We took a tour of the major sights around Mandalay. First was Mingun, about 1.5 hours drive from Mandalay you arrive in a small village over which looms Mingun Paya, a stupa started in 1790, had it been finished it would have been the worlds largest. Construction stopped in 1819 due to the death of King Bodawpaya leaving only the bottom third complete, built mainly of brick. This structure still dwarfs everything around it, the view from the top is said to be fantastic, unfortunately a series of earthquakes has caused serious damage and access is now restricted.
A few hundred yards down the street is another massive wonder curtsey of King Bodawpaya, the largest uncracked bell in the world, commissioned in 1808 and weighing in at 90 tonnes! You can even stand inside it whilst a willing volunteer gives it a good belt with a teak log! In the village we met an old lady selling cigars, we bought a packet for a dollar and she let us take her picture puffing away to her hearts content.
Next we drove to Sagaing Hill, a collection of stupa-topped hillocks which join to form a ridgeline on the far bank of the Irrawaddy from Mandalay. The finest structure here is the Soon U Ponya Shin Paya, an offering shrine dating back to 1312. Legend claims that the structure magically appeared overnight, built by the King’s faithful minister Ponya in a superhuman flurry of activity inspired by a magical Buddha relic that he’d found inside a betel-nut box. The myth fancifully claims that Ponya himself was of supernatural parentage, his father having flown to Sagaing from the Himalayas millennia before, arriving to a curious communion with the Buddha, seven hermits and a flower bearing orang-utan. Burmese genealogy is never boring!!
Then on to Inwa, which for over half of the last 650 years has been Burma’s royal capital. We crossed the river, which bounds 2 sides of the old capital, by local ferry boat and arrived in a turmoil of horse-cart taxi men trying to agree a price to show us round Inwa. We dived out of their way into a roadside restaurant and after some refreshment agreed a price and took a tour of some of the old sites. The most impressive was Bagaya Kyaung, an 1834 monastery built of teak supported on 267 teak posts, the tallest of which were 60ft high and 9ft in circumference. The cool rooms of the interior provided sanctuary from the relentless heat and a soft dim light felt calming. One side of the prayer hall was filled with desks and globes hung from the ceiling where the novice monks take their lessons. Another major sight was Nanmyin, a 90 foot leaning tower is all that remains of King Bagyidaw’s palace. The upper portion was shattered by the 1838 earthquake and the rest takes on a precarious tilt.
After Inwa we headed to a sunset vista at U Bein’s Bridge, the worlds longest teak footbridge, which gently curves for a mile across the shallow Taungthaman Lake. In the dry season it towers over mainly fields of vegetables but in the height of the wet season the waters lap just inches below the floor planks. A truly spectacular sunset spot to end a spectacular day.
The colossus that is Mingun Paya
Crocodile-like spouts to divert water off the terraces of the paya
The might of the Mingun Bell devours another victim
This wonderful old lady sold us some cigars and demonstrated the best way to toke
A monk and nun in dialogue infront of one of the Buddha's at Soon U Ponya Shin Paya
The view along Sagaing Hill back to the Irrawaddy River
Donations in the rabbit please!
Horse cart tours of Inwa, the only way to get around the dirt tracks
The beautiful carvings inside the teak monastery
The 60ft teak posts inside the prayer hall
Nanmyin's 90 foot leaning tower
The roads are a little bumpy
U Bein's Bridge at sunset