My last stop on my tour of Burma… Bagan.

Bagan is an absolutely magical place. Why it’s not one of the seven wonders of the world, I’m not sure.

It was the ancient capital of several ancient kingdoms in Burma. It is located in the dry central plains of the country, on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwady River, 90 miles southwest of Mandalay.

UNESCO has unsuccessfully tried to designate Bagan as a World Heritage Site. The military junta (SPDC) has haphazardly restored ancient stupas, temples and buildings, ignoring original architectural styles and using modern materials that bear no resemblance to the original designs. It’s really a shame.

There are over 3,000 stupas in a 16 square-mile area in Bagan. Everywhere you go, you see them. They are all breathtaking and I wish I could have explored each and every one.

A few of the mornings we were in Bagan, we got up before the sunrise and climbed the temples (and you have to do it barefoot- very cold!) to see the view. Wow.

Although we were up there to take photographs, I only took a few. I spent my time on these special mornings listening to the monks chant, watching the fog rise over the ancient stupas, and gazing at the hot air balloons float across the sky.

The first time we climed the highest stupa in the chilly morning air, I found a corner that no one was using to take photographs, tucked myself in to the old bricks, and just sat there quietly.

It was the closest I’ve ever felt to the universe, despite the fact I was hundreds of feet off the ground.

I’m glad that Chris snuck a photo of me in that moment, because it will be a treasured memory of mine forever.

Sitting up there, you wonder how there is anything in this world but peace. I know, it sounds like crazy hippy-talk, but in those few precious moments, as the sun rose behind these 12th century temples, I couldn’t help but think that if everyone were able to take a few moments out of their busy days, and see this kind of beauty, that we wouldn’t be in such turmoil right now.

I know my photographs show the Burmese smiling and enjoying their lives. And it’s true- they really do. But behind the smiles and the enjoyment of what they do have, they crave freedom and democracy- a chance to live and speak freely.

The Burmese are incredible people- they live simply, without a lot of money or material things. They love their families and deeply love their country. They take pride in their work, and even more pride in their faith. They are welcoming and kind and want to share their lives with you. And for that- for them to show me their country with open arms, despite the political unrest that surrounds their days, I am eternally grateful.

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