Myanmar – Our Stories
Gawdawpalin Temple‘We need to go to the big temple out the front of our hotel’ he said. ‘I think its called Gawdawpalin … Ok good idea’. It’s our last night before we leave and the Gawdawpalin Temple is lit with an ethereal glow right to the top of its stupa. Its almost 8pm and plenty of time.
We walk the 5 mins walk from The Bagan Thande Hotel with our torches at the ready. The small temples on the way are all lit with their Buddha statues inside, and we pass the empty bicycle and horse cart places normally full of life during the day. Round the corner and Gawdawpalin is lit up in all its glory. With no-one there. Hot black night and insects sounding off, its perfect.
Through the main gate of the temple there are a couple of hardy stalls selling the night trade of perfume and sunnies and watches.
A family with kids runs past us into the temple – for a blessing I guess – and runs back out.
Walking up the path past the night traders to the temple entrance it is dark and there is quiet. The only patch of light is from the little room at the edge of the over at the side of the courtyard and then the light at the main temple entrance.
The guards at either side of Gawdawpalin Temple are talking loudly in ever increasing slightly slurred tones. Long day, drinks all round. Inside the temple guard is snoring on his chair.. its been a busy day – we smile.
So there are not many people here … cool, we can wander.
We turn left to start the walk round the 4 sides of Gawdawpalin Temple. ‘Look at the light outside the window spaces … the bats are circling them‘. We are momentarily transfixed. We pause by the buddha statues and keep on walking. Its silent in here. No one is talking…. We keep on walking round the corners and then we understand, there is no one here to talk, thats why… we are alone.
‘If I’m locked in here for the night I will sleep in the guards chair’ … then …. ‘But that means we could be locked in’ We walk a little faster and then just round the corner there are the iron gates.
Locked ? – no …. just pulled to …. phew … We walk up to them to push them open.
Well that doesn’t happen, and then we see the iron gates are padlocked with 2 big padlocks. And there is no guards chair for me to sleep in, he’s left for the night and taken it with him.
‘Hullo… we’re in here, sorry, we’re locked in’ we shout hoping we will be heard as there is no-one to be seen.
So the guards arrive. And yes they are sorry for padlocking the gates, and are off to get the keys from the lit guard house over at the side of the courtyard. We stand there remorsefully and are chastised for being in the temple after 8pm. ‘Sign say 8pm closed, you late’ Shaking of heads and tsking tongues.
We are unlocked and walk into the warm night, smiling. It was going to be uncomfortable on the stone floor for the night with no chair. What about the temple rats? And the bats?
Hot Pagoda Plain DaysBagan Archaeological Zone is one of the most extraordinary places on the planet. Each one of our days here in Bagan is spent with cameras, video and drone at the ready.
Our taxi driver is always on time, pickup is at 9 am and we head out to the temples and pagodas. Jo Cole chooses places for us with empty spaces and few people so we can film in peace and use the drone. If there are guards Jo Cole always asks permission.
We ride through the backroads – a few electric bikes are being ridden on and a couple of taxi cars are half full of tourists. Yay for the slow season.
Jo Cole takes us to out of the way temples, old forgotten libraries, and small family built monuments in the cultivated fields, each with its own buddha statue.
The cows plough the fields with the same old wooden plough from what looks like a hundred years ago. The farmer standing on the back and oxen driven past in the rusty cart completes the picture.
Dusty roads and acacia scrub with the singing locusts and swirling birds are timeless. If its like this now, what has it been before? Its hard to remember to stop and take in the moods of it. The heat is ever present.
The Queen is waiting for us. Jo Cole takes us to a restaurant in Nyaung U called ‘The Queen’. It has great food and we can take a break from the sun. He times it perfectly, each day we arrive just before everyone else fills the room.
Filming outdoors works in the morning. In the afternoon when every sane person is undercover or resting we are out there doing our thing with Jo Cole. I’m feeling a bit sorry for him but he doesn’t seem to mind. He parks himself under the acacia trees in the shade and waits for us. ‘Hey Jo. Can you hold the iPad while I fix the gimbal … did I leave the spare battery in your car?’… We are grateful for his help in the heat.
Its hot. Its so hot and humid the camera lens complains about focusing and my eyes are hurting with the salty sweat running. I cant see. We wipe our eyes and carry on.
The drone is taking footage of the huge old temple with the 3 little square buildings to the side. What were they made for? Libraries? Monks quarters? Personal Monuments?
I’m on the verge of not caring …. theres water waiting for us in the car.
Jo has the air con running as soon as he sees us heading for the car, and we drop into the seats for time out. This is madness.
But making the decision to come just before the rains is letting us have free access to drone spots and quiet times in the temples, so we are happy to defer to the suns power.
Hot temples with hot dust and the piercing singing of the insects. ‘That sound must mean the insect is huge’
I am corrected. ‘Not big. small like your small fingernail’ Really?
But nothing can be seen in the matt of thick thorny acacia bushes, so I film the bush for the sound anyway.
Many of the main temples usually have a myriad of markets in the front carparks. At this time of the year we are free to walk unheeded to the temple entrances. A few people still sell, but not many tourists are about so it’s slow for them.
Shoes off at the front gates of each temple pagoda and monument. Lots of shoes, so I can’t imagine the crush of them in the high season. All usually paired off to find easily later. The temples insides are quiet and cool. A few birds chatter and the human voices lowered.
Some walls are bare and stripped, some are explaining the lives and times and fables from the past. With glorious faded detail painted with care, and then again painted over hurriedly, and then again whitewashed out of existence … we wonder why?
Inside the temples Buddhas are seated on all four sides. Some are new and dressed in bright colours, some are soft coloured stone and wear expressions for teaching, and some are older than we can see, telling us things we have yet to hear. Every day is magical.
For us, the day is over. Coffee at the cafe near Tharabar Gate. They are serving real expresso and it can’t be missed.