By Nina Ornstein
When my mom and I arrived to Bagan, we were taken back by the quiet, peaceful vibes. The breathtaking beauty of the area aside, we felt inspired to explore. That kind of feeling when you just want to throw on the sneakers and roam. I would like to immediately advise anyone traveling to this area wear sun protection, especially a hat. The mornings are cool, as are the evenings. The mid day, however, is baking. It’s all about layers, and luckily it’s easy to get around and plan your day according to the weather and sun. Plus you’re not supposed to show much skin, covering up the legs, shoulders and chest is a must.The area known as Bagan (ပုဂ) or, bureaucratically, as the ‘Bagan Archaeological Zone’, occupies an impressive 26-sq-mile area and boasts 2200 pagods. Bagan is located 118 miles south of Mandalay and 429 miles north of Yangon. The area’s liveliest city and transport hub is Nyaung U, in the northeast corner.Of the numerous pagodas in Bagan, there are a few that are the tourists’ favorites, with the gilded Shwezigon Pagoda reaching the highest visitor numbers. Constructions commenced by King Anawrahta and then completed by King Kyansittha (1084-1113AD) the Shwezigon Pagoda is among the oldest. It is specifically known for a number of sacred Buddhist relics, including a replica of Buddha’s tooth. Damaged dozens of times in earthquakes – the most recent in 1975, the temple was restored and every December attracts thousands of devotees to the Shwezigon Festival.When looking at all these ancient constructions they might seem to be the same, but there is a fundamental difference between the pagodas, stupas and temples that you can find spread all over Bagan. ‘Stupa’, a word from ancient Sanskrit meaning a square or round tomb or a “soul shrine”. This is usually only one part of the religious construction. A Pagoda (Paya in Burmese) consists of a Stupa and its surrounding enclosure. The Stupa itself is the memorial structure containing a relic chamber beneath (or sometimes above) the bell-shaped central portion. They come in all sizes, from tiny ones in stucco to vast towers plastered in solid gold. Larger ones are generally built on several terraces, which are meant to be used by devotees to walk around the shrine in a clockwise direction.‘ Temple’ is somewhat a misused word. According to Theravada Buddhism, there can be no such thing as a ‘place of worship’ because the Buddha is not a god. Rather, the temple is seen as a place for meditation. The area certainly has a distinct sense of serenity. One could easily wander for days with the impressive vast space with all its meandering dirt trails. Just writing this has me seriously daydreaming of going back with some friends and finding more layers of the archeological zone of Bagan. I believe the point of travel is to profoundly sense what it is to be free and alive. This is exactly how I would summarize my impression of Bagan. Myanmar, is a paradise for for an adventure seeker with a passion for culture, a slower pace, deeply rooted history and extremely welcoming community. Every step of the way my mom and I were very satisfied with the ease of travel while visiting Myanmar, I definitely recommend adding it to any travel bucket list!