Sai wants to go to the Ananda Temple today. It is worth seeing, I know. A large temple in the shape of a perfect Greek cross, four 31-feet-high teak Buddha images facing the four cardinal directions, 80 reliefs depicting the life of the Buddha from birth through enlightenment, all capped by a golden stupa that reaches 168 feet above the ground. Impressive, I’m sure.
But Ananda is foie gras and I want a dish of fresh fruit. Ananda is a Bentley and I’d like to ride in a horse and buggy. Ananda is big, complex, and very touristy. I want small. Manageable. Quiet.
So we go to the Htilominto Temple, of which I know almost nothing. Except that there is almost no one here. And it looks lovely. Small, but lovely.
As we walk through the dark, empty corridors inside the temple, Sai gives me a condensed version of its history: Built in 1218, the site was chosen when five princes were standing in a circle with a white umbrella in the middle trying to decide which of them would be the next king; the umbrella tilted in the direction of Nantaungmya, the son of one of the former king’s concubines, who built the temple to celebrate his coronation.
Sai knows I’m a sucker for a good story.
It surprises me that there is almost no one here except us, a man selling prayer beads, and a monk in the prayer hall. It is so quiet that it truly feels holy. Holier than any other temple I’ve been to in Bagan.