Monday, January 13, 2020

Bagan Sunrises and Sunsets

I had booked three nights in Bagan, I stayed for five. I checked into the Shwe Wun Yan Hotel around 6:30 AM. I had a quick look around and was really happy with the place. Neat, clean, and $15 a night for a single room that included the buffet breakfast. Well checked in but could not get my room until 11:00. The owner told me to go enjoy a free breakfast on the roof with the other guests. Nice. A few flights of stairs and onto the terrace and I was greeted by the rising sun and an array of hot air balloons lifting off into the morning colors. I was going to like it here.

Bagan is all about enjoying the sunrises and sunsets. Up until 2016, there were a few chosen temples you could climb to enjoy both. However, in 2016 there was a 6.8 earthquake and many of the temples, pagodas and other monuments became very unstable. All climbing was forbidden. Not to deter the wanted tourist dollars the government built up various berms/hills around Shwesandaw Pagoda and other popular viewing sites. The end result is now the multitude of tourist buses lining the parking lots. Everyone has the right to be there however I am a bit unlucky I missed the incredible experience by a couple of years. No worries, I soon discovered that there were viewing berms all over the area and most tourists just stuck with the main ones. It always works out in the end.
I had a full morning and the thing to do while you are here is rent an Ebike and cruise around Bagan, Old Bagan and the 19 villages in the area. You have access to all the historical sites and once you get off the pavement and onto the sandy tracks it is incredibly quiet and peaceful. The hotels had rentals and after dinner, I revved up and was on my way.

As I said, Bagan is all about the morning and evening sun. My first sunset was at the popular viewing area. It was a bit crowded but nothing unmanageable. I found the right music, put my headphones on and just relaxed as the sunset over the very temples I had viewed that day. It was nice to view a beautiful sunset that was not over an ocean. I found a few various spots to view the sunsets over 5 nights in the villages. The views were great, there was no bus traffic and the only noise was cows and goats.

The other nice area was at any place along the Irrawaddy River. With a mountain range in the distance and the calm river flowing in front of you, it created an excellent serene vibe. Every night the sun was a brilliant orange and yellow. There was always just enough cloud noise to add color and texture. Again, a situation where I wish I had my DSLR. My Oppo tries the best that it can and we know pictures never translate the way the real view is, I do not care how professional the shot.

It is the mornings where Bagan shows off and for me, the sunrise is always better than the sunset. The first morning I got up at 5:00 to rush to find a spot, as you do. I washed my face and groggily jumped on my Ebike and hit the morning streets. It was freaking cold dude. The morning itself was about 5 degrees, and then you are busting down the road at 40 KM/H and suddenly your fingers stop working. I was not the only one who had pulled over to breathe into their numb fingers. I found my spot and was ready to do my thing. It was 5:35 and the freaking sunrise was not until 6:45. WTF man. I looked around and there were quite a few people who were thinking the same thing. I am cold, hungry, did not have a coffee and I am here way too early. Shit. Lesson learned. Top it off, the balloons do not lift off until just after sunrise so no photos until at least 7:00. Standing on the hill there were a few latecomers who obviously knew the drill from the day before. They arrived around 6:30.

On my final morning, I decided to chase the balloons as they headed drifted along. What a great decision. I found myself zipping along the dusty back trails and having them all to myself. I kept pace and found various shots that I thought might translate well. Suddenly and without any expectation, I came upon a man-made dune that was in the direct pathway. I jumped off the groovy scooter and ran up the hill to the surprise of a couple of other people. We just smiled and chatted briefly about how lucky we were to find this place of solitude and beauty. This moment was all about enjoying the time, not discussing our trips. It was a nice moment really. We said goodbye and off I went like I was driving the General Lee hauling moonshine. The next couple of mornings I got up at 6:00, had a coffee and found my viewing in time for both sunrise and liftoff. By the 4th morning, the only thing I was waking up early for was breakfast.

I am not sure how to explain the sunrise and sunset over a massive temple complex that dates back thousands of years. I am not that great of a wordsmith to develop new adjectives or explain the complexity of calming emotions I felt. The 3,500 ancient Buddhist pagodas, temples, and other religious structures were here well before me and will be here well after I am gone.  The sun was breathing life into the past every morning and putting it to bed every night. I am glad to have been a part of the natural cycle in my own way.

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