Bagan, center of sand painting

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BAGAN, Myanmar (eTN) – With its 1,200 or 1,300 stupas, pagodas, and temples – it is probably difficult to get a precise figure – Bagan in Myanmar is certainly one of Asia’s most stunning places to visit. Looking at the sun rising over vast fields, interrupted only by rising spires of centuries-old temples, is an unforgettable experience. So much beauty is also a source of inspiration for locals. When visiting temples, there are dozens of mostly young artists displaying their paintings on the floor of temple compounds. They generally take inspiration from 700-year-old murals who adorn some of the most famous temples, such as Ananda or Gubyaukgyi, where paintings depict the life of the Buddha.

According to locals, Bagan’s artist community emerged following a terrible earthquake in 1975. In the turmoil generated by the earthquake, which saw hundreds of pagodas collapsing, locals got access to the temples and started to copy the murals on carbon. Paintings sold at temples are drawn using a sand technique, a peculiar aspect of Bagan art.

It consists of sketching replicas of murals with a stylus on a piece of cloth, which is then covered by acrylic glue. Then sand is sprinkled over the cloth, precisely following the lines from the drawing. Once the glue is dried, painting is added, giving the finishing a colorful touch to the motif. It takes a couple of days to finish a large-scale painting. The technique requires patience and skill.

Many of the paintings sold around the temple compounds to the tourists look similar, taking their inspiration from the same source. However, younger artists start to go their own way. Aung Ko Ko, a painter selling his art on the outskirts of Aureum Palace Hotel, the city’s largest five-star property located in the midst of Old Bagan, is a good example. “I start also to do my own drawings by getting inspiration from the life of the villagers or by staging animals with funny behaviors,” he explained. Moving into a more contemporary art way? “I am not sure this will please people,” answered Ko Ko, who learned art on his own. Buying paintings is, however, one of the best ways for visitors to help communities in Bagan. Especially as they are still reasonably priced for visitors, selling for US$8 on average.

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Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1979), beginning as a travel agent up through today as a publisher of eTurboNews (eTN), one of the world’s most influential and most-read travel and tourism publications. He is also Chairman of ICTP. His experiences include working and collaborating with various national tourism offices and non-governmental organizations, as well as private and non-profit organizations, and in planning, implementing, and quality control of a range of travel and tourism-related activities and programs, including tourism policies and legislation. His major strengths include a vast knowledge of travel and tourism from the point of view of a successful private enterprise owner, superb networking skills, strong leadership, excellent communication skills, strong team player, attention to detail, dutiful respect for compliance in all regulated environments, and advisory skills in both political and non-political arenas with respect to tourism programs, policies, and legislation. He has a thorough knowledge of current industry practices and trends and is a computer and Internet junkie.