Visited: August 30, 2014
Site Type: Cultural
Background and Opinion:
The Pyu city-states was a group of six independent cities, noted for being the first in recorded history to occupy what is now northern Burma from the 2nd century BC – 11th century CE. Pyu had its own language and written script which was derived from Brahmi of ancient India and is also thought to be what led to Mon Script, the modern Burmese writing system. All of that knowledge hurt my head. They are the first civilization in the area…there!
I knew there was a new UNESCO World heritage site in the Myanmar, but after skipping the town of Halin, near Mandalay, I thought I wasn’t going to see it at all. Myanmar was such a fantastic country though and with a surprise at every turn, and one museum changed my mind.
In Bagan, the archaeological museum was $5, and many suggest you skip it to have more time with the temples themselves. Being stubborn, I insisted on visiting and was pleasantly surprised. Overall, it is nice with a lot of background explaining Burmese history (although, mostly in Burmese). The last room was just a plethora of tablets with explanations as to their meaning that was so overwhelming, I admittedly skipped through most until the last one which was covered in glass.
I was about to step out and skip this too when I realized the script was different on every side. Upon reading the description, this stone depicted that before this stone was discovered, the ancient Pyu Sino-Tibetan language was a complete mystery with modern linguists unable to decode it as it was extinct. The stone translates Pyu into Burmese and another language, making is a Burmese version of the Rosetta Stone. It is amazing how the latter sits as one of the most important archaeological discoveries of our times in a London museum while this equally amazing artifact sits in a poorly lit museum with hardly any visitors. Nonetheless, my interest in Pyu has piqued.
Just outside of the city of Pyay, north of Yangon is Sri Ksetra, the largest and most important of the Pyu cities, and only one of three that remain. Its walls are intact and a number of artifacts remain in pits in this otherwise unassuming place. While the facilities have been built to introduce visitors to the site, an average of 2-3 foreigners visit daily with a few more locals making the trip. However, the area is populated by farmers, so visiting is quite an experience as you will see ox carts, women carrying things on their head, and farmers just going about their business, as if unaware that an important archaeological cities lies at their feet! Unlike some temples in Myanmar, the massive ancient pagoda is still in use and the site yearly rituals as has been done for over a century (since its rediscovery). While it is not flashy, easy to visit, and the remains aren’t very close to each other, it is still worth a look.
1) Completeness and Originality (4/15): There are just a handful of buildings that remain. While they are amazing, time has definitely taken its toll on this site.
2) Extensiveness of the Site (2.5 out of 15): The whole site takes about 4 hours to view. However, this is not because there is so much to see, but because everything is so far away with nothing but dirt roads inbetween. Tuktuk drivers refuse to take the course. Otherwise, it would really take about 90 minutes to see it all.
3) Cultural Significance (7 out of 25): Pyu were the first to civilize what is now Myanmar. In addition, the city-states introduced Buddhism to the area, which is still practiced in Myanmar till this day.
4) Personal Impact (6 out of 15): I did not regret visiting as it did put into perspective the eventual rise of the Bagan Kingdom a few centuries later. However, it would have felt better if we didn’t get lost every few minutes.
5) Logistics (0 out of 10): This is my first zero. For starters, Myanmar is not the most accessible country. Pyay is 6 hours away from Yangon by bus with almost no accommodations that allow foreigners to stay the night. From here though, you have to take a tuk tuk to the ancient city which is not possible the same day of course. Then, it is 3-4 hours walking around in dirt roads. All of this is fine so far, until you realize that in the rainy season, this is incredibly hazardous. We reached the end and the return route in front of us was underwater. We removed our shoes and started to walk across it until we realized that the feces covered floor was now floating around us and it probably had a bunch of leeches. No biggie right? I was a brave guy too until I came across snakes!!! I draw the line at black and white, possible poisonous snakes. We had to return the long way, making out trip over 5 hours. With virtually no traffic except for the casual ox cart, it lead to some fantastic scenery, a great story, but a logistically difficult situation. Our driver was not pleased we were over an hour late either.
6) Uniqueness (2 out of 20): The ancient city was interesting, but with ruins like Tulum and Bagan not being world heritage sites, it really is not the most spectacular. Nonetheless, it is worth a look.
Combined Score: 19.5/100
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