Old Bagan
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Gimme Shelter
Lightning crashes and thunder booms in the ancient structure. This is a storm of Biblical proportions—though the setting is nothing of the sort. Holed up inside a roughly 1,000-year-old Buddhist temple, anxious about nightfall, but not about to venture into the violent squall, my wife and I sit on the gritty floor and settle in for a stay. Two Myanmar sand painters sit across from us. After shifting their canvases a few times to avoid the encroaching waters pouring into the temple, they have given up and rolled them. Now we all sit in the dark, hoping for a break in the cosmos so we can all ride bikes back to normal digs. Biking around the 26-square-mile Bagan plain and its more than 4,000 temples is one of the highlights of Asia. I’ve seen many world wonders, and this is easily on par. I’m convinced it would be more well-known if Myanmar were not an international pariah. My thoughts are interrupted by another crash. The ground trembles, everyone jumps. Small chunks of ancient roof collapse around us. The burning smell of electricity hangs in the air. It seems the temple has been hit, but no one is going to go investigate. Eventually, the storm lifts, and we are keenly aware of our weakness in the face of brute, callous nature. The Myanmar people are aware of this, too, living under tumultuous conditions most could never imagine. But they weather the battering together with patience, perseverance, and the knowledge that all storms pass.
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