Bagan Steps Up Efforts to Stop Climbers After Latest Temple Tumble

By Zarni Mann 28 March 2018

MANDALAY — Officials in Bagan are planning to do more to warn people against climbing the pagodas of Bagan after a German tourist was injured in a fall on Tuesday.

Yulia Krylova, 22, fell off one of the relatively smaller of the area’s thousands of pagodas after watching the sun set and was sent to the Nyaung Oo general hospital to be treated for a minor head injury.

Because people are now prohibited from climbing the pagodas typically most popular for sunset views, visitors are clambering up the smaller temples, which can still be risky.

“We’ve prohibited the climbing of the pagodas since the earthquake hit and have requested the hotels and guesthouses to inform the tourists. However, the incident on Tuesdays shows our efforts are still weak,” said U Aung Aung Kyaw, director of the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library’s Bagan branch, part of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture.

The department said it will put up more notice boards around Bagan and remind hotels and guesthouses to tell tourists that climbing the pagodas is prohibited.

“Since it is very hard for us to keep an eye on everyone and every location, we hope the tourists will also understand the situation and avoid taking risks. Instead, we would like to encourage the use of the sunset viewing spots that we made,” U Aung Aung Kyaw said.

Nearly 400 pagodas were damaged in the earthquake of August 2016. Shwesandaw Pagoda, especially popular for its sunset views, was closed to the public after the terrace collapsed last October.

The department prohibited the climbing of all pagodas in Bagan the following month after an American tourist fell to her death.

The department has built three earthen hills around Bagan for sunset views to help discourage climbing of the pagodas.

“It is not uncommon for visitors to fall from pagodas in Bagan. The incident on Tuesday was the fourth in 2017-2018. We would like the visitors to use the sunset viewing spots rather than risking their lives to climb the pagodas,” U Aung Aung Kyaw said.

According to his department’s records, about 900 people would climb Shwesandaw Pagoda a day before the ban.

“The views from the pagodas are fantastic. But there are safety reasons, and in our traditional point of view it is somehow inappropriate for people to climb the pagodas. That is why we have to ban the climbing,” he said.

With an application to grant world heritage site-status to Bagan now before UNESCO, some have complained that the earthen hills could hurt its chances.

“We’ve received many complaints and suggestions about the manmade hills. But these hills could be abolished easily when we do not want them,” the director said.

“Ideas are welcome, and if we have a better solution we can remove these hills in no time. These hills cannot give the feeling of seeing the views from the pagodas, but we do not yet have a better way to provide an elevated location for viewing the sunsets besides these hills,” he added.

Members of the World Heritage Site Committee will visit Bagan in mid-2018. The site will be brought up for deliberation at UNESCO’s World Heritage Site convention in 2019.