Pagan's majesty is spellbinding. "The most wondrous sight in Southeast Asia," splutters one guidebook. "Awesome," murmurs a tourist on seeing this spectacular central west Burmese plain packed with more than 2,000 temples, stupas and stuccoed ancient ruins.

The city was the royal capital of one of the world's great civilizations. Erected by the Bamar dynasty during an upsurge of Buddhist religious zeal, Pagan entered its Golden Age half a millennium before Columbus stumbled upon the New World. At the end of the 13th century, Moguls overran it. Though the vast wooden city is long gone, its sun-red and whitewashed sculpted stone skeleton...

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