Ministry Exempts 5 Temples from Ban on Bagan Temple Access

By Tin Htet Paing 23 February 2016

RANGOON — Burma’s Ministry of Culture has modified an announcement originally issued Monday prohibiting visitors from ascending the ancient temples of Bagan which was met with criticism by tourism professionals who instead urged the government to set limits on the ban.

According to an initial announcement released by the culture ministry on its Facebook page, visitors would no longer be allowed to climb the steps of stupas and temples in the ancient city, effective March 1.

However, in an additional statement released late on Tuesday, the ministry stipulated that the ban would not include five temples—Pyathatgyi, Shwesandaw, South Guni, North Guni and Thitsar Wadi.

The government body had cited the practice as dangerous to tourists and suggested that the crowds of visitors were weakening the durability and strength of the ancient structures.

The ministry’s clarification came after several tourism professionals had spoken out, claiming that a total ban would not be an inappropriate answer to the strains placed on preserving the monuments’ heritage.

Thadoe Thuzar Aung, general secretary of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association (UMTA) and the managing director of Authentic Myanmar Travel and Tours, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the association encouraged the ministry to implement systematic methods to filter access and collect more positive suggestions from tourism-related associations.

“Recruiting skilled staff to privilege access to the tops of the temples could be one of the options,” she said.

The general secretary is also concerned that the ban could have made it difficult for photographers and media representatives to get digital footage of the ancient city.

The ministry’s former announcement on Monday stated that many visitors wear revealing clothing to the temples and dance or sleep in their vicinity, which disrespects the cultural heritage of the ancient kingdom.

An experienced English-speaking tour guide, Haymar Aung, told The Irrawaddy that there are two famous spots in Bagan from which sunsets can be viewed, and that huge crowds of tourists throng to these prime viewpoints—on the tops of temples—daily. She did, however, express concern about tourists who desecrate the ancient heritage site.

“Action should be taken against such manners. But when access [to the top of pagodas] is banned, they won’t have any other unique things to do in Bagan,” Haymar Aung said.

“The dream of every visitor who goes to Bagan is to enjoy watching the sunset or the sunrise from the top of a pagoda and to take pictures,” she added.

Since October of last year, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has advocated for a partnership between the Ministry of Culture and UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to build a a viewing mount around Bagan’s Sulamani Temple. No green light has been given for the project to date, JICA confirmed to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

The Ministry of Culture’s original announcement was released after a video went viral on social media last week featuring a group of people from a local medical company, known as Lucky Time Trading, dancing on top of Bagan’s Pyathadar Temple on February 17. The company later apologized in state-run newspapers for organizing the event.