Our first full day in Mandalay began with the short drive to Mahamuni Paya (Great Sage Temple) a popular place of pilgrimage with thousands of faithful arriving daily; including families bringing a myriad of colourfully clothed and painted kids for coming-of-age celebrations. The human activity was more memorable than the architecture – the original 1784 temple burnt down a century later. Today the central Buddha sits beneath a soaring multi-tiered golden shrine roof. It is approached through long concrete passageways crammed with stalls selling all manner of religio-tourist trinkets. More interesting sets of Buddha images are sold in the side arcade leading to the (young) bodhi tree. I was wearing my Longyi (Sarong) for the first time which was so large if needed I could’ve parachuted safely from the bell tower. A Burmese lady kindly offered to tie it for me squeezing every last breath from my lungs and sending my belly southwards. We strolled towards an ancient Buddha statue (the Maha Muni Buddha), which was transported to Mandalay from Mrauk U in the kingdom of Rakhine (which borders modern Bangladesh); that kingdom was defeated by the Burmese in 1784. The statue is much older and some believe that it was cast in 554BC. Only men are allowed to touch the statue though I know not why and neither did the trip guide! There are a constant stream of the unfairer sex circling the icon. They are allowed to touch the Buddha image, constantly applying gold leaf to it. This is considered an act of virtue apparently but a more virtuous action would be to allow women worshippers the same privilege. They (male monks) also brush the Buddha’s teeth in the morning, an interesting deed considering that Buddha’s mouth is closed.
From here we headed to the Maha Ganayon Kyaung monastery where a thousand or more monks queue every morning clutching their alms dishes, waiting to be fed. We made a donation which was received in a ceremony by the head monk. We participated by placing our hands on the money dish and reciprocating his chants. These could have been translated as “give me your money” for all we know!
Crossing to Inwha island by a boat with the world largest engine (made in Guangzhou, China) we stopped by the pony and trap taxi rank before a light lunch at Ave Maria. This ancient village has a multitude of ancient attractions so we headed to Bagaya Kyaung, a monastery built using 267 teak pillars or Nanmyin and location of a leaning tower that is 27m high. Part-way there we met a delightful troupe of performers in full Myanmar drag who apparently circle the village and others performing a ritual and collecting donations. At the monastery a senior monk taught Buddhist scripts to young kids in a school room to the rear.
Circling back through rice paddies and banana plantations we reached the old watchtower of the former Royal Palace which is propped up as it was severely damaged by earthquake. Visiting yet another large temple complex this was our last site before taking the short ferry-hop back to the mainland. After stopping at a weaving factory no bigger than a classroom and where the most exquisite silks were being prepared, we continued to Ubein Bridge in the ancient village of Amarapura . This is the longest teak bridge in the world (1.2 km) and is almost 2000 years old. In the morning it’s used as a pilgrims path for the monks who queue for the breakfasts as we’d observed in the morning. From U Bein Bridge the sunset was awesome impressive and will be a lasting memory of this Burmese Odyssey. Yet another memorable day.