Mingun sits on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy, about 11km upriver from Mandalay, there are no bridges nearby, so the best way to get there is by boat.
It was just turning 8 a.m as we headed to the west end of 26th street to take the boat to Mingun where a past king had started building the largest stupa in the world. The river was a hive of activity with locals beavering across a system of barges and decrepit trucks. Just after we walked the plank to our vessel the makeshift bridge collapsed and a poor old German hit the water emerging caked in French Gray mud and carrying a stern gaze. The not so happy chappy gesticulated at the smiling ferry operators but my biggest disappointment was not having my camera ready!
The river carried a chill wind so I pulled on my thermal top and I settled back into a wicker deck chair for the 45 minute cruise. We could see approaching Mingun that there was an impressive pedestal dominating the landscape, a square platform rising 50 meters above the river. Once we got there and saw it up close, I could see it had carved stone entryways into each edifice. One edifice was whitewashed and had a temple in its niche, but the others led simply to alcoves. The colossus had cracks running top to bottom from earthquakes, but the pile of bricks was formidable and had survived nature worst and most recently in 2013. The structure was the base of a giant pagoda that remained unfinished after a Burmese kings Bodawpaya’s death. Adjacent to this was a pavilion holding the worlds second largest bell. Folk were scrambling under to have it rung in their ears a rather brainless past-time if opinion is warranted! Further along past the Oxon and cart taxis was a giant wedding cake of a pagoda dedicated to the aforesaid kings wife.
There were legion stupas and pagodas in the immediate area; the lush green hills were dotted with their silhouettes. The people were again charismatic and the cry of “mingalay” rang out much louder than the bell.
The simple rhythm of life was relaxing and compelling. I had watermellon fresh cut, only 100 kyat per generous slice, supplemented with fresh green coconut. I found a school festival with (very loud) recorded gamelin music where children were dressed in traditional costume. Monks walked among them as they went home through the marketplace.
We returned to Mandalay for a prawn curry and lentil soup lunch, again £1.50, before taking a hotel nap. Later we saw the formation of gold leaf a rather labour intensive endeavour before heading out to Mandalay Hill prior to sunset. We stopped to visit an ornate teak monastery and the site of the worlds largest stone book before climbing the hill to what for me became a bus mans holiday. A pagoda sat atop the hill and the crowds of monks and locals came to enthusiastically practice their English with the 100 to so tourists. I said I taught in Korea all I needed were 5 loaves and 5 fishes I became that important . The sunset was again awesome after which we headed down the hill and settled at the Green Elephant for dinner. I had beef curry with thick chilli soy sauce and lime leaves which imparted myriad flavours on the palette. A perfect end to a tremendous day I thought but no! On returning to the hotel live EPL on the 50″ TV accompanied by rum and coke. Just now we are heading for the mountains.