With my friend Jane living in Myanmar working for the United Nations, I didn't want to miss the chance of being so close but not visiting. Jane took me to the Bagan Archaeological Zone, a region in central Myanmar studded with 3000 temples built mostly between the 11th and 13th centuries.
|Erica and Jane at Tharabar Gate|
Many of the temples were Buddhist and received the faithful bringing offerings and performing worship. I participated by applying a piece of gold leaf to a Buddha statue. This act of merit-making supposedly improved my changes of reaching a better future life.
|Erica earning merit|
The temples also provided rich fodder for fun photos. Jane assured me that doing silly poses in front of the Buddha statues would not reduce the merit I had just earned with the gold leaf. Actually, she didn't say that, but she promised it wouldn't be seen as offensive, so I forged ahead!
|Erica losing merit??|
The most-touristed temples were large and grand, with carvings, morals, and Buddhas galore. These temples often had impressive golden spires with maze-like inner passages winding past endless Buddha images.
As part of our Bagan experience, we rented e-bikes - electric-battery-powered motorbikes. Although I had driven a moto around a parking lot once while living in Cambodia, this was my first time really driving a motorbike, on real streets with other real vehicles. Granted, these e-bikes topped out at 30 mph, but even after 6 hours, I still never executed smooth turns or conquered my fear of wiping out disastrously.
|First time driving a moto!|
Despite my uneasiness about the e-bike, it was the highlight of the trip. Because the real beauty of Bagan was in its atmosphere: cruising down quiet tree-lined paths; admiring the surrounding landscape sprinkled with small, unnamed temples; suddenly seeing one of the larger temples pop into view; soaking in the peaceful spirit of the area.
|Erica enjoying the peaceful beauty of Bagan|