A sunny morning’s float down the Irrawaddy River is good for many things: letting your face bask in the sunshine, visiting with other guests whilst drinking tea; watching river life; or traveling up river to the town of Mingun. In Mingun, we photographed the local ice cream man on his bicycle and visited an assisted living facility for the elderly.
Pagodas are everywhere in Myanmar. Like everywhere else, they are constructed for family or village centered worship, or a memorial for a loved ones who has died. Like the Taj Mahal story, a consort of the king dies in Mingun while traveling, a large a lavish pagoda is created in her memory. The wavy 7-tiers represent the mountains and the center, the mythological Mt Meru (according to Buddhists, the center of all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes). Built in 1861 to celebrate the life of Princess Hsinbyume, who was his first consort and died in childbirth with her first child. This woman was loved, but the King wanted to build something bigger for himself!
Nearby, the king wanted to create the worlds largest pagoda: a height of 150 meters. Like the Taj Mahal, first a memorial project was built then a personal construction project, together, they took a heavy toll on the kingdom builders and it’s financial resources. A prophecy that when the temple was done the king would die was rumored, just to slow him down! Then the 1839 earthquake caused a large crack down the front of the king’s pagoda. Additional weight of the bell shaped stupa and a forged bell, could not be sustained by the damaged structure and the pagoda was never finalized. It is used today as a simple temple where the local monks pray. The king did get his wish to create a world record; it does hold the record for the largest pile of bricks in the world!
If you are going to create the largest pagoda, then it needs the largest bell. The Mingun Bell was the heaviest functioning bell from 1810 until 1902. The supports failed during the earthquake in 1839 and it slipped to second place for a few years to fix the supports (the bell was fine however, just not functioning). In 1902, the Japanese forged a larger bell, but melted it in 1942 in support of the war, so the Mingun Bell reigned again as the largest bell until the year 2000. For 190 years this was the largest functioning bell in the world. And as David can attest, it sounds pretty good! Mingun was one of my favorite places to visit with its tranquility, its oxen “taxi” which was an absolute hoot to ride, the always courteous and friendly market sellers.
In Mandalay, the Kuthodaw Pagoda, contains the worlds largest book! Surrounding the pagoda are 729 shrines each containing a single marble slab inscribed in both sides in Burmese script. Together, the 729 slabs are called “the world’s largest book”, each stone slab representing one of its pages is encased in a stone pagoda. The slabs are inscribed with the teachings of the Buddha written in ancient Pali language. The white shrines are lined in rows around the complex, with corridors in between wide enough to walk through.
If you read one day (8 hours long), it would take over one year and three months (450 days totally) to complete it. It is called “World Biggest Book” When the tablets were unveiled in 1868, each line of writing had been filled with golden ink and the stones were decorated with precious stones including rubies and diamonds. Unfortunately, after the British invaded in the mid-1880s, the troops looted the temple site, stripping the slabs of their gold ink and gems. Today the sprawling book still stands, and the writing has been refilled with simple black ink so that while the opulent glory may have disappeared, the messages of the writings themselves live on for future generations. The ancient writing is intriguing and beautiful!
But at the end of the day, literally, the sunsets are magnificent. We took them at U Bein Bridge and the top of Monastery Hill.
The U Bien Bridge is 1.2 km long and is made out of complete teakwood. The bridge is in good shape and usable condition even today after more than 170 years of construction. The place is teeming with tourists in the evening time during the sunset. The sunset scene from the water in long boats is breathtaking.