The founder of the Bagan Empire was King Anawrahta ( 1044-1077 ). He broadened his domain from a small area in central Myanmar until it spreads beyond present-day boundary and introduced pure Theravada Buddhism to upper Myanmar with the help of a learned monk from Thahton ( Suvanabumi ) in lower Myanmar. Although King Anawrahta was the greatest king of Bagan dynasty , he was not the first king of Bagan. There are altogether 55 Kings in the Bagan Dynasty and he was the 42th King in that.The reason why there are so many pagodas at Bagan is because it was the capital of the first Myanmar Empire that flourished from 11th to 13th centuries AD. Another reason is that the rise of the empire coincided with the introduction into it of pure Theravada Buddhism from lower Myanmar. Bagan’s golden age came during the 12th century , a time in which in acquired the name “ the city of golden pagodas “. The civilization was supported by rice cultivation , made by highly developed system of irrigation canals. But, in the middle of the 13th century , the empire began to crumble. The Bagan Empire collapsed in 1287 due to repeated Mongol invasion ( 1277-1301 ). From that time onwards , its population was reduced to a village that remained among the ruins of the once grand city. In 1998 , the Village and it dwellers were forcibly relocated a few kilometers to the south of Bagan , forming “ New Bagan “ where one will find accommodation of cheap , quaint , clean hotels. Some people resides in Nyaung-U , north of old Bagan. The majority of native residents are Bamars. The present-population of Bagan and its vicinity is between 150,000 to 200,000. Bagan economy is mainly based on tourism. It’s also the center of Burmese lacquerware industry , which depends on tourist demand and much of it is destined for souvenir shops in Yangon and to send to the world markets. Moreover , the lacquerware-making process itself has become a tourists’ interest. Bagan with many pagodas and temples , dating back more than 1000 years of history is the most impressive and fascination place for tourists and one can arrange his sightseeing tour by car , horse cart , on E-bike. Also , One can enjoy a idyllic sunset boat trip on the Ayeyerwaddy river to view the beautiful sunset over Bagan.
The Popa Taungkalat shrine is the favoured home of 37 Nats. “ Popa “ means “ Flower “ in Sanskrit & Mt.Popa means Mt.Flower. As it’s the main center of Nat Worship , Mt.Popa hosts two huge Nat festivals yearly , one beginning on the full moon of Nayun ( May / June ) and another on the full moon of Nadaw ( November / December ). Before King Anawrahta’s time , thousand animals were sacrificed to the Nats during these festivals , but this practice has been prohibited since the Bagan era.
Climbing up by 777 steps to the summit of Taungkalat gives you great pleasure and panoramic view of Mt.Popa surrounding area. When you are in Bagan , Mt.Popa is worth to visit for a while.
Famous Shin Ma Taung Thanakha comes from nearby Pakokku. According to the oral history of the natives of Yesagyo and Pakhan, legend has it that during travels of Bagan King AlaungSithu on his royal barge he came to the Taung Ni hill, a little distant from Pakhan-gyi town, and his queen spilled Thanakha paste from her make-up box. To this day the Thanakha tree, grown in the areas around Taung Ni and Shin Ma Taung hills, is more blessed with the sweet aroma than those grown in other parts of the country.
With over 300,000 population , Pakokku is the biggest city in the western part of Ayeyerwaddy River. Main highlights in Pakokku are Shwegugyi Pagoda & Thihoshin Pagoda that Pagoda festival is celebrated annually at Nayon ( May / June ).