple, each facing one of the four cardinal directions. The north and south facing images were said to be the original which were crafted in Bagan style. The east and west ones were replacements after the original ones were destroyed by fire. All four Buddha images were made of teak wood and covered with gold leaves.
We took off our shoes before entering the entrance hallway. Led by our guide Win Thu, we walked into the courtyard of Ananda Pahto and were immediately amazed by the grandeur of the temple. The golden spires glowed under the late afternoon sun.
Before entering the temple, Win Thu took us to see the famous glazed terra-cotta tiles along the lower terraces of the structure. Hundreds of these well-preserved tiles depicted the Jataka tales (stories of previous births of Gautama Buddha in human and animal forms).
While we examined the glazed tiles, a large group of school students arrived into the temple courtyard.
Before going inside, we walked to the far corner to see the reflection of Ananda Pahto in a pond.
The first thing captured our attention as we entered the west entrance of the temple was the exquisite fresco.
Peeking through the pointed archway we could see one of the four magnificent standing Buddha.
Facing west, Gautama Buddha (present Buddha) greets visitors with a hand gesture of fearlessness. This is one of the later replacements for the original statue, showing carving details in Mandalay style.
The enormous teak wood doors at each of the four main entrances look splendid but should be quite heavy to operate.
The core of the temple is a solid cube surrounded by long passageway, connecting the four worship halls where the large Buddha stand.
Natural light lit up the passageway through pointed arch openings.
Fresco and relief carvings depicting the life of the Buddha are all over the walls of the passageway.
Buddha statues with different hand gestures, postures, and facial expressions convey a unique meaning and a stage in life of the Buddha.
Facing north, the Kakusandha Buddha is the fourth of the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity and the first of the five Buddhas of the present aeon. This statue is one of two original statues from the Bagan period.
On the other hand, the east facing Konagamana Buddha (the fifth of the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity and the second of the five Buddhas of the present aeon) is a later replacement of the destroyed original.
We exited the temple after checking out the south facing Kassapa Buddha. The Kassapa Buddha is the sixth of the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity, and the third of the five Buddhas of the present aeon.
Before leaving temple, Win Thu explained various forms of reclining Buddha, differentiating between when the Buddha was taking a nap and when he was attaining parinirvana upon his death.
The Ananda Pahto under the late afternoon sun was glorious. Despite we were barefoot, we still enjoyed walking around the temple compound to photograph the beautiful architecture.
At a far corner by a back exit, we stopped by a gate with a niche and small statue.
Looking back over to the temple, the sun was setting fast. We decided to move on to another spot to watch the sunset over Old Bagan.
It was still pretty busy at the entrance of the Ananda Pahto when we exited the compound. Behind us, the splendid golden spires of Ananda glowed under the western sun.