​Mud cycling and a sense of eternity – Bagan


Myanmar has the ability to surprise you,  again and again. After a few peaceful days in the Shan state,  mostly trekking and cycling, we arrived in Bagan, an old royal city where about 4000 Buddhist pagodas were built (in a few centuries time).  Because you can never have too many Buddhist temples. The latter might sound ironic, but after 4 days of cycling from one to another, along small muddy paths transformed into rivers and swamps by monsoon, on old and shabby cheap Chinese bicycles, I can truly say I can’t have too many of those. 

We were warned (by our old guidebook, by well meaning self-proclaimed South East Asia experts (i.e. people who had been to Thailand to the beach, in general) that travelling during the rainy season would be hell. Up until now, we had met very little rain, (and by little I mean short showers of torrential storms) but in Bagan we got a sense of what really is the Monsoon. Upon arrival already the road just after our hostel had turned into a big puddle, the heavy rains (every two hours, a gigantic storm passing by obliterating everything) having filled it up nicely. Not that it provided much cause for trouble for the Burmese, who had simply transfered some of their boats from the Yrawaddy river close by to use the to cross the said “road”. The most ingenious ones where already advertising it as a touristic atraction: you can boat on the road, miss, 2000 khyats!(2 euros). 

During our stay, the state of things only worsened with every storm, the ponds getting bigger, the river swelling up, forcing people living close by on houses on bamboo stilts (not high enough, sadly) to move to relatives’ houses or stay and build a platform of chairs inside their houses-aquariums. Again, nothing out of the usual, they would reiterate to us, maybe “just a little bit more water this year”. 

For us, having the luxury of a room in the second floor, a change of clothes and time on our hands, it was absolutely fine. (I mean, for me and my friend, I had to endure a 10 minutes rant from a Israeli tourist blocked like us by rain under an ancient temple who thought it was insufferable) Maybe I’m too lazy but getting angry at the rainy season never occured to me as a something worthy of my time. Instead, we pushed on through the rain, stopping every time there was a “really strong one” (our standards have increased as to which amount of rain will constitute an absolute necessity to seek shelter, think Noah’s Ark level of “mh, it’s not that bad, I needed a shower anyhow”) under one of the many pagodas spread in the Bagan plain, even the smallest one providing us with at least a roof and usually some interesting details, a view over the river, a mischieviously smiling Buddha, ancient stone carving or a small army of squirels playing on the temple steps. The small paths turned to ponds, which we cycled through (we are now official experts in the art of cycling on water, and in this land of Buddha ironically, Jesus would have been impressed), then to muddy swamps (still cycling through), back to sand and dust to come back to their under-water stage a few hours later. And through this, almost no one to disturb the quiet peace of the temples, just a few women selling sand paintings, farmers leading their cows and ploughs, and the intermittent sound of rain on the leaves. Everything as it probably has been for a few centuries, and we felt so lucky to get a rare chance at a glimpse of atemporality, to stop in time and space here in Bagan and let the rain make the world, or rather everything further than a few meters away, disappear. Stepping out of the world without escaping anything is a rare and beautiful thing indeed.

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