World Heritages in Myanmar
Myanmar has led a fairly isolated existence until recent years. The Government of the Country was firmly in military hands and few tourists bothered to visit despite the many attractions the former British colony (then Burma) held. It is two decades since Myanmar submitted eight sites to UNESCO for acceptance on to their World Heritage list. In recent years the Government has relaxed its stance and increasing numbers of tourists are taking Myanmar travel packages to see these sites for themselves.
Pyu Ancient Cities
The submissions were ignored back in 1996 but a couple of years ago UNESCO finally gave approval for the inclusion of the Pyu Ancient Cities, Halin, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra, in the Irrawaddy River Basin. These cities, and others, were part of the kingdom of Pyu between 200 BC and 900 AD. This was the main route between India and China and Buddhism grew as a result. The civilisation was under constant attack and finally fell to the Bamar from the Kingdom of Nanzhao.The cities have been partly excavated to reveal palace citadels, brick Buddhist stupas, some walls and irrigation systems that allowed for irrigation and hence agriculture. There are also some burial grounds and sites where rudimentary industrial production obviously took place.
There are other sites within the region under consideration but to date it is just the three named above that have been approved by UNESCO.
UNESCO and Myanmar clearly do not agree on many things and one of the points of contention is clearly the restoration of Bagan. At one time there were 20,000 temples and religious sites; there are still 2,200 in various states of repair. That’s quite a restoration task both in terms of time as well as money. UNESCO appears to be unhappy about some of the restoration that has taken place after extensive destruction, largely due to a huge earthquake in 1975. Modern materials have been used in places and that has led UNESCO to refuse to include Bagan on its list. It is a serious omission and anyone looking more closely at what Bagan has to offer will surely agree. The question clearly arises as to whether World Heritages in Myanmar depend upon that body. Anyone on a Myanmar holiday including Bagan will likely feel that UNESCO has got it wrong.
World Heritages in Myanmar have validity if by common acclaim they reveal something special that adds to the understanding of history and culture which Bagan most certainly does. The viewing tower is a recent addition that has not helped Myanmar’s case but that hardly justifies Bagan being ignored when it actually needs expertise to restore it in a better way. Knock the tower down if necessary and make other changes but do not reject Bagan for dubious reasons because Myanmar tour packages aren’t.
This ancient city near Mandalay also suffered from earthquake damage and again while some of its restoration has been poor it is clearly better to take a positive approach to restoring historical treasures. Also known as Innwa, it was the capital for four centuries from the middle of the 14th Century. It is situated on an island between the Irrawaddy and Myitnge Rivers and an earthquake in 1838 has meant little remains of the royal buildings in the original city. These days there are villages on the original site. There are pagodas and temples nearby and Ava even has its own leaning tower much of which survived that earthquake.
UNESCO could take a lead in Myanmar and make the reconciliation of Myanmar with the outside world complete. If it did there are plenty of other places that those who have chosen Myanmar travelfor a recent holiday or who are planning a trip shortly are very likely to support:
• Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is the most important religious complex in Myanmar and devout Buddhists make a pilgrimage here from many regions of Myanmar and beyond. It is almost 100 metres high and sits on a hill so it is a very prominent landmark in Yangon, seen at every turn. It is thought to be as much as 2,600 years old which would make it the oldest pagoda in the world. However there are no documents to verify its age. There are over 7,000 precious stones and not a little gold in this stunning structure.
• Colonial architecture of Yangon dates from the time when the British ruled Burma. It is not in the best state of repair and the modern city and its skyscrapers are growing around it but nevertheless it remains an attraction even today.
• The ruins of Mingun, a former capital just up river from Mandalay, are worth a visit. There are two important pagodas, Pahtodawgyi meaning unfinished and Mya Theindan.
• The Ancient City of Mrauk U in the central area of Myanmar was an important trading town centuries ago when Portuguese, Dutch and French traders were regular visitors. It was the capital of the Arakan Empire from 1431 and many of the temples and pagodas built in those days survive today.
• The old Shan capital In Dein near Inle Lake dates back to the 12th Century from which time, for several centuries temples and pagodas were built. The location below hills is stunning and although some of the restoration is questionable World Heritages in Myanmar surely includes this lovely place.
• Mount Popa with a monastery on the summit of a volcano. It is south east of Bagan and is 1500 metres above sea level. There are 777 steps to reach the summit and it is necessary to climb them barefooted; the climb is worth it.
The past counts for nothing, at least the past relationship between Myanmar and UNESCO. Historically important sites need to be preserved and Myanmar has plenty. As Myanmar becomes increasingly popular with overseas visitors it is likely that further recognition will be given to the many historical and cultural treasures in the Country. It seem certain that World Heritages in Myanmar will increase in number in the future.