Myanmar, Day Ten, Mingun, Sagaing, Ava and Amarapura
What a day! For our last day in the Mandalay area we hired a people carrier and a driver and Wine Wyne, who was joining us for the day met us at the hotel at 8am and off we went. First we stopped at the Areyarwady river and took photos across the water of beautiful Sagaing and its many golden and white Stupas. We then drove over the newly opened bridge through the wonderfully narrow and twisting streets of Sagaing to Mingun and what turns out to be the largest ringing bell in the world. The plaque in front of this massive bell says it is the second largest bell in the world, the largest being in Russia, so I presume the Russian bell does not ring. Anyhow, the bell was cast for King Bodawpaya in about 1790, how on earth they would manage to make and move a bell that large would be a mystery nowadays but then!! Impressive! I thwacked it three times with the provided log, sadly the ring is not as it once was due to a number of cracks, still pretty cool though. The bell weighs ninety tonnes and was moved to its present site on barges during the rainy season when the waters were high. Its finally resting place was due to be our next stop The Mingun temple a ginormous stupa also built by the King. However the stupa is not finished, legend has it that the spiralling costs were not making the kings subjects very happy at all and an astrologer claimed that if the stupa were finished the King would die, so running out of funds and not wanting to die the King halted the project with only the colossal base built. Had the stupa been finished it would have been one hundred and fifty metres tall and the world’s largest. There are presently massive fissures in the base due to an earthquake and signs advising against climbing the stairs to the top and still a steady stream of illiterate or foolhardy tourists made their way up. Across the street from the base are the remains of two equally enormous lions, mostly destroyed in a 1839 earthquake however their truly impressive haunches remain.
A short distance away is the Hsinphyumae Pagoda, unlike any pagoda we have seen it is a large spherical white structure surrounded by seven layers of waves with three staircases, the central one being the staircase Buddha descended when he returned to earth from heaven. The Pagoda was built by Prince Bagyidaw with the proceeds from the sale of an emerald belonging to his late wife in her honour after her death in 1812. There are apparently only about ten other pagodas of this style in Myanmar. Wine Wyne was great, telling us all sorts of interesting facts and I’ve obviously been glued to google for a while.
After another short trip in our wonderfully spacious people carrier we stopped at an outdoor workshop where they were cutting, shaping, and forming long sheets of tin into decorations for temple roofs. All the work was being done by hand and with tiny chisels, the craftsmen sat upon the floor, long strips of marked out metal in front of them, painstakingly chiselling away. The end product in piles around them, beautiful and intricate work.
Later we stopped at the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy which is holding The World Peace Buddhist conference later this month, the flags of the participating countries fluttering in the gentle breeze outside, Canada noticeable in its absence, what up Canada? What with y’all being so nice it was surprising to us that you’re not participating. The study building to be used for the conference is pretty grand, more temple than school and we walked around the outside enjoying the peace for a while.
Like a fairytale land of endless castles, Sagaing’s numerous Buddhist monasteries, Pagodas and stupas dot the mountains ridges like jewels ,many joined by covered walkways but most thankfully now accessible by car. The views were utterly breathtaking and the many stairs climb to the tops of them worthwhile.
Lunch, by which time I was beginning to think everyone could hear my stomach growling, was an absolutely delicious affair of vermicelli noodles and vegetables at a little restaurant in Sagaing, the portions were enormous and we walked away with full doggy bags.
Our next destination Ava, sometimes referred to by foreigners as Inwa, was capital of Myanmar on five separate occasions between the 14th and 19th century. It’s reached by a very short boat ride in amongst tourists who seemed to get on and sit in the first available seats oblivious to the dozen or so people who then had to clamber past them on each crossing. We haven’t seen so many tourists and after the lovely people of Myanmar I’d forgotten how gross people can be. One man sat astride three seats not moving to let a woman sit until rebuked by her husband to move. Crossing safely accomplished my first sighting of land contained several puppies, the Buddhists here do not believe in neutering and dogs and puppies abound, these cuties were the smallest we’d seen so far. The second sight was endless little horse and buggies followed by the overwhelming smell of horse poop. Ensconced in our tiny buggies we bounced along little tracks on the way to explore what remains of the Royal city. There really isn’t much, a solitary tower, a few pagoda complexes, a monastery and my favourite Yadana Hsimi Pagodas a little tumbledown roofless collection of several stupas and three Buddhas. The fact that three tiny puppies accosted us as soon as we approached the buildings was an added bonus. I always carry cat biscuits and with no mother in site Ma suggested we soak some for the puppies, which we did and they happily devoured. The rest of the once Royal city has been reclaimed by nature and agriculture, we bounced through luscious fields of banana trees and were lucky enough to see rice being sown in one of the paddies.
Taungthamen lake in Amarapura was our final destination, on the way we stopped at a traditional weavers totally unlike the weaving we’d seen on Inle Lake, the weavers here were hand shuttling patterns onto wide swaths of fabric on old traditional looms, the pattern an indecipherable list of loops and whirls they were reading from. What an art! The speed and accuracy of their work was awe inspiring. The resulting fabric is used for wedding dresses and national costumes.
In Amarapura we headed to the U Bein Bridge, so named after the man who built it in 1850 from wood reclaimed from the Royal Palace in Ava, it’s ine thousand and eighty six pillars span the one point two kilometre lake. It’s reputed to be the oldest and longest teak wood bridge in existence. The middle section seems to have been replaced by concrete and many of the wooden struts looked very worse for wear, can’t see it lasting another hundred years without some serious renovations, which would be a shame as it’s still used by locals to cross the lake and is a major tourist drawer, the most tourists we’ve seen the whole trip were here, boatloads of them being rowed out to watch the sunset. We’d first arranged to be rowed out to the middle of the bridge and walk back but having seen the struts decided being rowed back was probably the safer option. So we mimed to our driver to return, to which he nodded yes, and carried on. Five minutes later we tried again, yes he nodded, and carried on. On the third attempt he turned us around and began heading back, or so we believed. Instead he turned us and started a flotilla with the other rowboats facing the descending sun. Erm no, the sunset was another hour away, i’ve actually seen the sun set before, it’s pretty cool, but none of us needed to see it today, with a five am wake up call for our boat journey to Bagan tomorrow so we tried again. Back in we mimed, yes he nodded, and moved not an inch. Laughing a lot by now we motioned, now… Ah now? And then he rowed us back in, us laughing all the way. What a lovely end to a wonderful day, thanks to Wine Wyne for being game enough to accompany us and our lovely driver for getting us around safely. Myanmar is proving to be a real joy Xx