It was dark and cool. Above, a black, starred sky. The Old City of Bagan was shrouded under the moon’s warm, white light. Silence. No sound could be heard. Although we had torches we didn’t want to break the spell of that moment turning them on. ‘ Wait us in the lobby of your hotel at five thirty tomorrow morning, our people will pick you up. Do not worry, we will be there in time…’ The personal of the company that we had hired had told us the previous afternoon. So we did.
Two lights in the middle of the road.Then the noise of an engine, breaking the magic, was getting closer and closer. An old, wooden, beautiful – piece of museum – like bus stoped in front of us. Yes, it was old and it was beautiful. Its bodywork was totally made of an enduring, loyal wood. This bus is part of the ancient capital we amused, in silence, at the thought of its passengers enduring the effects of ancient Bagan’s dirty roads who were stoically seated on those wooden seats. Forcing myself not to smile at the idea of it, I checked the time: it was five thirty in the morning.
The bus was waiting for us.
It was still dark when we arrived at the place where the balloons would be taking off. The smiling moon was still high in the sky, still wrapping us with its charm and light. It was just magical. It wasn’t the last time we would think so.
Enjoying a warm coffee we walked around observing the crews preparing each one of the five red balloons which would fly that morning, in silence, as in a ritual, as if performing a ceremony…
The balloons were flat on the ground. Only a few minutes later they were already attached to their respective baskets, and then, only a moment later, very slowly, filled with hot air, were getting their final shape. Our anxieties were building up because on the land next to us, green and yellow balloons of another companies were also taking shape. And they were ahead of us …
To be part of, to be able to see all the process, it is just amazing, it was a dream taking shape along with the balloons.
After advices and explanations given by our balloon captain’s, we were told to climb into the baskets, get seated in our designated places, heads down, cameras firmly fixed and wait for the captain’s order to stand up. Not before. In a matter of a few seconds, a little shake, a strange feeling. ‘You can stand now’…
It is difficult to explain what we felt, all words fall short.There were no window seats, no window to see through as it happens in a plane. We were on the air. We felt we were in the air. A light breeze was blowing. On our faces. ‘The weather is perfect, we will have an excellent trip’, said the captain.
In minutes the sun would be rising behind the horizon line. In the basket, silence. We didn’t dare to break the spell. With the moon gone, very slowly, the sky was turning from dark to a pre-dawn grey, to a light grey, to a bluish grey, to a bluish – pink orange. And then, looking down, in the distance, a growing, red sun. All nine pairs of eyes were looking east, all cameras aiming and shooting at the same time. Breathtaking. Overwhelming. Just stunning. Nothing prepared me for what I saw, and felt.
One after another, rising from the morning mist, as floating, wrapped in a cloak of mystery, temples and pagodas. As far as we could see, from the Irrawady River to the eastern plains, scores of buildings appeared scattered on the flat surface. Next to the water, the Old walled City, and close to it, highligthed by the first rays of the sun, the majestic Ananda temple. In the distance, still shrouded by the river’s and morning’s mist, a golden stupa. Unmistakeably. The Shwedagon Pagoda. In all its glory. Imposing.
With the captain’s help, we were able to recognize the most known temples and pagodas which until then, had been a name on the map. Now they were taking shape, were coming into life, we were connecting images with names. So, we could see and recognize the Htilominio, a little bit further the Sulamani and Dhammayangyi temples, the Shwesandaw pagoda. Inside the city walls, the Thatbynnyu and the amazing Gawdawpalin temple among many more.
From above, from the sky, we were having the big picture of Bagan, the city of Thousand Temples.
The sun kept climbing the blue sky following its own daily route. Long shadows of temples, were projected, as painted, on the bare plains which, progressively, gave away to a much more fertile, cultivated fields where groups of trees, small villages, started to replace the temples. We entered a farm land, where families were just starting their daily chores .
Looking down today’s Bagan, the agricultural Bagan, we had the same feeling that we had have when riding on the old wooden bus: that time had just stopped, that we had gone back in time, centuries back.The Burmese people, in their simple, traditional way, were living again Bagan’s history, just next to those mystical temples, next to the mystical, ancient capital. Side by side, even today. Turning our heads, looking back, in the distance, Bagan, the city of a rich history and rich in myths, the ancient capital, was awaking.
Time for landing. We seated in our designated places, heads down, waiting the captain’s order to stand up. Not before. In a matter of seconds, a little shake, a strange feeling.’You can stand now ‘. Smiles. Our smiles, inside the basket, outside, our crew’s, these humble young Burmese whose hard, responsible work had made possible our landing safe. Smiles on the vendors’ faces ready for their first sale of the day, waiting for us, just next to the basket. How they managed to know where the balloon would be landing, is still a mystery. But they were there. Ready.
We have arrived. Breaksfast was ready. A toast. For our trip. For our captain. For Bagan, the ancient capital. Bagan, the city of thousand temples.
So, it was in this fantastic way how our second day in Bagan started. Riding on balloon over Bagan. Under the moon’s light, over the sun’s early light. We saw the sunrise over the ancient capital, from above, from the sky. A dream came reality.
Time for landing…
Going back to our hotel on the wooden bus..
Flying higher than the birds, an image that will live with us for a long time…