So much for the sound of Silence – in Bagan I heard the true sound of peace!

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Bobo takes me to see the town, I decide to ask if I can take the reigns of his horse and he allows me to do so, I begin to feel control, trotting along the empty tree lined side streets of Bagan without a care in the world. I feel at peace, almost at one with nature as there are no windows, no separation between myself and the environment. I feel Zen, it’s almost the same mental euphoria I had on the back of that motorbike, whizzing along feeling free as a kite, however this time it’s a much slower pace. With the hot air on my face I turn my head to the sky and smile. All of a sudden a pack of dogs appears from nowhere, they follow us, running beside to the tune of the horse’s slow trot. Our wonderful horse seems completely unfazed by them, and so they join my little tour.

It is almost sunset and we have a date with another pagoda. I ask that Bobo take me to one off the beaten track somewhere. There is a very popular one that all the tourists flock to. I am told it is an amazing view but it is packed with visitors every sunset, all jostling for pole picture position. Luckily Bobo smiles that slow easy smile I am getting used to and tells me he knows of another one just a few meters shorter in height that people do not seem to go to. Naturally, I opt for this place, I want the peace and the oneness, these places have a lovely calm feeling to them, and I want to feel alone to enjoy this sunset. Amazingly enough the pagoda he takes me to is only a half a kilometer from the popular one! The gate is locked, a few barefoot children come running over.

“Where from, sir?”

“I came from the horse over there.”

“What you looking for, buy painting? Local art, my family business…”

Standard sales pitch met by my standard response. “No, not buying but I would like to see the sunset from this pagoda. That is why I am here.”

“Maybe postcards? You look, you no need to buy.”

After a few more fruitless efforts, they give up and open the door to let me inside. “Maybe you come to me later?”

“Perhaps.” I walk off thanking them not promising anything!

As I walk in, my footsteps echo in the vast empty space. I find myself looking straight into the eyes of another Buddha perched in an alcove above me. There is something about all these Buddha’s, however tall and however intimidating they are still absolutely mesmerizing. Almost every time I see one I am drawn to simply sit in their presence. I am not a Buddhist, yet I feel it. There is a power, which is undeniable, a peace in their aura, a oneness. Once again I can see why this belief is so prevalent. I have read much of the philosophy and it makes perfect sense. Things are starting to make sense, the more time I have to reflect.

I inhale deeply breathing it all in as I stand alone in this wondrous building then I notice a gleam of light to the side and follow it to an opening. There are many stone stairs ahead of me. Almost vertically I climb using my arms to help, following the light until it opens out onto the first roof level of the building. I exit and the vision is one that completely bewilders me. I stare out, eyes wide, at the magnificent view with no idea where to start taking my pictures, where to focus, how to focus. It becomes apparent that pretty much any snap of this view will do it an injustice, this blanket of deep green is punctuated by the largely triangular brick structures all different in their own way, massive, miniature, gold’s and reds and oranges. Flocks of birds swoop in and out of them, children play, the happy sounds drifting into air around me. There’s water running, dogs barking, chickens and goats roaming heads down looking for scraps of food. I coin my own phrase on the spot. This is not the sound of silence it is indeed the sound of peace!

Tearing my eyes away I make another steep climb and find myself on the top level, alone, truly alone, lost in the sound of perfect tranquility. The sun continues to drop behind just a few wispy clouds and I walk around the entire roof giving myself a 360-degree view of Bagan. I notice my own shadow stretched before me. I am not alone. My shadow and I move in unison. I wonder if we were to split up if it would recognize me at a later time and place. Maybe the shadow is more than just science and physics, perhaps it is the soul showing itself momentarily, popping out for a dance as it were, and the soul is a sun worshipper.

Sinking to my knees I rest my back against an ancient wall. It feels as if every brick, every crevice in these incredible pagodas can tell a story, as though they have an independent thought and a wisdom of their own. It is stunning really how they can all be so similar and so different at the same time. I simply try to absorb the sound of peace and submit to the purity that is prevalent in the air. A noise of sandals disturbs me and as I look around I see a young local man, he is slim built, wearing sandals and a light shirt, with a full head of jet black hair, and he smiles to reveal the damaged purpled teeth of a Betel nut eater. Much like Bobo and nearly every male in this country, he seems comfortable as he spits brown goo – in this instance, over the side of the Pagoda.

Leisurely, he comes towards me arms wide in greeting. “You want to buy a painting? I am an artist.”

“No, really I am here for some peace and quiet, not for shopping. Simply to see the sunset.”

Nodding, he clearly understands me and respects my reply. He lays down his paintings and sits opposite me with his back to the outer wall.

“What’s your name?”

“Gavin.”

“Are you happy?”

People don’t ask this type of question, especially not to perfect strangers, not where I come from and I am taken aback. I am also taken aback by my answer because for the first time in a very long time I find myself giving a spontaneous unconsidered answer, which turns out to be the truth – it is an is an unequivocal, “YES!”
“Are you?” I return.

He smiles. “I sell no art, very quiet but of course, I am always happy. Have wife, have child, wife is pregnant. No money, but have food. We happy… and I do not have any worry.”
“You must slightly? You have to work, support a family, how can you have no worry?”

“Keep it simple. “

“You mean like Buddha – no dharma?”

“Like Buddha.” He smiles that purple smile again and his eyes light up.

“How old are you?” I enquire, looking at him I guess around 28.

“46.”

What? I need to know this man’s secret, so I ask him.

“No worry! I tell you this. Each day I eat dinner with my family after sunset, wife cooks, child, and me, family together. I see you tomorrow?”

“Umm, sure I would like that. Same time?”

He agrees and is gone, leaving me sitting alone again, my shadow no longer here as the dusk sets in. I am transported back to the sound of peace. The sun has set, the sky is brilliant, and cotton wool clouds alight dancing, dressed now in deep orange, the glow permeating the horizon.

‘No worry,’ I think to myself. There is a truth to that sentence; meeting him, and Bobo and almost everyone here I can see they truly live by this rule. Sitting up here so high in such silence I feel close to God, Buddha, close to something, someone, myself, anything and anyone, it really does not matter.