As a mystical and regal as Mandalay is, given its status as the last royal capital, it must not be forgotten that this is the country’s second most populated city. It is Upper Myanmar’s most important and most thriving commercial hub. The metropolis has a rich and vibrant history that boasts the citadel of the former royal palace, spectacular pagodas, beautiful teak monasteries and fabulous scenic panoramas.
Considered the beating heart of the nation’s culture, Mandalay showcases many Myanmar arts, architecture and handicraft like; traditional puppetry, stone carving, wood carving, basket wares, bronze casting, tapestry making and silk weaving. Mandalay highlights include: Mandalay Palace, Shwenandaw Monastery, Atumashi Monastery, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Sandamuni Pagoda, Kyauktawgyi Pagoda, Mandalay Hill, Silk Weaving, Zegyo Market, Mandalay Museum and Library, Eindawya Pagoda, Mahamuni Pagoda, Amarapura, The Artisan Guilds, Shwe-In-Bin Monastary and other famous places nearby Mandalay.
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 155)
The hall of Audience with its seven-tiered golden spire stood at the ‘Centre of the Universe’, as the palace was called, surrounded by the other throne halls: the Duck Throne, where foreigners were received; the Elephant and Deer Thrones, employed for purposes relating to the Lord White Elephant; and the Lily Throne, where the Chief Queen received guests on feat days. In all there were 133apartments (Mindon had 49recognized wives and many concubines who between them produced 50sons and 64 daughters) within the massive ,pink, crenellated walls .The places were built of teak ,lacquered ,gilded and ,in some instances such as the Glass Palace, entirely covered with mosaics of coloured glass. To the Westerner, there was however an eyesore-the corrugated iron roofs ‘the invention of which must rank among the major crimes of the Western World’. But to Mindon they were both practical and almost the ideal colour (traditionally a king was supposed to live beneath silver roofs), and they were reminiscent of the Great Khan’s fabled places of shining roofs. The lotus-covered moat was spanned by white bridges leading to the 12 gates .There were three gates on each of the two – kilometer(one-and-a-quarter-mile)sides of the square. Guarding every gate was a delicate wooden spire (pyathat).The main entrance was the eastern gate which was reserved exclusively for the use of the king and the loyal family .Foreigners and condemned men were relegated to the inauspicious western gate. Two little tricks were employed to remind foreigners of court protocol. First, the lintel on the western gate was so low that the visitors had to bend to enter. Second, nails were placed in the floor of the Duck Throne Room, their points surreptitiously poking up through the polished teak boards. It being de rigueur to remove footwear in the palace, this forced wary barefooted foreigners to remain bent in supplications.
To visit the 809 hectares (2,000 acres) of the palace grounds today a guide is required, as units of the Burmese Army are stationed within its walls. There is a scale model of the palace as it was but until recently all that remained of the original were some foundations ,King Theebaw’s palace (without its roof),the original plinth of the Lion Throne(the throne itself is now in the National Museum in Yangon),and a reconstructed version of the Glass Palace. Then, a few years ago an extensive and costly renovation programme was ordered by the government ,with the divisions of Mandalay , Sagaing shouldering the burden of finance _though a voice has suggested that the money would have been better spent elsewhere. As one enters the palace complex a sign proclaiming ‘Tatmadaw (army) and the People co-operate and crush all those harming the Union’, is a reminder of the army ‘presence. A number of the palace buildings have been reconstructed , but although they are accurate copies of the orginals, much of the details is missing ,so the visitor is denied the sense of majesty that must have formerly excited .It is now possible to climb up the helter-skelter –shaped watchtower ,from where there is a fine view of the city.
On the south –west side of the palace side stands the Set Kyathiha Pagoda, a peaceful haven and home to a serene golden Buddha image. Away from the ‘new’ palace buildings, the visitor can wander among the remaining ruins and scrub jungle, and with a keen sense of imagination visualize the exotic elegance, the other-worldly calm, the tragi-comic pride and intrigue of the court of King Mindon.
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 157)
The only palace buildings to survive World War II intact was the Shwenandaw Monastery (Shwenandaw Kyaung). King Theebaw thought it was inauspicious (his father King Mindon had died in the building)and, on his accession in 1879,had it moved to its present ,location east of the palace, not far from the foot of Mandalay Hill. This beautiful building is surrounded by a teak platform supported on wooden pillars topped with marble lotus flowers. The outer walls are finely carved, some panels decorated with mythical animals, others dancing figures; the rest a lace-like trellis carving of vines and flowers. The weather, which has given the teak of a soft greyish-brown patina, has dealt savagely with the reliefs, many of which are crumbling and pitted. Inside the building are two massive halls. The main hall contains a copy of the Lion Throne ,a Buddha image commissioned by Theebaw with the features of his father ,and a gold couch that Theebaw is said to have used during meditative visits here. This room retains echoes of its courtly past. Each massive pillar is a single trunk of teak still showing remnants of vermilion, lacquer, gold and filigree decorations. Around the ceiling base are fine carvings of nats worshipping the Buddha; the ceiling itself is painted with golden sparrows. This ornamentation is lit rather charmingly by a single neon strip complete with dangling cobwebs.
In the run-up to Visit Myanmar Year 1996 many of Mandalay’s best buildings were over-restored .Sadly this stunning monastery is one of the casualties. Once the head monk died the Shwenandaw Monastery was closed, the young monks were sent elsewhere and the building was declared a ‘heritage site’. Much of the old roof carvings have been replaced with workman-like reproductions and a heavy hand has plastered the whole of the exterior with a thick coat of creosote. Luckily, the occasional pieces of gold lacquer on some outside relief carvings have been preserved. The renovations to the exterior have meant that the monastery has lost some of its depth, as the new carvings are somehow one-dimensional. And without the monks living in the building much of its spiritual soul has evaporated. However, the interior, with the living quarters of the monks gone, is perhaps more as it would have been when King Mindon used it as his palace .The one positive element of the renovation is that the second main hall is now open. A huge grand space, the walls and ceiling are covered in faded gold leaf. The room is dissected by vast wooden pillars and the cornice is decorated with stories of the Jataka.
For the first-time visitor, the Shwenandaw Monastery is of course still a fascinating building. But it is sad that the restoration was not carried out with more attention to preserving all of its charm and beauty. Though visiting the building again some twelve years later the weather has removed much of the harsh creosote and the magic of the palace is very much intact.
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 158)
The Atumashi Monastery (Incomparable Kyaung) stands beside the Shwenandaw Monastery and wad, until recently, a shell of stairs and foundation. Completed in 1878, it was the last great religious edifice constructed by King Mindon. It housed four valuable sets of the Tripitaka (Buddhist sacred texts) and a nine-metre (30- foot) high standing Buddha with a huge diamond set into the forehead. On the evening of 29th November, 1885, the night following King Theebaw’s surrender to General Prendergast, Mandalay was overrun by dacoits (bandits) and the diamond was stolen – some say by British soldiers. It has never been recovered. In 1890 the monastery was destroyed by fire, but what remained of the stucco curving was quite fine. Unfortunately, nothing of this quintessential “pleasure of ruins” now stands. The whole building was torn down and reconstructed in preparation for Visit Myanmar Year. The vast new edifice was built to the original plans, but unfortunately the workmanship was not very good and the exterior of the building and surrounding terrace is already cracking. You enter the former monastery up a grand staircase and into a huge empty space except for a Buddha image- totally out of proportion to the area. At least the majestic trees, which surround the compound, have been left.
Kuhodaw Pagoda (Maha Lawkamazin)
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 159)
In 1857 King Mindon built the Kuthodaw Pagoda, a copy of the Shwezigon Pagoda in Pagan (modern day Bagan), which itself had been completed in 1087 during the region of King Anawrahta. At the entrance to the pagoda visitors were gently reminded of Burmese custom: ‘Prohibited Footwearing Cycling Umbrella Holding’_but sadly the signs has now vanished. A long, cool corridor leads to the pagoda itself which stands in a beautiful setting surrounded by little white stupas and huge, spreading star-flower trees _ though several of these trees are now showing their age. As so often in Myanmar , the simple beauty of stupa is marred by ad hoc wiring which supplies unattractive neon light (as opposed to the charming variety in the Shwenandaw) to the hti (umbrella)_a nightmare for keen photographers. Another victim of Visit Myanmar Year was the removal, by the entrance to the pagoda platform, of several early 20th –century clockwork sideshows: one would climb some wooden steps, place a coin in the open mouth of a cat, and around came models of Myanmar’s hill tribs. This was a typical Burmese mixture of religious and secular life found within a pagoda .Perhaps the greatest tragedy that has emerged from the rush to smarten up as many of the country’s great buildings as possible ,in readiness for the Visit Myanmar Year, has been the introduction of what is locally called ‘Japan shwe’. This form of synthetic gold paint from Japan has found its way onto many of the country’s smaller stupas .For centuries these would have been white-washed, with the larger ones perhaps topped off with a golden hti (umbrella). Unlike real gold, this synthetic paint has no depth or life, so the stupas was white but today’s visitor will find it gilded-the top with real gold the lower portion with “Japan shwe” Some of the small stupas at the base of Kuthodaw have fallen victim to this unattractive paint.
Kuthodaw is often called ‘the biggest book in the world’, for surrounding it are 729marble slabs inscribed with the Tripitaka texts (the index is to be found beside the main entrance) .In 1871 King Mindon convened a meeting of 2,400 monks from all over the country to discuss the Buddhist texts. After several months of deliberation a new ‘authorized’ version was agreed on. The texts were then carved on to the marble slabs and this became the authentic version of the Tripitaka. Mindon felt this would safeguard the scriptures, which were otherwise highly vulnerable (as indeed proved the case at the Incomparable Monastery) for they were traditionally recorded on palm leaves.
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 160)
Sandamuni is another pagoda surrounded by inscribed marble slabs, in this case housed in mini-stupas, whereas those of the Kuthodaw are in square houses with a twirl of icing-sugar plaster on top.These slabs record commentaries on the Tripitaka. Mindon moved in June 1857 from Amarapura to a temporary palace on this site to oversee the building of his new Gem City. The site also bears sad associations. It was here that Mindon’s half-brother and confidante, Crown Prince Kanaung, is buried. In gratitude for the Prince’s help in overthrowing his predecessor, King Pagan Min, Mindon made Kanaung crown prince. On 8th June, 1886, two of Mindow’s sons, aggrieved at being excluded from the succession, planned to assassinate both their father and uncle. They consulted the ponnas (Brahmin soothsayers) who suggested an auspicious day on which the ponnas knew Mindon was to visit his temporary palace, leaving Prince Kanaung in charge. The rebel princes stormed the palace, killed Kanaung, and then set off for the temporary palace intending to murder their father. Mindon, however, managed to escape and returned safely to the Gem city. The princes had left only a solitary guard to watch for the king, and Mindon’s loyal slaves made quick work of him. This tragedy is probably the reason Mindon failed to appoint another successor, thus making it possible for the scheming Central Queen, mother of Supayalat, to persuade the King on his deathbed to acclaim his weakling son, Theebaw, as successor.
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 160)
At the foot of Mandalay Hill stands the Kyauktawgyi Pagoda. The covered corridor leads through a garden, where images of Buddha’s 80 disciples (20 on each side) stand guard, each ina little house. A painted fresco around the end of the corridor illustrates 16 dreams of King Kawsala (an Indian king and contemporary of Gautama Buddha)- premonitions which were predicted to come true on the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha’s death, which by Burmese reckoning fell in 1952. (There is much variation in the records as to when and for how long Gautama Buddha lived, through common belief is that he was born in India in 566BCE and lived for 80 years.a0 aone of the fresco panels tells of the world’s women fighting for liberation.
Originally Mindon planned for this pagoda to be styled after the Ananda Temple in Bagan, but the finished version bears no resemblance to it. Instead of four colossal Buddha images, it houses only one. This is crafted from a single piece of the palest green marble quarried at Sagyin, some 18 kilometers (12 miles) up the Ayeyarwaddy. It was rafted downriver to Mandalay, but there was no way to transport it over the last leg, across dry land. A canal was dug but, the story goes, there was not sufficient water to sustain the giant raft. So 10,000 conscripted labourers were ordered into the canal, thus raising the water level sufficiently to allow the great marble slab to be floated to its destination, where it was then carved into its present form. It is a beautiful image, and-for one so large-conveys profound serenity. The head is decorated with delicate gold filigree. The dress and shawl are inlaid with jewels, all of which, save for the central diamond, are said to be synthetic. To remind one of the 20th century a green telephone in a padlocked box stands close by.
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 162)
Two enormous lions guard the foot of the southern staircase leading up the sacred Mandalay Hill. The best time to visit is early morning, before breakfast, avoiding the heat of the day. The view from the top is spectacular. To the south and east lies the city of Mandalay, Mindon’s “Cluster of Gems”, and beyond it early morning mists roll off the huge Ayeyarwaddy. (Sir George Scott knew this view well and noted how, “The river glitters like diamonds in the patches that catch the early sun.”) If it is not too misty the Inwa Bridge and the barren, pagoda-crowned hills of Sagaing will be visible.
Nowadays it is no longer necessary to climb the some 1,728 steps, as a road has been built up the west side of the hill, as have an escalator and a lift. At the top of the Hill stands the Sutaungpyi Pagoda glistening with bright blue and silver glass mosaic cladding. The terraces of the pagoda have been greatly enlarged to accommodate the hundreds of tourists, both local and foreign, who gather every evening to watch the sun set over the Ayeyarwady. The viewing terrace is edged with high bar stools no where near enough for the visitors _interspersed with a few telescopes.
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 162)
A pleasant interlude to a pagoda-packed day is to visit the silk weavers in the street opposite the eastern entrance to Mandalay Palace. You know you are approaching the correct location when you hear the ‘clack-clack’ of the looms, on which the traditional wedding longyis for both men and women are woven. Two girls work at each wooden loom passing the 100 to 200 different bobbins to and from as they thread them through the silk, with a mirror near at hand to check the pattern. Today the silk yarn is imported from Japan, and the dye mainly from Britain; formerly vegetable dyes would have been used .One of these beautiful longyis, 1.1 metres (44 inches) wide and 1.8metres (two yards) long, should cost between 3,500 and 5,000 kyats. At the back of the workroom is a large shop, which sells the silk longyis and other locally made garments.
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 164)
At the centre of the town, within walking distance of the major hotels, stands the Queen Victoria Jubilee Clock Tower, next to which is Zegyo Market. Mandaly is the main market for the surrounding region and Zegyo is a large, bustling affair. The original, rather fanciful arched building, designed by the Italian Count Caldari in 1903, has been replaced by a solid 1990s affair. At dawn, farmers with towels wrapped around their heads to ward off the early morning chill, start arriving, carrying enormous baskets brimming with fresh produce. Considerable time and effort is spent in laying this out with each variety of merchandise in its allotted section. The resulting display provides an everyday demonstration of the Burmese sense of style and design: a pyramid of glossy tomatoes on a flat basket, a round of green chillies with young eggplants as the centrepiece and, interspersed among these brilliant colours, mounds of tea, bundles of cheroots and neat stacks of the cosmetic thanaka wood. Thanaka powder is popular as a cosmetic with women all over Burma for its astringent and cooling, as well as aesthetic, qualities. As well as the fresh produce sections, manufactured consumr items, both legitimate and smuggled, are available. There is also a night market on 84th Street, on the east side of Zegyo Market. For the visitor who would like a memento of Burmese music this is the place to buy tapes.
MANDALAY MUSEUM AND LIBRARY
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 164)
To the north-east of the market, on 80th Street between 24th and 25th streets, is the Mandalay Museum and Library. It has an interesting collection of royal garments, probably those left behind by King Theebaw and Queen Supayalat, and a variety of ethnological exhibits, but on the whole it is not as interesting as the museum in Taunggyi. This is now rather a forgotten place as the most prized items of their collection have been moved across to the museum in the Mandalay Palace. Nonetheless it still has some beautiful Buddha images.
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 165)
Due west of Zegyo Market is Eindawya Pagoda. It was built by King Pagan Min on his accession to the throne. His home had been on this sie while he was Crown Prince. Pagan Min was deposed, through spared, following the palace revolution of 1853. He lived out his life in a monastery on this site, eventually dying of smallpox. This golden pagoda of lovely proportions (sadly the base has recently been covered in mosaic) was built also in memory of Theebaw’s only son, who died in infancy, also of smallpox.
Mandalay’s most fabled religious monument is the Mahamuni (or Arakan) Pagoda. It was originally built in 1784 by King Bodawpaya to house the Mahamuni Image, but was destroyed by fire in 1884 and immediately rebuilt. The 3.8-metre (12.6-foot) high seated image of the Buddha has a legendary origin and a complex history. Three times the Burmese tried to steal it from the Arakanese, but only in 1784 were they finally successful. According to an inscription in the pagoda, Bodawpaya coaxed this Buddha image to Mandalay by the ‘charm of piety’. The history books, however, tell of a bloody battle. They do not divulge how this massive sculpture was transported over the steep, pathless mountain sides. Some, to this day, ascribe the feat to supernatural powers. One hundred and twenty families accompanied the image on its long journey to Mandalay and remained to tend it.
Even today the image’s face is washed and its teeth cleaned at 4.30am every day – for the early riser fascinating ritual to watch. The shape of the body is greatly distorted as each day the faithful paste on more and more little squares of gold leaf. Sometimes it is necessary to apply a thin layer of lacquer to the body to enable the gold leaf to stick, and this is done as part of the early morning ablutions. Women believers are not allowed into the sanctum and have to pass their gold leaf to a man dressed in white, who is in charge of the Buddha’s welfare. Another man is employed solely to collect the fallen gold leaf, which reputedly amounts to as much as 2.7 kilograms (six pounds) a year. The inner square of the pagoda, the section which houses the Mahamuni image, is dedorated with a red lacquer base and a thin layer of gold leaf on top. The whole area once exuded a warm glow. Now these bottom sections have been face with cold, plum-coloured tiles, covering up the red lacquer. A practical move as far as maintenance is concerned, but an aesthetic disaster.
THE ARTISAN GUILDS
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 168)
Not far from the Mahamuni Pagoda, also in the south of the city, are the Artisan Guilds. In 1857 when Mandalay was being built, King Mindon set up these guilds, which today form the backbone of Myanmar’s craft industry. On one side of the street are the alabaster and marble carvers, and the forecourt and workshops are strewn with Buddha images of different shapes and sizes, in varying stages of completion. Opposite are the shops of the wooden carvers, where one can find charming small Buddhas carved from sweet-smelling sandalwood.
Shwe In Bin
(Source: Myanmar in ASEAN, a Tourism Treat; 24th AEAN Summit; Pg. 168)
Monasteries abound in and around Mandalay, so visit only the best. One such is the Shwe In Bin, in Pe Boke Tan Street, south of 35th Street. This beautiful teak building (constructed some 80 years ago by a rich Chinese jade merchant, though many of the carved panels date from an earlier period), raised on cream stucco foundations, stands in its own compound shaded by mature trees. Its mud floor, baked to a soft brown, is constantly swept by the young monks. The interior is characteristically multicultural: beautiful carved doors in the Burmese style, Victorian crystal paraffin lamps, as well as an interesting series of paintings depicting General Prendergast and Colonel Sladen negotiating with court ministers prior to King Theebaw’s exile. Another set of paintings show negotiating for the sale of the Mogok ruby mines to the French.
Some 11 kilometers (seven miles) south of Mandalay is the town of Amarapura, the “City of Immortals”. In its heyday a city of some 200,000 inhabitants, it now has a population of a mere 10,000. The leisurely “Clack-Clack” from the looms of the cotton and silk weavers has replaced the noisy bustle of this former capital. The town stands on slightly elevated ground which in the flood season forms a long peninsula.
U Bein Bridge
At the southern end of the town, in a grove of majestic trees, forgotten pagodas crumble. Two large monasteries remain, as does the massive Taungmingyi Buddha Image erected in around 1846 by Pagan Min (King Mindon’s deposed brother). This image was originally exposed to the elements, but in 1949 it was roofed in. In 1847 King Pagan Min allocated funds for the building of a bridge across Taung Thaman Lake. The mayor, one U Bein, obviously had an eye for a quick penny: he appears to have pocketed the money and re-used timbers from the abandoned Ava Palace. The king saw through the ruse, however, and the mayor was charged with fraud.
The long bridge passes over fertile rice fields. It used to be that during the winter months the lake bed stayed dry long enough for two harvests. Then, in the rainy season, from the Pahtodawgyi Pagoda in the north to the Ava stream south of Amarapura, the land floods to form the Taung Thaman Lake, and the farmers would become fishermen. However, due to the recent construction of a dam, the farmers have been forced to become full-time fisherman, the lake is now a constant. Take a stroll over this lovely old bridge and arrive at the small sleepy village of Taung Thaman.
One of the most prestigious monasteries in the Mandalay area is Mahagandayone, the home of some 1300 orthodox monks and novices. The monks run a primary school as well as a meditation center. Due to the renowned status of this monastery an individual or group of donors often provides their daily meal. This means the monks do not have to go out every morning to gather alms. The food is cooked in the monastery’s clean but basic ‘cook house’. Four huge steamers cook the rice, whilst vast blackened woks hold the bubbling curries. One of the cooks stirs the curry with a long pole; another makes sure there is enough wood under the wok. When the food is ready the gong, a hanging piece of old rail, is hit to summon the monks to the courtyard. The donors and their family stand beside the great vats of steaming rice, the monks file past in silence, taking the lid off their lacquer bowl to receive a large dollop of rice. A monk stands by to brush up any rice that has dropped onto the brick floor of the courtyard. With the lid back on the bowl a piece of pink sponge cake is popped onto the top. The monks file into the dining hall where they sit cross- legged, the curries, vegetables and some lapet having been place on the table. The abbot and senior monks sit at one end with the novices at the far end. When the meal is finished each monk leaves the table taking his bowl with him; anything that remains will be his breakfast the following morning. Nothing goes to waste in the monastery, as surplus food is in turn passed on to any locals in need, or re-heated for the next day’s meal.
South of Amarapura is Inwa, the once mighty capital called Ava, but now just a sleepy village whose inhabitants specialize in making lacquerware offerings bowls for monks. In 1855 Sir Henry Yule found the remains of Inwa much as they are today: ‘The ramparts still stand though in decay, the greater part of the interior area is a mere mass of tangled gardens and jungle’.
The journey to Inwa is a pleasure in itself. Just before reaching the Inwa Bridge, which crosses the Ayeyarwaddy, one leaves the main road and lurches along a small road, until the Myitnge River. Here one boards a flat-bottomed ferry, most probably sharing it with an ox-cart or two, bicyclists, chickens-in fact a veritable mini-Noah’s Ark. On the far side of the river one continues by pony trap, the only four-wheeled vehicle in Inwa being a very elderly fire engine.
King Bagyidaw’s watchtower still stands, slightly tilted, ‘as the earthquake left it, greatly out of the perpendicular and with the massive verandah and pillars round its base staggering hither and thither’.
Bagaya Monastery (Bagaya Kyaung) is perhaps the most beautiful of the monasteries in the area. Famous for its 267 teak pillars, it is set in the middle of Le Daw Gyee, the great royal rice fields. The nicest way to approach this exquisite little wooden monastery is to walk along a narrow path across the paddy- although there is now a small, as the Burmese say, ‘all-weather paved road’ to the building. The carving on the doors and walls is well preserved. The main hall stands on a platform apart from the monks’ quarters and the other buildings. It is constructed so that there is a space between the walls and roof, which keeps the hall light and cool throughout.
For many years the Inwa Bridge was the only bridge to span the Ayeyarwady throughout its entire length. When present construction up and down the river is completed there will be five bridges. This iron rail and road bridge was built by the British in the 1930s. In 1942 part of the bridge was blown up by the British as they retreated from the advancing Japanese. It was not repaired until-1954. Now the old iron bridge is un-used as a new one was opened in 2008.
In the 1930s, the writer Maurice Collis stood on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwady and gazed across are Sagaing prior to taking up his post as its Deputy Commissioner. ‘Behind the town with its mat and wooden housed was a cluster of yellow hills,’ he wrote, ‘on top of each a golden pagoda with monasteries in profusion. There bathed in sunshine, secret and still, was Buddhist Burma.’ Today there are said to be no fewer than 554 monasteries, home to some 6,000 monks and nuns.
Soon U Ponya Shin Pagado
The Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda also enjoys a splendidly elevated position, the difference being that there is a road up to it, so for those less inclined to exertion this is the place to enjoy the panorama. It stands slightly apart, however, and you will miss the pleasure of the village scene.
U Min Thon-se (Thirty Caves Pagoda)
Another interesting pagoda to visit on the Sagaing hill is U Min Thonse a semicircular colonnade housing 43 seated Buddha images, their hands in the ‘ calling earth witness’ mudra. Thought to have been built during the 11th century there are 30 openings along the colonnade, so as you enter the space light floods in from the left and illuminates the 43 seated images on the right. Either end of the colonnade stands a large Buddha image as if on guard, the significance of 43 images alludes to the 43 years that Buddha spent giving sermons. The pagoda has recently been renovated; shiny mosaic tiles cover the walls with small plaques acknowledging those who have made donations- many from abroad.
Kaung Hmudaw Pagoda
Ten kilometres (six miles) west from the Inwa Bridge is the Kaung Hmudaw Pagoda. Its shape is unusual for a Burmese pagoda in that it is an enormous dome, about 275 metres (900 feet) in circumference and 45 metres (150 feet) high, and topped by a small hti, It was built in 1636 by King Thalon to celebrate the founding of Ava as the kingdom’s capital. Local folklore suggests that the shape represents a certain queen’s perfect breast. The pagoda is also a copy of the Mahaceti Pagoda in Sri Lanka, and is alleged to contain a tooth of the Buddha brought from Kandy. The base of the pagoda has small nat-filled niches, as well as some 800 pillars, each 1.5 metres (five feet) high with a niche for an oil lamp. The annual Kaung Hmudaw Pagoda festival is held at the November full moon. As always at festival time, a market springs up around the pagoda; this one is renowned for pottery.
On the return journey from the Kaung Hmudaw Pagoda to the Inwa Bridge one passes through Ywahtaung village, the home of the silversmiths’ guild. These silversmiths produce extremely fine work, using the ornate patterns of traditional designs. The silver betel boxes and bowls in the shape of monks’ offerings bowls, which are to be found in most Burmese homes, are likely to have come from Ywahtaung.