Bagan is one of several ancient capitals littered around the countryside. In this case, a series of particularly pious kings around 1300 have made it a primary tourist destination in Myanmar by constructing several hundred stupas all in a small area (about 25 square kilometers) now known as the "Bagan Archaeological Zone." What makes this stranger is that all of the houses, even the castles, were made of wood and have all rotted away. What is left is farmed fields with a few trees, littered with more masonry stupas (originally covered in stucco and paint, now mostly gone) than you can imagine. My current internet connection is so poor that I must describe it for you because I cannot upload pictures.
An earthquake in 1975 damaged a lot of the stupas, but most have been repaired. Unfortunately, the government chose to close the upper levels of many of the taller stupas, quoting "structural instability of our priceless heritage" or something along those lines. Not that I really think they're wrong to do this, just disappointed. A few stupas can still be climbed, and the view is quite amazing even from these relatively low viewpoints. The city is gone, replaces by fields. Stupas large and small stretch from the bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River inland for several kilometres, surrounded by farmer's fields, dirt paths, trees, and tourists in horsecarts, buses, and on bikes. The area is large enough that you don't see too many others except at the biggest and most popular stupas: these are also the places where you are promptly surrounded by vendors selling postcards and carvings. And everywhere you have to take your shoes and socks off: happily, I'd had the sense to opt for sandals without socks for the first time on the trip.
The connection at this internet ... hut ... is very bad, and quite expensive - 3000 kyats per hour. I'm running short on kyats, and this is something of a problem as the cash you have when you enter the country is all you have to work with. Credit cards are accepted virtually nowhere (I've seen one craft shop in 24 days of travel that took them), there are no bank machines, and cashing a traveller's cheque is a bureaucratic nightmare that can only be achieved, at some cost, in Yangon. I have enough money, I just need to be a bit cautious. So I may not post again for a few days. I hope to have a picture for you then.
Now I'll climb on my rented bike (1000 kyats a day) to explore the town of Nyaung U and see more stupas!