Our second morning in Mandalay, we crossed the bridge over the Irrawaddy River to Sagaing. The area is covered with around six hundred white-painted pagodas and monasteries and looks like heaven on earth, where Sagaing Hill is widely regarded as the religious center of Myanmar. The area is home to three thousand monks and a hundred meditation centers. We visited a number of famous pagodas, including Swan Oo Pon Nya Shin, U Min Thone Sae, and Shin Pin Nan Gyaing. The views from the tops of the pagodas were absolutely spectacular, with farmers in their patchwork fields and white pagodas in all directions of the compass as far as the eye can see. The air was fresh and there were birds chirping enjoying the scenery as well. It was hot and sunny but comfortable with a pleasant breeze.
Later we visited Sagaing’s local market which was a typical Burmese market that few tourists visit. We saw a range of items for sale including locally made pottery, silver and other handicrafts. Afterwards we stopped at a small pottery village to see the process of making the famous water pots found throughout Myanmar we would have loved a pair in our garden, but unfortunately they were too large and heavy to ship home. We stopped at a local nunnery but declined an offer to take lunch there, instead we watched the daily lunch ritual of the nuns forming a straight line and carrying their food bowl, walking towards the dining hall and each removing their flip flops along side the steps again in a completely straight line, as if there were hidden string markers for each row of shoes. We watched them all be seated, again in unison and start prayers. The discipline was so unbelievable that we were totally stunned. We went for lunch to a small Burmese family restaurant, recommended by our guide and enjoyed a meal reflecting on the nuns and the rest of the morning.
After lunch, we returned toward the city and stopped at Amarapura, which was a former capital whose name means ‘City of Immortality’. Later we visited a local village, where we saw basket weaving and traditional loom weaving families. We continued to U Bein Bridge for a walk along this two hundred year old teak bridge over Taungthaman lake. The bridge was constructed of 984 teak posts that were once part of the deserted Inwa Palace and 1.5 kilometers in length, making it the world’s longest teak span bridge. We very much enjoyed strolling across the bridge, admiring the fabulous views of the surrounding farms and streams. However, the bridge was quite dangerous, so we had to watch our footing and it wouldn’t be advisable to walk this bridge if you suffer from dizzy spells as there are no hand rails, in fact no sides for most of it, it certainly would not pass a health & safety inspection in Europe nor North America! However, the views were splendid, as long as you don’t look straight down! Our final stop of the day was in Amarapura, where we visited the Mahagandayon monastery, which is home to over one-thousand monks (open this link for some excellent photos).
At the end of the day, we returned to the roof of our hotel for a drink and another wonderful view of the sunset over the mountains beyond the Irrawaddy River. We relaxed and reflected on our wonderful day and what we had learned from our guide. We were impressed with the Mahar muni statue which had received so many levels of gold leaf that it had made the face much fatter in a hundred years – we marveled that it was built in 1790 in Rakhaing State and then moved the move to the current location took over two years. We remembered the two large bronze figures returned from Thailand in 1563, after a military victory – they were originally from Angkor Wat and cast in 10th to 12th century. We had learned about the Anglo Burmese wars of 1819, 1851 & 1885 which led to Burma becoming a British colony, administered from India. Over our drinks, we compared the British influence in Burma to the French colonial period in Vietnam – we concluded that there was probably more French inspired architecture in Vietnam today than British in Burma. For sure, the colonial period brought progress, trade, and development but it also restricted local liberties.
So once again it is “Happy Hour” on the roof and we now look forward to our next Myanmar stop- Bagan and some more temple hopping. Watch this space!