Work to restore the world famous temples of Bagan could take up to three years after they were severely damaged by a devastating earthquake.
UNESCO experts say the painstaking task of cleaning up the rubble-strewn temples and pagodas is well underway but warned that patience is needed.
They are training a team of volunteers to help with the process of documenting, cleaning and collecting broken artifacts.
Ohnmar Myo, a UNESCO project officer in Myanmar, told Myanmore: “This will be a long process even with volunteers. “It will take about two or three years to restore the temples and stupas.”
Volunteers include travel and tour groups, Buddhist monks, soldiers and firefighters. They will be fully trained next week.
Meanwhile, many of the damaged temples are being covered to protect them for the remainder of the rainy season.
Visitors are now prohibited from entering 33 pagodas and are not allowed to climb to the upper levels of those pagodas for sunrise and sunset viewing.
The Bagan Archaeological Department said 397 pagodas and temples, including iconic favourites Sulamani, Ananda, Htilominlo, Myazedi, Shwesandaw, Lawkananda and Dhamma Yazaka, and the murals at Ananda Oakkyaung, have been damaged.
But fears that the damage would deter tourists from visiting Bagan have proved wide of the mark.
In fact the opposite has happened with tour operators saying enquiries about tours of the ancient Burmese capital have shot up since the 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck.
“Amazingly, we’ve received many inquiries from tourists about Bagan tours,” said Aung Myat Kyaw, vice chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Federation.
Furthermore, organisers have confirmed the popular international Bagan Temple Marathon will go ahead as planned onNovember 26th.
The August 24 earthquake struck 25 kilometres west of Chauk in Magwe Division, killing three people. It was felt across Myanmar and in neighbouring countries.
Pagodas were also damaged in areas outside of Bagan, including 35 in Salay in Magwe Region, five in Mrauk-U in Rakhine State and 13 in Sagaing Region.
The temples of Bagan date from between the 9th and 13th centuries – when the Kingdom of Pagan ruled over much of lowland Burma.
The temple complex is one of Myanmar’s most popular tourist attractions and foreign visitor numbers have soared since reforms began in 2011.
In 1975, more than half of Bagan’s pagodas and temples were damaged in the wake of a 6.5-magnitude quake.
Many of the ruined structures were subjected to poor restorative efforts under Myanmar’s former military regime, while others have been restored more successfully in recent years with aid from UNESCO.