Walk, Scoot, Gawp; or, the Bagan Templesplosion

Pagoda by Night

Bagan. There are pagodas there!

The sun rose in Bagan, as it often did, over a sea of ancient spikes.

I had only a faint inkling of quite how large this sea would be as our night bus pulled up to the bus station. After attempted fleecings by the attendant taxi drivers, we piled into a cab and took the long road into old Bagan, grumpy and only half-rested and feeling curmudgeonly about the price of our ride. We were prepared, as one often is on the road, to let the petty things dampen our mood.

Bagan quickly stamped on this impulse, as prickly temples and jagged pagodas soon sprouted from the ground all along the roadside. Holy places were thick as tumbleweed here, brick and mortar and metal and stone jutting everywhere into tiny and enormous structures. Along the roadside, like fireworks stands or ragged old taquerias, were dozens of spires aimed skyward.

Continue reading

The Bastard Monkey Kings of Bundi

Watcher

He watches, and he waits.

We woke at our haveli as sunlight poured in through our barred windows. I untangled myself from yards of mosquito netting, bathed in a cold shower, and emerged into the courtyard of our guesthouse. We overlooked the central pool in town, and a tiny concrete escarpment jutted from the grassy, verdant property into the water, creating a rocky island on which to eat breakfast. The cook took our order, disappeared into the kitchen; we sat under the shady boughs, basking in the warm mid-morning air, and wondering why this haveli run by several old Indian people had such an enormous German Shepherd milling about in the backyard.

Preparation for breakfast took longer than expected, because the long-suffering cook would have to regularly emerge from the kitchen. He would snatch up a large staff from the stairs and begin snapping it against the walls, against the ground, fighting off a swarm of devious interlopers.

The chef was also the property’s primary monkey security officer.

Continue reading