A story on how the Global Heritage Fund is using a satellite network to help monitor heritage sites in Myanmar to create sustainable tourism and long-term returns for local communities.
Myanmar’s most famous political figure Aung San Suu Kyi was recently quoted decrying the poor restoration of the ancient temples of at Bagan, where conservation efforts by the government are seen to be not up to international standards and catered towards attracting the tourist dollar rather than inherent heritage value.
Exchanges between the Budddhist monks of Sri Lanka and the ancient Burmese capital of Bagan (Pagan) have been carrying in since the 11th century, according to Dr. Hema Goonatilake of Sri Lanka.
Ancient Sri Lanka-Myanmar links rediscovered
Daily News (Sri Lanka), 26 August 2009
24 May 2007 (news.com.au) – Soon, after your visit to Angkor, you will be able to fly directly to the ancient monuments of Bagan in Burma (Myanmar) thanks to a just-inked agreement between the governments of Cambodia and Myanmar. This agreement will pave the way for a larger influx of heritage tourists to visit the ancient cities of Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos (Luang Prabang is connected to Siem Reap by plane as well).
Cambodia, Myanmar agree to direct flights
CAMBODIA and Myanmar have agreed to direct flights between their main tourist destinations, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong said Wednesday.
The flights will connect Bagan and Mandalay, Myanmar’s top tourist stops, to Cambodia’s Angkor temple town Siem Reap, he said after returning from accompanying the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, to the reclusive state.
“Cambodia and Myanmar agree to boost the tourism industry between the two nations and attract more international visitors,” he said.
“We have the same culture because we are both Buddhist, so we have to attract more tourists to both countries,” he added.
Impoverished Cambodia has built a booming tourist industry on the back of the 800 year-old Angkor temples, drawing some 1.7 million foreign visitors in 2006.
Read more about direct flights between Angkor and Bagan.
For more information about the ancient capitals of Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, you might want to look up:
– Angkor Cities and Temples by C. Jaques
– The Treasures of Angkor: Cultural Travel Guide (Rizzoli Art Guide) by M. Albanese
– Angkor: Cambodia’s Wondrous Khmer Temples, Fifth Edition by D. Rooney and P. Danford
– Ancient Pagan by D. Stadtner
– Bagan by B. Broman
– Ancient Luang Prabang by D. Heywood
1 April 2007 (San Jose Mercury News) – Another tourist’s account of Indochina, this time to Burma, through a three-week archaeological tour.
Woozy from jet lag and blinded by a golden reflection of light, I was struck speechless the first time I saw Shwedagon Pagoda.
The shimmering bell-shaped stupa reigning over the 14-acre Shwedagon complex – and indeed over the city itself – is the heart and soul of Yangon. Devotees and visitors come to pray, meet friends, meditate, burn incense, chant or, like me, to just stand dumbstruck.
I still might be standing there if I hadn’t become engrossed in the traditional clockwise stroll around the mosaic-covered columns, spires, prayer pavilions and hundreds of images of Buddha that fill every nook and cranny.
The glistening 32-story stupa is topped by a golden orb studded with 4,350 diamonds and precious stones. Inside, away from the faithful and onlookers, are said to be relics of Buddha. So it’s easy to see why it is the most revered site in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma.
To our little band of Westerners, it was Wonderland.
– Bagan by B. Broman
– Recent developments in the archaeology of Myanma Pyay (Burma): an introduction. (Editorial) by M. A. Aung-Thwin and M. T. Stark
– Shwedagon: Golden Pagoda of Myanmar by E. Moore and U Win Pe
12 November 2006 (a Reuters story, seen on CNN) – The restoration of Bagan using modern tools and materials risk turning it into another “Disneyland”.
Bagan: beautified or sacrificed?
Restorations are not new to Bagan, a victim of many floods, fires and earthquakes over the centuries.
A severe 1975 quake destroyed or damaged scores of clay brick and mud buildings and stunning wall murals some say are Bagan’s greatest treasure.
The junta allowed UNESCO experts in to help, but it later ignored the U.N. culture agency’s recommendations for World Heritage status, which would have required a conservation plan and unwanted international scrutiny.
After UNESCO withdrew in the mid-1990s, the generals launched their own restoration drive and solicited donations from wealthy Burmese and merit-seeking Buddhists from across Asia in pursuit of their own temple for the next life.
“They just wanted it to look beautiful,” said Gustaaf Houtman, editor of UK-based magazine Anthropology Today, who believes it is part of a wider campaign to rewrite history.
“Generals sponsored the renovation of a pagoda as a merit-making exercise, as a way of demonstrating to the whole of Burma, and to the world, that they were in control,” he said.
A forthcoming study by Australian archaeologist Bob Hudson says 650 complete buildings have had major repairs — including new spires, roofs or corners — since 1996.
10 Sep 2006 (Chicago Tribune, LA Times) – Another news feature on the architectural damage done to the stupas in Burma/Myanmar by the military junta.
‘Blitzkrieg’ rehab imperils Myanmar’s ancient temples
BAGAN, Myanmar — The bricklayers are paid $1.35 a day to rebuild the ancient ruin: a small, 13th Century temple reduced by time to little more than its foundation.
But they have no training in repairing aged monuments, and their work has nothing to do with actually restoring one of the world’s most important Buddhist sites. Instead, using modern red bricks and mortar, they are building a new temple on top of the old.
They work from a single page of drawings supplied by the government. Three simple sketches provide the design for a generic brick structure and a fanciful archway. No one knows, or seems to care, what the original temple looked like. Nearby are two piles of 700-year-old bricks that were pulled from the ruin. The bricklayers use them to fill holes in the temple.
3 September 2006 (San Antonio Express) – A travelogue through the archaeological site of Bagan (Pagan) in Burma, where an uncooperative military junta and the effects of commercialisation have led to shoddy and inaccurate restoration works on the numerous Buddhist stupas there.
Future of Myanmar temples worries Asian art conservationists
The delicate beauty of Bagan, unfortunately, is under dire threat because it lacks something Angkor Wat, for instance, has â€” a World Heritage Site designation from UNESCO, whose decades-long efforts on Bagan came to a halt in recent years. The unwillingness of Myanmar’s ruling junta of generals to turn over preservation and restoration work to the international body, which had created a detailed plan to conserve and protect one of the world’s great cultural heritages, proved too great a barrier to surpass. Now many Asian art conservationists and art lovers around the world fear for Bagan’s future.
There are no signs the generals plan to open their relations with the wider world. Indeed, there have been clear signs that unskilled work has been carried out at the [tag]Bagan archaeological site[/tag] that could jeopardize its integrity and also open the door to commercialization that could further threaten its future.
2 July 2006 (The Hindu) – Another travel piece with pictures of the Buddhist stupas in Bagan, Myanmar. Scholarship about Bagan is rare, more so pictures, so it’s a great introduction to this site.
Bagan is Myanmar’s ode to Buddhism, as Borobudur is to Indonesia and Angkor Vat is to Cambodia. Situated in the dusty central plains of Myanmar, Bagan is literally a forest of stupas â€” more than 2,000 and still counting. From the moment you land, there is a never-ending procession of stupas of different shapes, sizes, height, colour, materials, vintage. Many are made of brick, some of stones and a few grand ones like the Anand Pahto dazzle with their golden steeples.
Bagan by B. Broman