October 2, 2015: Bagan, Myanmar — Between the 11th and 13th centuries, in today's Mandalay region of central Myanmar, flourished an intellectual, religious kingdom called the Pagan Empire (the "P" has been switched to a "B" in some modern spellings). For about 250 years, a prosperous city here had about 200,000 residents. These people built religious monuments on a massive scale: By the 13th century, more than 14,000 full-sized Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries were crowded in an area smaller than 40 square miles.
Invading Mongols eventually collapsed the kingdom but the monuments remained, and more than 2,000 of them still stand around modern-day Bagan. It is among the world's most significant archaeological sites. It's stupefying. I could see the spires sticking up even as my prop plane landed this morning, and I was never out of view of these thousand-year-old temples all day long. (My photos don't do justice. Look up "Bagan" on Google Images and prepare to be impressed. The best view is from a hot air balloon, which I'll have to save for another trip.)
Gideon Dun, a local birder, accompanied me on the Bagan plains all day. We spent our time slowly walking around peanut plantations among the temples. The fields were thick with Richard's Pipits and Burmese Bushlarks and other interesting little brown jobs, but the real prize here, the endemic Hooded Treepie, eluded us for hours. Finally, when the two of us took a break in the shade of a restored temple this afternoon, a treepie popped out of a nearby bush. It's always nice when the birds come to you!
We celebrated with our driver, Moji, by ordering a buffet dinner at a local restaurant this evening. It seems that, in Myanmar, this basically means that the entire buffet is brought to your table. By the end of the meal, there were 22 plates arrayed between the three of us! Half of the dishes had only local, Burmese names and flavors, which ranged from fish balls and okra, to thermonuclear chili paste and peanut salad, to strips of something which could have been either animal or vegetable. Like a Mongol horde, this birder keeps marching on his stomach.
New birds today: 19
Year list: 4584