Bagan formerly known as ‘Pagan’ is an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar (Burma).
Bagan is home to the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries.
The shape and construction of each building is highly significant in Buddhism with each component part taking on spiritual meaning.
From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar.
This kingdom was the first to unify the area that is now Myanmar, establishing the Burmese culture and ethnicity, as well as Theravada Buddhism, in the region.
Over this period of rule, as the city and kingdom grew in influence and stature, over 10,000 temples were built on the plains surrounding the capital next to the Irrawaddy River.
Today, seven centuries later, approximately twenty-two hundred remain standing.
The Ananda Temple, Bagan’s holiest temple was built in 1105 AD during the reign (1084–1113) of King Kyanzittha of the Pagan Dynasty. The temple layout is in a cruciform with several terraces leading to a small pagoda at the top covered by an umbrella known as hti, which is the name of the umbrella or top ornament found in almost all pagodas in Myanmar. The Buddhist temple houses four standing Buddhas, each one facing the cardinal direction of East, North, West and South.
Gawdawpalin Temple was built in the 12th century by King Narapatisithu.It is is the second tallest temple in Bagan. The temple was heavily damaged during the 1975 earthquake and was reconstructed in following years.
Dhammayangyi Temple is the largest temple in Bagan, it was built by King Narathu who reigned from 1167 to 1170. Narathu, who came to the throne by assassinating his father Alaungsithu and his elder brother, presumably built this largest temple to atone for his sins.
The Shwesandaw Pagoda was built in 1057 by King Anawahta, the stupa enshrines hairs of the Buddha. It is sometimes called the Ganesh Temple after the elephant headed Hindu god whose images once stood at corners of each of the five terraces.
Mahabodhi Temple is an exact, though smaller, replica of the famous Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India (where the Buddha attained enlightenment beneath the Bodhi tree). It was built during the reign of King Nantaungmya (1210-1234) and is completely covered with niches containing seated Buddha figures.
Shwezigon Pagoda was built as the most important reliquary shrine in Bagan. It is a prototype of Burmese stupas, and consists of a circular gold leaf-gilded stupa surrounded by smaller temples and shrines. Construction of the Shwezigon Pagoda began during the reign of King Anawrahta and was completed in 1102 AD, during the reign of King Kyansittha of the Pagan Dynasty.The pagoda is believed to enshrine several bones and hairs of the Buddha.
The large corpus of contemporary stone inscriptions have been the most reliable source for the history of the Kingdom.
The mural paintings inside more than 300 temples constitutes a unique corpus of paintings of that time in southeast Asia.
Bagan is fondly known as the ‘sea of temples‘.
All temples in Bagan are considered sacred by the Burmese.
The area known as Bagan or as the Bagan Archaeological Zone measures 13 by 8 kilometers (8 by 5 miles).
Bagan, located in an active earthquake zone, had suffered from many earthquakes over the ages, with over 400 recorded earthquakes between 1904 and 1975.
Although the government believed that the ancient capital’s hundreds of (unrestored) temples and large corpus of stone inscriptions were more than sufficient to win the designation of UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city has not been so designated, allegedly mainly on account of the restorations.
The temple site is too big to explore on foot, but is well suited to being seen by bike, being criss-crossed by gravel roads and paths.
Also you can explore at a more sedate pace from one of the area’s 250-odd horse carts that congregate at the larger or more central temples. If you want something more comfortable you can rent a private air-conditioned taxi.
And you can take a hot air balloon ride at sunrise through 2 companies in Bagan one is called Balloons Over Bagan, around US$ 320 per person and the other is called Bagan Ballooning, US$ 350 per person with less people in the basket. The 2 companies operate from October till April.
Unlike cities in the lower part of Myanmar, Bagan does not experience a rainy season and it is the perfect climate of Bagan that enables tourists to discover and explore the ancient city with ease all year round.
The best time to visit is between November and February, when temperatures hit 30ºC (86ºF). Avoid March to May, when temperatures can reach 43ºC (110ºF). Rainfall is highest in June and October.