I could say that it was up with the sun for my second day in Mandalay but unfortunately not. The threat of rain was hanging in the air but I shouldn’t complain as it was the first day in three weeks of travelling that it might get wet. Unperturbed after breakfast, we took ourselves off once again to the ancient city of Amarapura for a morning walk around Lake Tangthaman and across the U Bein bridge. The 1.2 km wooden footbridge is the longest teak bridge in the world built in 1850 by salvaging the unwanted teak columns from the old palace after the move to Mandalay. While traversing the sometimes very rickety bridge you were able to catch glimpses of the local agriculture – duck herding, immaculately hand-weeded fields of soya beans & fishing. There was even an offer of selected fried delicacies on sale along the bridge for the hungry traveler – frogs, crabs & rats.
Having duly crossed the bridge we arrived at the Kyauktawgyi Pagoda. King Bagan built the Kyauktawgyi Pagoda in 1847 and it is said to have been modelled on the Ananda temple at Bagan but the interior is very different. It enshrines a Buddha statue carved out of a single block of marble 3.5 m square at the base and 5 m in height. The walls have many very fine mural scenes of the everyday life of the Myanmar people. Upon entering the temple I was struck by a sign with a translated a verse informing me the world is full of lust, lust makes us leave our earnings and basically my body is rotting…forget the rotting, I want the lust and earnings bit. 🙂
Having enjoyed my morning exercise and having crossed back across the rickety bridge, it was time to cross the Arrawaddy River to the religious centre of Sagaing Hill. Sagaing Hill is the site of numerous Buddhist monastries and an important religious and monastic center. The pagodas and monasteries crowd the hill tops and caves. In August 1988, Sagaing was the site of demonstrations that ended in a massacre of around 300 civilians. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Burma in 1988 demanding an end to the suffocating military rule which had isolated and bankrupted the country since 1962. Their united cries for a transition to democracy shook the country to the core, bringing Burma to a crippling halt. Hope radiated throughout the country until Burma imploded on August 8, 1988. At the time, Ne Win leader of Burma’s military junta and public enemy No. 1, inflamed popular anger with a speech in which he warned: “If the army shoots, it has no tradition of shooting into the air, it will shoot straight to hit.”…and he was right! My visit to Sagaing included the Stiagu Buddhist University, the U Min Thonze Cave with its 45 gilded Buddha images in a crescent-shaped colonnade, and the Soon Oo Ponya Shin Pagoda (from 674) atop Nga-pha Hill which resembles a frog. It is reputed to grant wishes such as not being killed by others, getting promotions, and having an insight into things and events. Managed to tick a few things off the old wish list there. 🙂 Upon leaving the site I passed some women who demonstrated very adeptly just how one should carry your stack of clay pots.
Time to head back across the river and get some lunch. As we passed along the Arrawaddy river you get the feeling of just what is meant by the term “The Burma Road.” The boat traffic on the river and the numbers of boats parked along side the riverbank confirm this as a major transport artery. As you move around the area on the alluvial sediment it is like walking in talcum powder and your nostrils are constantly irritated by the diesel fumes. As we sat and ate lunch the rain drew in and it boded for a cold wet trip up the river to Mingun.
Energy reserves boosted, we boarded our private boat for the 12 km trip up the river to Mingun. A cold and went trip but by the time we reached Mingun the rain had subsided. The Mingun temple is a monumental uncompleted stupa built by King Bodawpaya in 1790. It was not completed, due to an astrologer claiming that, once the temple was finished, the king would die. The completed stupa would have been the largest in the world at 150 metres high, however, it holds the record of being the largest pile of bricks in the world. Huge cracks are visible on the structure from the earthquake in 1839. It is rumoured that at its centre is a casket filled with one tonne of jewels and precious metals. Get the spade out! 🙂 King Bodawpaya also had a gigantic bell cast to go with his huge stupa. The Mingun Bell weighs 90 tons (or in Burmese measurement, is 55,555 viss). It is the largest ringing bell in the world today. You can actually stand inside it when it is struck and the vibrations give every point in your body a simultaneous massage.
Just a couple of hundred metres from the great stupa and bell lies the beautiful white Hsinbyume Pagoda with a distinctive architectural style modelled after the mythical Mount Meru. It was built by Bodawpaya’s grandson and dedicated to the memory of his wife Princess Hsinbyume (Lady of the White Elephant) who died in childbirth. He gave all his wealth to build it. Oh! Love! Seven concentric terraces represent the seven mountain ranges going up to the Mount Meru according the Buddhist mythology. To me, it just looks like a good old fluffy Kiwi pavalove…oops!…Pavalova! 🙂
Well, with my visit to Mandalay drawing to a close, it was time to head back down the river and pack my backs ready for the next leg of the trip till Lake Inle.
PS. While travelling here I have been amazed at all the forms transport takes in Myanmar and as we headed back to meet the captain of our boat we passed a couple more I hadn’t seen before – Bike-bus or bullock-bus!