August 19, 2016

Except five pagodas, visitors banned from scaling monuments in Bagan

A popular destination: Ancient Bagan temples at sunset.  Photo: Aye Min Soe
A popular destination: Ancient Bagan temples at sunset. Photo: Aye Min Soe

EXCEPT five designated pagodas in Bagan, all remaining pagodas are now subject to a new rule banning visitors from scaling or climbing on the structures, the Ministry of Culture announced yesterday. The ban comes into effect on 1 March.
Following the previous announcement that banned climbing on the pagodas in Bagan, the ministry released an amended announcement via its social media FB page, adding that the ban is aimed at conserving Myanmar’s cultural heritage and protecting the safety of visitors.
The new announcement explained that the ministry has allowed visitors to visit view points of the five pagodas to enjoy the sunset.
However, it was found that some visitors entered the restricted areas and acted inappropriately, causing damage to ancient artifacts.
An American tourist fell off of  Shwegugyi Pagoda late at night on 21 February and was taken to hospital, the announcement said.
“While the architecture of ancient cultural heritage pagodas is sound, the weight of the increasing number of visitors are posing a threat to the pagodas and to visitor safety,” said the announcement.
There are more than 3,000 pagodas and religious edifices in Bagan.
Meanwhile, those involved in the tourism industry have criticised the Ministry of Culture’s decision to ban the scaling of temples in Bagan, saying it could hurt the tourism industry.
Tourist operators to Bagan have said the climbing of delicate temples which feature a lot of artistic handiwork should be prohibited, but that those temples which are sturdy and feature little aesthetic beauty should be allowed to be climbed upon.
“They shouldn’t close off [the temples]. If all the temples are closed off [from being able to be climbed] then it will have negative consequences for the international tourist industry. They should do it in such a way that only a few people are allowed on a temple at one time, say ten people, then charge people for the privilege of ascending the temple, $5 for foreigners and K500-K1,000 for locals. Money for [the restoration] fund can be made. I don’t think it’s possible to close off all the temples.” said the chairperson of Myanmar Guide Association for the Bagan-Nyaung Oo zone.
World travellers visit Bagan specifically to take in the region’s beautiful scenery. As such, the current prohibition could damage the reputation of Bagan, while those local residents who rely on the temples to make a living could encounter difficulties, tour operators have expressed. They have also stated they will also need a substitute program on the itinerary of tourists because of the ban.
Director of Ruby Land Travels, U Aye Kyaw, says that arrangements also need to be made, in the manner of administrative departments of ancient cultural sites found the world over, thinking of the needs of those pilgrims who come to Bagan for spiritual purposes.
“The [pagodas] are becoming weaker from the large numbers of tourists visiting the region, like those of ancients temples around the world, Angok Wat in Cambodia for example. Fearful that the temple wouldn’t be able to endure [the volume of tourist footfall], metal railings and stairs were attached to the temple for people to walk on. As a result people aren’t walking directly on the temple anymore. Provisions have also been made to limit the amount of people that can access certain areas of the temple at one given time.” explained U Aye Kyaw.—Aye Min Soe & Myitmakha News Agency


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