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As I sat in my sojourn and absorbed the never ending panorama of flat, arid land, it felt as if some godly finger had suddenly pressed ‘pause’…Eerily still and deafeningly quiet, I imagined the resonance of my heart beat, in perfect synchronicity to the horizon before me… a life line, interjected with the pyramidal form of each pulse. Temples and stupas – from just a few metres to more than 60 metres in height – rose out of the dusty, orange lands in their hundreds and thousands… Sensing a new dawn of renewed hope, they were on the rise again to quell its turbulent history. Jagged spires poked the Crayola blue sky above victoriously. I am in Bagan, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and its recent emergence from the shadows has opened up a new doorway to explore what Marco Polo described as, “one of the finest sites in the world.”  Bagan indeed knocks you sideways, leaving you in awe and momentarily lost for words… When words finally register, you’re suddenly spouting adjectives in an attempt to describe this unforgettable treasure trove… bewildering, astounding, captivating, inspiring, mesmerising, evocative, haunting, epic…

TBagan 02he heat was relentless, yet I had never felt so alive as I, an ‘intrepid explorer’, ‘discovered’ my ‘own’ temple, one after the next…

And there is only one way to capture the true mystery of these lands and that is on two wheels baby! Being on a bike means you’re free to explore the quieter and harder to reach temples, a dead certainty to avoid the coach loads of tourists.

Bagan 05It isn’t hard to find one… The two wheels rule these lands! Taking advantage of the influx of tourists, vendors have set up shop along the main road from Nyuang U to Old Bagan.

‘Do you know how to ride?’ the vendor asked me as I eyed up a nifty, orange electric bicycle.

I had drawn a small curious crowd around me and they watched me nervously as I sat astride it and tested my balance.

Pah! How difficult could this be? I had ridden a scooter in Thailand and Vietnam, and admittedly, I may have come off it a couple of times, but nothing was going to deflate my Indiana Jones moment.I revved on the accelerator and suddenly sped on to the wrong side of the road. I heard their cries, ‘Wrong way! Wrong way!’ as a mini van swerved to miss me. If I had mirrors on this sensitive contraption, I may have seen their horrified expressions as I raced away to discover these ancient lands.

Bagan 04History

During its pinnacle between the 11th and the 13th centuries, Bagan was a prosperous and cosmopolitan city. It’s been recorded that as many as 13,000 temples and stupas were built during its golden age. When its patrons moved to newer cities however, its monuments were abandoned and left to the elements. Many temples were even ‘recycled’ to build different structures around the country.

Fortunately, in recognizing its importance, UNESCO placed the Bagan archeological zone ( an area of about 104 km2) on its list as a future World Heritage Site; and thanks to a joint venture with the government, 2000 stupas survive today.

It is a fraction of the original city, but despite this, it would still be an impossibility to see them all… For every temple I climbed, I saw hundreds more beckoning me… Each one, never the same… Each one seemed to whisper their own tale of centuries old ghosts…

I scanned the dusty piece of paper in my hand; a crumpled map that was no longer decipherable because of my frantic, excited scribbles… The Lonely Planet and other numerous sources had outlined the best archaeological sites to explore, but this information was all meaningless now. Long lost were my bearings. High on adventure and with the prospect of going where no man has gone before, I closed my eyes, pointed randomly to a spot on my map and sped away through the dusty plains in search of my next treasure…