In Bagan, my friend Tin Win hired a horse-cart driver to take us around to look at the temples. We were coming along a trail when we heard the faraway sound of bells. Soon we came in sight of the Ananda temple. Gazing up at a sikhara-topped, white-washed pagoda with receding terraces, I could understand why this beautiful temple was so highly revered.
We got out of the horse cart and went along the processional walkway. We entered through the huge, carved teak doors. On the wall, sandstone reliefs depicted the life of Buddha. Walking in the cool interior of the vaulted corridor, I gazed up at the arched ceiling. A ten-foot-tall, gilded Buddha stood in an arched recess.
Facing each direction of the compass were statues of the four Buddhas that had reached Nirvana, including Gautama, the historical Buddha. Our footsteps echoed down the darkened corridor and a deeply mystical feeling came over me.
Kneeling before a serene Buddha, a frail, old man fingered a rosary, chanting silently, longing for release from the life-and-death cycle. I looked up at the sanctuary tower of the Ananda. In the changing light of day, the reflection of the sun glinted off the gold-tipped sikhara, creating a mystical glow. As we were leaving the temple, a woman, carrying a gilded parasol, meandered past us. The sun lowered on the horizon.
“We need to get some height,” Tin Win said, “Climb a temple to watch the sunset.” We wanted to see the sunset from an isolated temple, so we went down a sandy road by horse cart, riding in the smoky dusk to an isolated red-brick temple. Walking up a steep, narrow flight of stairs, I watched my footing. It was beautiful to take in the sunset from such a high temple, a spiritual power-point from where to contemplate the amazing landscape.
A sense of the mystical unseen came over me in the ancient silence. In the afterglow of sunset, I sat in quiet awe, looking over the endless temples on the vast plains in the distance. As night fell, we made the ride back to the guesthouse in contemplative silence.