The ruins of medieval Bagan – nowadays officially known as the “Bagan Archaeological Zone” – are scattered over an area of roughly 50 sq km (26 sq miles), 290km (180 miles) southwest of Mandalay on the east bank of the Ayeyarwady River. Formerly inhabited by between 50,000 and 200,000 people, the lost city is now largely deserted, with most of the local population and tourist-related businesses confined to settlements on the peripheries, leaving the monuments rising in a state of charismatic isolation inland.
An estimated 2,200 temples, pagodas, kyaung and other religious structures rise above the plains here – survivors from the crop of around 13,000 erected between Anawrahta’s conquest of Thaton in 1057 and Kublai Khan’s invasion of the Bamar Empire in 1287. The spectacle of their towers and finials bristling from the table of flat scrubland is hypnotic at any time of year, but especially so on mid-winter mornings, when river mist and cooking-fire smoke often enfolds the brick and stucco structures, glowing red in the first rays of daylight.
Bagan is huge. Don’t underestimate the size of the site or the heat of the central plains. It’s better to see some temples in detail and slowly than to rush through too many and exhaust yourself.
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