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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Day Trips from Mandalay

Amarapura.

Twice Capital of Myanmar, the ‘City of Immortality’ was founded by King Bodawpaya, the fifth King of the Konbaung dynasty in 1783. The capital was moved back to Inwa in 1823 but Amarapura regained the position from 1841 to 1859 under King Tharrawaddy. Today, little remains of the palace site; the buildings were dismantled and taken to Mandalay by King Mindon, and the city walls became construction material for the railway. The town has become a weaving centre, well known for its production of silk. What remains of the old city are the pagodas and monasteries, spread along the shore of Thaungthaman Lake that were established at the time and, of course, the famous U Bein Bridge.

Highlights.
Maha Ganayon Monastery.
This monastery, known for its strict religious discipline was established in 1914. This is a popular stop in Amarapura to photograph the monks who line up for their lunch at around 1030 every morning. After photographing the monastery and exploring the backstreets most visitors take lunch themselves at nearby restaurants before continuing to Inwa.

U Bein Bridge.

An astonishing sight, U Bein Bridge is credited to U (Mr) Bein, who was believed to be a clerk or servant of the King. Built using 1060 logs felled for use at Inwa Palace, this is the longest teak bridge in the world. The bridge connects Amarapura with the village of Taungthaman and Kyauktawgyi Pagoda, 1,300 yards away across the city lake. Construction began in 1848 and finished three years later. This is not a museum piece; the bridge is still the main thoroughfare between the two locations even after 160 years, and used by monks and thousands of local pedestrians daily. Day tours to the ancient cities end back at the bridge for sunset photograph opportunities. The best photographs can be obtained by hiring a rowing boat and photographing the bridge towards sunset with the low sun behind, and the bridge’s teak posts reflecting in the water.

Kyauktawgyi Pagoda.

180 yards from the far side of the bridge, this pagoda dates to 1847and the reign of King Pagan Min. The interior contains some well preserved frescoes and ceiling murals. This is a quiet and peaceful area to frequent at sunset.

Inwa. (Ava)

A man-made island some 22 kilometres south of Mandalay, Inwa (also known as Ava and Ratnapura) served as capital of Myanmar for longer than any other city. Inwa, ‘Mouth of the Lake’, first became capital under King Thadominbya after the fall of Sagaing in 1364. In 1752 the capital moved with King Alaungpaya to Shwebo, then Sagaing but returned to Inwa in 1764. Nineteen years later nearby Amarapura became capital for the first time but the title returned to Inwa once again in 1823. The city remained capital until 1841 when Amarapura, then Mandalay became the last seats of the Bamar Kings.

When visiting Inwa, your car will leave you at the ferry point from where you cross the river to the island. On the far bank, hire a horse cart for a leisurely trot around the fields, villages and ruins that make up this fascinating ancient site. After leaving the village you pass the best preserved section of old city wall, facing the Ayeyarwady River. Following are some of the main sites but you can ask your horse cart driver to take you to any accessible part of the city.

Highlights.
Bagayar Monastery.

The teak ‘Star Flower Monastery’ dates from 1834 and is supported by 267 teak logs, the largest 60 feet long and 9 feet in circumference. On the outside are some beautiful carvings including that of a ‘Keinayi’; a mythical half bird, half woman. The monastery is still in use and the monks teach local children at the kyaung classroom.

Nanmyin Watchtower.

Nicknamed the ‘leaning tower of Inwa’, this is all that remains of King Bagyidaw’s Inwa Palace. The tower is 90 feet high and leans at an angle, a result of earthquake damage. There are excellent views from the top of Inwa Island, the Ava Bridge and Sagaing.

Maha Aungmyay Bonzan.

This monastery was built by King Bagyidaw’s chief Queen, Meh Nu between 1818 and 1822. Also known as Ok, or Me Nu Ok Kyaung ‘The Brick Monastery’, it was constructed for the Sayadaw U Bok, the Queen’s Abbott. Monasteries at the time were usually built of wood and were prone to fire and rot. This brick-and-stucco construction, damaged by the 1838 earthquake, survived and was restored in 1873.

Sagaing.

Only 12 miles from Mandalay via the Ava Bridge, the outwardly sleepy-looking town of Sagaing is actually capital of Myanmar’s largest division. Sagaing was also, back in the 14th Century, capital of the Bamar Kingdom after the fall of Bagan. A Myanmar saying goes “When you are young, seek knowledge; when you are adult, seek wealth; when you are old, seek enlightenment” – Here in Sagaing, 500 pagodas and monasteries help thousands of young and old alike to retreat from urban life and seek the wisdom and enlightenment offered by Buddhism.

Highlights.
Sagaing Hill.

The most interesting part of Sagaing town, this gorgeous hill is covered with shade trees which hide numerous pagodas, monasteries and nunneries. Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, dating to 1312 is a good viewpoint and is well known for its bronze frogs that serve as collection boxes. Tilawkaguru cave temple dates from 1672 and is filled with impressive murals which are revealed by candlelight. The hill is the meditation centre of Myanmar and it is fascinating just to walk the quiet staircases and pathways and soak up the peaceful atmosphere.

Kaunghmudaw pagoda.

Located 6 miles to the west of Sagaing, this 150 feet high pagoda was built in 1636 during the reign of King Thalun to commemorate the establishment of Inwa as the new capital of Myanmar. This gigantic white dome was modelled on the Mahaceti, or ‘Great Stupa’ of Sri Lanka, though local legend says it was modelled on the Queen’s breast! The pagoda is said to house a tooth relic of the Buddha and miracle-working emerald bowl from Bago.

Mr Myanmar Travel can arrange day trips by air-conditioned car that cover the highlights of Amarapura, Inwa and Sagaing. There are many stories to be told about the area and its history so we would recommend that you take a guide to enhance your trip. If you have the time available, we feel Sagaing is worth a day’s exploration on its own.

Mingun.

Seven miles upstream from Mandalay, one hour by small boat, Mingun is a village with a lot of history which you will see standing tall long before you disembark your boat.

Highlights.


Pondaw Pagoda.

This 16 feet high pagoda does not look like much, but is actually the model for Mingun’s main attraction, 90 yards away.

Mingun Pagoda.

‘The World’s Biggest Pile of Bricks’ is actually just the ruined base of what was designed to be the world’s largest pagoda. Construction of this amazing shrine commenced in 1790, under the reign, and sometimes direct supervision, of King Bodawpaya. Set back from the river, the pagoda was meant to top 500 feet and construction was carried out by a team of prisoners of war and slaves. Building was halted in 1819 though the reason is unclear. The King died in this year so perhaps the new King did not want to continue to fund the huge cost of the project. Others say that omens foretold the end of the King’s dynasty, should the pagoda be completed. Whatever the reason the pagoda stood unfinished at a height of 160 feet until 1838, when an earthquake split the base apart. Though unfinished and ruined, the pagoda is considered sacred ground so you will have to go barefoot if you wish to climb to the top and admire the stunning views over the river.

Mingun Bell.

Eighteen years after commencing the construction of Mingun Pagoda, the King instructed a gigantic bell to be cast to go with it. The 90 ton bell is the largest, uncracked bell in the world, 16 feet across and 13 feet high. Hung in a shrine building on British-made iron supports, it is possible to crouch and look around inside it.

Hsinbyume Pagoda.

Named after his senior wife, who died shortly after childbirth, King Bagyidaw built this pagoda three years before assuming the throne. Hsinbyume Pagoda is a famous representation of the mythical Sulamani Pagoda, which is said to stand on Mt Meru, the mountain at the centre of the universe. Seven wavy, whitewashed terraces surround the pagoda; the seven mountain ranges around Mt Meru. It is said that the King had to sell his prize emerald, worth 100,000 Kyats, to fund the structure; hence the pagoda’s alternative name ‘Myatheindan’.

Settawya Pagoda.

On the riverbank next to Pondaw Pagoda, this photogenic whitewashed shrine was built in 1811 by King Bodawpaya. The vaulted shrine contains a footprint of the Buddha.

Mr Myanmar Travel organises private boat hire to take you on the one-hour scenic ride from Mandalay, past Ayeyarwady trading boats upstream to Mingun. If you are touring for a full day, your car and driver will meet you after the return journey to take you onto some of the major sights of Mandalay City with sunset from Mandalay Hill.

Monywa.

A small city on the east bank of the Chindwin River, 84 miles from Mandalay, Monywa - the gateway to the northwest sees few foreign visitors but has some very interesting attractions that make for a rewarding excursion. The interesting town centre contains a clock tower, old market and the pleasant Shwezigon Pagoda. Most of the standout attractions are however, a few kilometres from the town.

Highlights:
Thanboddhay Pagoda.

In a country with so many ancient wonders, Thanboddhay Pagoda is a magnificent construction dating back only to the start of World War II. The foundation of this unique pagoda was laid in 1939 and the structure was finally finished long after the war ended, in 1958. The pagoda boasts an astonishing 582,357 Buddha images, large and small. High towers are set with rows of tiny images, painted in pastel colours. Bigger images are located inside the main shrine – though the walls are covered by smaller ones, up to the ceiling. The compound also includes a large Buddhist ordination hall entirely covered with figures from the ‘Jataka’ stories, as well as figures of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen holding admonitions of good behaviour.

Bodhi Tataung.

This complex is a collection of more than 1,000 Buddhas, some huge. On the approach to the site you will first notice the newly-constructed standing Buddha, which towers 423 feet and can be seen from a great distance. The main Aung Setkya Pagoda is a 430 feet, gilded stupa surrounded by 1060 smaller ones and leads on to the reclining Buddha, 312 feet long and sheltering cool shrines for meditation.

Hpo Win Daung and Shwe Ba Taung Caves.

40 kilometres west of Monywa, across the Chindwin River lies the main attraction in this region, the 492 cave temples of Hpo Win Daung, located in a limestone mountain shaped like a reclining Buddha. The narrow galleries up to 21 metres in length, are filled with Buddha images and altars and some boast beautiful 16th Century wall paintings. The higher Shwe Ba Taung caves are just as old but contain much larger images, either in standing or sitting positions. The entrances to these caves were constructed during the British colonial period and many have touches of Victorian architectural styles included.

Mr Myanmar Travel can arrange day trips to Monywa from Mandalay by air-conditioned car; the journey time is around 3 hours each way. We recommend taking a guide who knows the area and can explain the history behind the Hpo Win Daung Caves and help with translation. If you would like to stay overnight, comfortable two and three star standard accommodation can be arranged in Monywa town.

 

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