Journeysmatter

A blog on journeys, great destinations and fantastic travel experiences

Seeing Myanmar along the Ayeyarwady / Irrawady River – Glories of Mingun

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The Mahamuni of Mingun

The Irrawady river in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is the country’s largest river flowing from North to South and also a commercial waterway. Yes, the country flourishes along its banks. What better way to experience Myanmar. Towards the latter part of the Monsoon, we embarked on a 3 night cruise on the river on board The Strand.

The Strand Luxury Cruise boat on the Ayeyarwady complete with luxury cabins, great food, wines and the best of Asian hospitality
The Strand on the Ayeyarwady

In Part 1 of this blog series we explored the U-Bein bridge in Mandalay. We took The Strand cruise boat got us across the shore towards Mingun. Here we set out to explore on a Trishaw. Myanmar is a Theravada Buddhist country with over 90% of its population practicing the religion. Practitioners of the Theravada Buddhist school of thought claim to adhere most closely to the original doctrines and practices taught by the Buddha. Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos are the other countries where the Theravada Buddhism prevails. In a Buddhist countries, Pagodas are unmissable. A temple complex, Pagodas have been used to house relics or remains of saints and Kings. They also served as seats of learning and as a resting place for mendicants. Kings built numerous pagodas to earn the goodwill and blessings of the saints who were part of the kingdom or were passing by.

The Mahamuni

We set out to get an understanding of how these play a role in peoples lives. Starting with the Mahamuni Pagoda. Built in 1785, the pagoda is very reverend to the locals as it is said to be hosting a living expression of representing Buddha’s life. The king of Arakan is said to have hosted Buddha and his 500 disciples when he was on tour and the Buddha agreed to have his image crafted by the king. The Mahamuni’s face is washed daily by priests and also has his teeth brushed. The towel used to wipe the face is later handed over to the devotees to keep in their homes

The richly decorated interiors of The Mahamuni Pagoda. The Yellow paint already gives a feeling of the Pagoda glistening in gold. The impressive work on the arches in the corridor and the Jade stone walls are to be observed for their richeness. THe devout are seen in plenty and many come in with their travel bags enroute to their destinations.
The richly decorated interiors of The Mahamuni Pagoda. The Yellow paint already gives a feeling of the Pagoda glistening in gold. The impressive work on the arches in the corridor and the Jade stone walls are to be observed for their richeness. THe devout are seen in plenty and many come in with their travel bags enroute to their destinations.
Devotees get close to the Mahamuni and humbly submit their offerings usually in the form of gold leaves that are applied on the supporting pedestal along with a silent prayers.
Devotees get close to the Mahamuni and humbly submit their offerings usually in the form of gold leaves that are applied on the supporting pedestal along with a silent prayers.
The Myanmarese place their faith in the living entity that is the Mahamuni. The crown is adorned with precious stones etched in gold. Rest of the Mahamuni's structure is enriched with Gold Leaves
The Myanmarese place their faith in the living entity that is the Mahamuni. The crown is adorned with precious stones etched in gold. Rest of the Mahamuni’s structure is enriched with Gold Leaves

One of the interesting things about Myanmar is about the Gold Leaf. This forms the main offerings at all the Pagodas. Sharing a video from the archives of the Smithsonian Channel showcasing the making of the Gold Leaf.

The Gold Leaf Making factory. Kind courtesy – Smithsonian Channel

Bagaya Kyaung Monastery

Teakwood is native to Myanmar. The water reistant nature of Teak makes it an ideal material suitable for furnitures, ship building and as we have seen in the case of U-Bein, even for bridges. In Mandalay however you should be able to visit the Bagaya Kyaung Monastery that has been completely built in Teak. Said to have been built in 1834, the monastery has over 267 columns, all resting over stone pedestals. going by the carvings in the Monastery, the Craftsment would have found Teak as an excellent medium for expressing their skills.  

The Majesticity of the Bagaya Kyaung monastery has been achieved with the simplest of materials - Wood. Even after two centuries, the monasteries do not seem ravaged by time. One takes of their shoes before entering the Monastery. There are many quiet places around for a 21 minute meditation session.
The Majesticity of the Bagaya Kyaung monastery has been achieved with the simplest of materials – Wood. Even after two centuries, the monasteries do not seem ravaged by time. One takes of their shoes before entering the Monastery. There are many quiet places around for a 21 minute meditation session.
The main shrine is in the auspicious East-West direction. Large parts of the monastery are served by ample natural light and excellent cross ventilation. Figurines representing door keepers to the shrine can be seen along with frescos which detail Buddha's life.
The main shrine is in the auspicious East-West direction. Large parts of the monastery are served by ample natural light and excellent cross ventilation. Figurines representing door keepers to the shrine can be seen along with frescos which detail Buddha’s life.

Mingun Pahtodawgyi

This one reminded me of Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh, India. Construction of this enormous “unfinished” pagoda began in the year 1791 to house a replica of a Buddha tooth relic. Massive earthquakes in 1821 and 1839 are said to have led to abandonement of construction. The pagoda currently has only only limited use as a place of worship

What looks like a massive granary is actually an unfinished Pagoda. It is not as frequented as a place of worship. One can just stand and look at PahtoDawgyi and imagine what could have been. It is massive and if it was completed could have been a structure to rival the pyramids. Alas, time decided to tell other stories.
What looks like a massive granary is actually an unfinished Pagoda. It is not as frequented as a place of worship. One can just stand and look at PahtoDawgyi and imagine what could have been. It is massive and if it was completed could have been a structure to rival the pyramids. Alas, time decided to tell other stories.

Hsinbyume Pagoda

Mount Meru is said to be the axis Mundi or at he center of the Buddhist cosmos. The Hsinbyume Pagoda is said to have been built in the early part of the 19th century and is said to represent Mount Meru. The White Pagoda has seven concentric terraces that represent the seven rivers and mountain ranges encircling Mount Meru. The Pagoda is named after a princess who died in childbirth in 1812. Climb up to the shrine for prayers and fantastic views of the Irrawady river. 

The first sight of the Hsinbumye is absolutely spectacular. By the time one reaches Hsinbumye you are already expecting another gold peaked Pagoda; A spotless white Pagoda is an absolute delight. The story behind the Pagoda is heart wrenching.
The first sight of the Hsinbumye is absolutely spectacular. By the time one reaches Hsinbumye you are already expecting another gold peaked Pagoda; A spotless white Pagoda is an absolute delight. The story behind the Pagoda is heart wrenching.
The Hsinbyume is said to resemble Mt Meru, the axis of the universe that is attained after one crosses the 7 seas seen here in a beautiful representation. The climb up is short and each step is about a foot higher than the other. It is well worth the effort to climb up to the top.
The Hsinbyume is said to resemble Mt Meru, the axis of the universe that is attained after one crosses the 7 seas seen here in a beautiful representation. The climb up is short and each step is about a foot higher than the other. It is well worth the effort to climb up to the top.
Clear views of the Irrawady river and the nearby Pahtodawgyi pagoda can be seen from atop the Pagoda.
Clear views of the Irrawady river and the nearby Pahtodawgyi pagoda can be seen from atop the Pagoda.

The Rockstar of Mingun

On our way from Pahtodawgyi to Hsinbyume, we came across this Rockstar of a lady who had set up a Cheroot stall just outside her home and served as the best ambassador/endorser for her product. Cheroots are popular truncated cigars made from a choice blend of tobacco, bark, stems, roots and sundry leaves wrapped in a corn husk tied with a red silk thread. More popular than smoking cheroot is chewing of Betelnut.

The lady had Tanaka paste all over her and was probably enjoying her post lunch Cheroot. She was also hawking them. Houses are built on stilts probably to escape from flooding and reptiles.
The lady had Tanaka paste all over her and was probably enjoying her post lunch Cheroot. She was also hawking them. Houses are built on stilts probably to escape from flooding and reptiles.

Our next stop as part of the cruise was Innwa, another former kingdom of Myanmar with its own set of stories to tell. Mandalay and Mingun ended Day 1 of the Cruise.

Getting to Myanmar

Travelling to Myanmar is now a breeze. Number of airlines fly in to Yangon with a single stop at any popular hub. Mandalay and Bagan are well connected from Yangon.

  1. China Southern, All Nippon, Bangkok Airways, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways among the carriers from the Asian and South east Asian region
  2. Qatar Airways and Emirates from the middle east
  3. Air India offers twice a week flight between Kolkata and Yangon on Saturdays and Mondays. Its a surprise that the two countries which share such a common heritage still dont have good direct connectivity.

Tourists can check visa requirements on The Myanmar eVisa website. This is a government website and one can apply online for an e-visa. Check out for countries for whom Visa is provided on arrival. Indians can now apply for visa upon arrival. A recent government order to this effect. However, as a travel best practice it is always wise to utilize the e-visa facility offered. One however has to be careful while entering the passport details in to the Visa application form. Mismatch very clearly results in deportation.

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