Hot air balloons are usually seen in the sky for the perfect birds-eye view of the wide landscape – and are as stunning to see from the ground as up in the air. As Myanmar’s first capital city, Bagan continues to inspire and attract some of the most celebrated thinkers, travelers, writers and artists. Explorer Marco Polo, in introducing Europeans to Asia, called the Bagan Archaeological Zone “one of the finest sights in the world.” English author W. Somerset Maugham stood in awe at temples which “loom huge, remote and mysterious, like the vague recollections of a fantastic dream.”
The splendor of Bagan is often compared in scope to Cambodia’s renowned Angkor Wat. Bagan’s temples and pagodas – many of them golden speckled -- are part of the sacred cultural heritage of the Myanmar people and the center of the first unified Empire of Anawrahta. Ancient architectural details and designs, Buddha statues, murals, paintings, precious frescoes and stone inscriptions tell of the living history of the Myanmar people. The empire was founded in 849 AD and flourished to the 13th century. Over 10,000 temples were built between the 11th and 13th centuries in Bagan, located on the eastern bank of the mighty Ayeyarwady River. Despite erosion, war and other elements of time, 2,200 still remain. Some have been restored to full glory while other smaller temples are intriguing for their exposed brick structural blocks and spectacular colors.
One of the most widely visited pagodas is the Shwezigon Pagoda, with its shimmering gold plated gourd-shaped dome that became a prototype for all other stupas. Construction began under the reign of King Anawrahta and was completed by his son (occurring around 1059-1099 AD) and is considered one of the holiest temples as it enshrines several Buddhist relics, a holy tooth among them. Its location was decided by an old Burmese tradition of letting a white elephant (with relics attached to its back) wander around freely until finding a place to stop. This spot is where the temple now stands.
The Ananda Temple is also considered one of Bagan’s holiest and most prominent temples. Built by King Anawrahta’s son, King Kyansittha, it houses four Buddhas facing the cardinal directions, representing the four Buddhas who’ve attained Nirvana and features elegant wooden carvings and figures on the door frames.