Bagan offers not only the opportunity to admire beautiful temples but also to get in touch with the culture of rural villages of Myanmar where time flows according to the rhythm of the seasons between ancient crafts and curious pastimes. Here are five:
1) The Thanakha
Thanakha is a yellow powder that comes from the root of the homonymous plant that grows abundantly throughout Myanmar and it is the make-up par excellence of Burmese women, also used by men for its nourishing and protective properties. Thanaka trees are perennial and must be at least 35 years old before being considered mature enough to produce a good quality powder.
But how do you make this beauty cream?
At Old Bagan, I met a lady who very kindly explained to me how to prepare it:
the bark is ground on a circular slate slab, called Piya Kyauk, and to make creamy dust, turning it into a paste, while grinding is necessary to add small droplets of water.How to put it on face: the cheeks are embellished with circles or drawings of small leaves. Thanakha can also be applied on arms, feet or the body. The properties of the cream: the thanaka gives a feeling of cooling and protects from sunburn. It keeps the skin smooth and helps remove acne.
2) The Longyi
It is the traditional dress of the inhabitants of Myanmar.
The curiosity is that this skirt, worn by both men and women, is weld on the hips only with a complex system of bending the fabric, without making any knot. Unmarried women wear it with patterns and bright colors, while married with softer colors. Wearing the longyi will allow you to feel part of the community, it is also useful as in the temples you have to enter with appropriate clothing, with arms and legs covered.
3) The lacquers
Outside the temples, but also in the villages you can find people working wood to create lacquer bowls that are among the most famous souvenirs of Burma.
Their work begins by leveling a piece of bamboo with a lathe that gives the wood the shape of the bowl, then cover the bowl with a mixture of lacquer that is left to dry until it hardens. The last phase is the one in which the lacquer is colored with a black paint on which are then drawn refined decorations.
4) Wood carvings
Art and religion are intertwined in the sculpture of wood and in Bagan there are many artisans who create statues of Buddha and animals using only chisels and fantasy. My advice is to get in one of the craft shops and see these men at work. The sculptures are in fact little great precision and harmony masterpieces.
5) Street games
Walking through the dusty streets of Bagan you will see how the locals love sports and games. At nightfall, after work, men don’t play football but a difficult but spectacular sport: the sepak takraw, the game of volleyball where instead of using their arms to hit the ball they use their feet. Besides this, they love playing with board games similar to Mah jong.