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American tourist dies after fall from pagoda in Bagan

People wait to see the sunset from the top of a pagoda in Bagan on 13 February 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

An American tourist has died after falling from one of the hundreds of pagodas that dot Bagan, a major travel destination in central Burma, according to the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library office there.

Aung Aung Kyaw, director of the local department, told DVB that 20-year-old Kassandra Braun died en route to Mandalay General Hospital after she fell from the Wuthta Nataw Pagoda while climbing its steps to view the sunset on Tuesday evening.

“She came to Bagan with four other people. She died around 6 p.m. Now, the US Embassy in Yangon will handle her affairs,” he said.

According to the police station in Nyaung-U, Bagan’s administrative centre, Braun suffered fatal head injuries after she fell off the pagoda from a height of more than 20 feet.

The incident comes as authorities have sought to restrict the climbing of Bagan’s many pagodas and stupas due to concern over the possible damage that hundreds of thousands of feet — backpackers and Buddhist pilgrims alike — pose to the longevity of Bagan’s centuries-old heritage. In addition, the region is seismically active and has been rocked by multiple earthquakes, most recently in August 2016, leading to concerns about the Buddhist shrines’ structural integrity.

Signboards have been erected in both English and Burmese languages prohibiting climbing on all but a handful of the ancient monuments.

Burma is in the early weeks of its tourism “high season,” with annual foreign arrivals tending to spike between October and April.