BALLOONS OVER BAGAN: HOW THE BUDDHIST TEMPLES INSPIRED OUR NEW ILLUSTRATION
Our new Sloane collection drops at the end of March at Deco Off in Paris. This 2022 capsule is an artful ode to odysseys and flights of fancy - and the joy that can be tapped when we lean in, let go, and take stock of the beauty in the world. The collection’s hero print is undoubtedly Bagan, a bewitching wallcovering that depicts the famed hot-air balloons floating over the magical city in Myanmar - and it’s poised to become a Vale signature illustration.
Available in four soft colourways (Deep Sea, Nougat, Porcelain Blue and Willow), Bagan was first sketched during a trip to the ancient city that our intrepid founder, Melinda Marquardt, made in 2013 to explore the Buddhist temples in Burma. While she was there, during a visit to Thatbyinnyu Temple at sunset, she was moved to put pen to paper and immortalise the moment: the temples seemingly rising up out of the mist, the orange hot-air balloons appearing static on the horizon, the purple haze burning off at the intersection of earth and sky.
Back at her drawing table in London, as is her process for each Vale collection, Marquardt hand-painted the final Bagan print in shellac inks on watercolour paper, finalising the illustration that is now printed on our luxe, multidimensional paper. (The wallcovering boasts a non-woven backing paper, unique to Bagan, with a pearlescent finish, a mid-layer of tiny threads for texture, and a vinyl finish for cleanability.)
If the Bagan wallcovering speaks to you, so might the area's cultural significance and rich history: According to the Word Pilgrimage Guide, there are two preeminent ancient religious cities in Southeast Asia, Bagan in Burma and Angkor in Cambodia. Both sites are notable for their breadth of sacred geography and the number and size of their individual temples. But for many visitors, Bagan is considered the most extraordinary because of its awe-inspiring views. Spread across a mighty plain, there are scores of exotic Buddhist temples.
The kingdoms of Bagan date to the early second century BC, yet the region entered its golden age much later, during the reign of King Anawrahta in 1057. From that time, until Kublai Khan overran it in 1287, the Times of India estimates that more than 13,000 temples, pagodas and other religious structures were erected. Today, seven centuries later, approximately 2,200 of these sacred structures remain standing. The Irrawaddy River has washed away nearly one-third of the original city, and over time thieves in search of treasure have torn apart many of its temples. And in 2016, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck the region, damaging 185 of the ancient buildings in one fell swoop. Restoration work is ongoing. In 2019, UNESCO officially designated Myanmar’s ancient city of Bagan as a World Heritage site to help preserve its landmarks and manage the impact of increasing visitors to the popular tourist destination.
If a visit to Bagan is on your bucket list, there's no better way to experience its beauty than a hot-air balloon ride. Two different outfits in Bagan offer flights of eight to 16 passengers. We recommend opting for one of the eight-passenger flights. With fewer people, you have more room to move around, feel comfortable, and enjoy the unrivalled views of the temples and pagodas.
Sadly, however, right now may not be the best time to go. The US State Department presently has two level four "do not visit" alerts for Burma (as it refers to Myanmar), one for its high number of COVID-19 cases, and one due to the ongoing fallout of a February 2021 coup in which a military junta overthrew the country's democratically elected government.
So, as multiple Southeast Asia countries begin to ease travel restrictions, including Myanmar, which has announced that it hopes to begin welcoming international tourists in early 2022, visitors should exercise due diligence before planning an immediate visit to this magical and richly historic land. But do plan, and do go. Increased international tourism will give this hurting economy a much-needed boost, and help to bring the richly historic region to life again.
Click below to donate to Save the Children's efforts in Myanmar. The Vale London's Bagan wallcovering will be available this March when the Sloane Collection officially debuts.