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August 22 2002 (Pagan was previously called Bagan)
I really would have preferred the rickety and slow train north so we could see the countryside but to reserve the most time possible for the northern area we took an hour and a half flight to Pagan (renamed Bagan).
At the airport we had to go through immigration and customs check again and we hadn’t even left the country. Next was the Archeological Zone desk where we had to pay a $10 fee to be able to see the pagodas and stupas. By the way, on this desk was a pile of knock-off George Orwell books called Burmese Days (1934), a depressing read on upcountry Burma during the British occupation. Orwell served with the British colonial police in Burma and his novel written in his 20�s shows a good understanding of expat life at the time.
The Archeological Zone, or Old Bagan is a wondrous sight…unique in the entire world and I was amazed that I had never heard of it. Across 40 square kilometers of country, stretching back from the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, stand thousands of stupas and temples that were built by successive rulers to gain spiritual merit over the course of the 11th and 13th centuries. In every direction there are ruins of all sizes across the tree studded countryside. Some are huge and glorious like the Ananda Pahto that soars gold-covered into the sky; there are small humble stupas that stand alone. We climbed the steps to the top of one pagoda to join some French and Spanish tourists for the breath-taking panoramic view of the river and pagodas and stupas as far as the eye can see.
By the way, in seven months of traveling we have come across less than half a dozen Americans-most travelers these days everywhere are French, Spanish Italian and Israeli. Or else we are just not going to the same places they go.
The village that grew up in the middle of the Archeological Zone during the 70′s was moved to the middle of a peanut field a few kilometrers away (now New Bagan) just before the May 1990 elections much to the dismay of Old Bagan residents who were given about a week’s notice by the government.
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