It’s a pity. Bagan has the potential to be a world renown historical landmark. Something maybe even worth comparing to Angkor Wat, or the other sacred and ancient lands of the world. Instead, what the Myanmar government is making / has made of it is something just so terrible. I always thought India was one of the worst countries in the world when it came to maintaining historical buildings and monuments (ignoring you, Afghanistan…), but the Myanmar government is one step ahead here.
Bagan is a historical land, spread across 25,000 acres in the western part of Myanmar. It’s a 5 hour bus ride from Mandalay (takes a lot more because the buses stop at random spots to pick up locals). At the entrance to the archaeological zone of Bagan, the bus stops, and every foreigner is required to buy a $25 ticket to enter – which I hoped would be used towards maintaining the temples, not ruining them further. Once you enter the zone though, there’s clusters and clusters of ancient temples all around, and there’s a temple ahead of you, no matter which direction you look.
Bagan was a village, and an important part of Myanmar’s history back in the 9th century. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, the then rulers of the region built over 10,000 temples in the region. However, constant invasions and feuds with the Mongols led to the entire village just up and fleeing by the 14th century. The lands remained abandoned for many, many years. And this being an earthquake prone area, the 10,000 plus temples that originally stood here, have been reduced to around the 2,200 that stand today. That’s still a lot of ancient temples!
I read in an article online that once the British left Myanmar, and the military junta government was in place, they tried restoring some of the dilapidated and earthquake damaged temples. What the fools didn’t take into account was the fact that these temples are hundreds of years old (some even over a thousand), and you just don’t restore something that old with modern concrete, bricks and other sealing materials. But that’s exactly what they did. I’m no expert, but you don’t need to be one to know that that’s not how it’s done. Later on, Myanmar approached the UNESCO for heritage cite certification. These are, after all, really amazing heritage structures, and rightly deserved to be classified. But UNESCO has thus far refused certification given Myanmar’s ridiculous approach to restoring and maintaining their historical sites. Serves the idiots right, but is it really enough? I believe they are now working with UNESCO in restoring some of these temples, but that’s not going to undo what they’ve already done, is it? Besides, at Inle Lake I still saw them cut new bricks and patch up old temples with cement; so I’m not really sure they’re listening to UNESCO at all.
Another thing I noticed is that there are no security of safety measures in place. An earthquake that hit the region in 2016 has damaged (once again) some of its most important temples. While they have cordoned off certain temples and areas with bamboo sticks, and even put notices that the temples are under restoration and out of bounds, there’s nothing stopping tourists (and no one indeed does), from walking past these non-persuasive barricades, and climb to the top of these temples anyway. Imagine that!
Now, I completely understand that guarding and securing 2,200 temples is no easy job. But guys, a little more effort please?
Here’s some pictures of the (currently) splendid lands: