In Bagan

First thing in the morning, we went to visit another temple. Bagan temples are really amazing. They date back to the 11th – 13th centuries. At the time, their exterior was plastered, but a thousand years and a couple of earthquakes later, the plaster is mostly gone. Where sections of the plaster survived, they give you a glimpse into how magnificently ornate and intricate it used to be. Now, with the plaster skin gone, only the brick skeletons remain. Which is really nothing to sneeze at -they are also magnificent.
In-between the temples, there are standing ancient villages whose inhabitants still live the way they did 1000 years ago. We visited one such village that welcomes tourists and their money. People and animals live here side by side in close proximity. The houses are open structures with a sketchy division between rooms: no doors, but thin walls and sometimes curtains. People sleep on mats, 2 to 3 per bed, 2 to 6 per room. Women carry pails of water on yokes, food is cooked on an open fire, the blacksmith uses hand-operated bellows. A step back in time, except for a TV set in the common room. An ancient woman at the front of one of the houses was smoking a cigar, thick as cucumber. Withered and shriveled she was – a prune of a woman with no front teethe. She was 73 but looked 93.
From the village, we went to the nearby monastery whose permanent denizens amount to 4 right now. Buddhist monkshood is an interesting institution. Every male child, when he turns 10, has to shave his head and spend a week with the monks. Afterwards, he can leave. However, at any given moment of his life, he can return and stay awhile or forever. The monks’ diet is 2 all-you-can-eat meals, but only before noon. No food after noon, just work and meditation until bedtime. They sleep inside man-made caves on mats similar to those we saw in the homes of the peasants.
After another afternoon siesta, we were picked up in carts (not carriages) drawn by scrawny horses with blinders completely covering their eyes. We climbed in and were pulled along dirt roads, through another village, pass a variety of temples, cutting in front of an ox-driven cart, followed by one of the many stray dogs, to the banks of the Irrawaddy River. The river is quite primeval, with rocky banks gently sloping down to the water. It was the end of the day, and people were gathering ashore after a day’s work. The were boarding a ferryboat – a hollowed-out tree trunk, it seemed. They walked into the knee-deep water and were climbing into the boat packing it like sardines.
We, on the other hand, boarded a motor boat and cruised along the mighty river to watch the sun setting on the opposite bank.


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