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Category Archives: Myanmar

Sights and Sounds of Yangon – The Circular Railway

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The Yangon Circular Railway May

In Part 1 of this blog series we explored the U-Bein bridge in Mandalay. In Part 2 of this blog series we explored the township of Mingun in the Mandalay region. In Part 3, we continued our exploration of Mandalay with a shore expedition to Innwa also called as Ava. Part 4 saw us visiting the cultural city of Bagan. Later, we started soaking in the sights and sounds of Yangon. In The first part of our Yangon Series, we visited the colonial era precincts on a wet day. Later, in the second part, we had the opportunity of visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda and Temple of the Reclining Buddha. As we prepared to bid goodbye to this wonderful and energetic country, we took a ride on The Circular Railway and it was a perfect way to bring the curtains down on this lovely travel experience.

The Circular train is a remnant and a reminder of its colonial days. Yet, it continues to selflessly serve its citizens. Spanning 46 km and 39 stations, the Yangon circular rail forms a loop around Yangon. Built by the British, the 72-year-old commuter service network connects Yangon’s suburbs and satellite towns. The first service leaves Yangon Central at 3.45 am. The last train leaves at 10.15 pm. A ticket on the Circular train costs about 200 kyats or about 15 cents. One must set aside about an hour to experience this journey which gives a glimpse in to the everyday lives of Myanmarese.

Trains on the circular railway, Yangon central
Wide open windows, Japanese instructions as coaches are from old Japanese trains, advertising for mobility services and easy to access platforms with no need for foot over bridges – All characterstic of the Circular railway. The Yangon central station will look like a UNESCO world heritage site if given a facelift
Insein station, mud pots serving water, clean platforms, Buddhist prayer stall and the station masters' office
We boarded the train at Insein up to Yangon Central. The station platforms are wide, relatively clean, have mud pots with water for passengers to sustain in sweltering heat and of course prayer stations where Monks set up bowls for offerings.

The circular run takes 3 hours in all and no one will go hungry with the amount of perishable goods that are transported and the number of vendors hawking their wares on board.

Quail Eggs, Mandarin oranges, Green Mango and Papaya salad, Ice Popsicles, Australian grapes and vegetables. One could almost finish their daily fresh produce shopping on the train
Quail Eggs, Mandarin oranges, Green Mango and Papaya salad, Ice Popsicles, Australian grapes and vegetables. One could almost finish their daily fresh produce shopping on the train
The making of a tangy and spicy raw mango and raw papaya salad

Along the way, we met very interesting and friendly fellow passengers. It just wants you to get to know them and their country more. Why do you chew betel leaves? Answer – Because every one else does ! 

An everyday scene - a office worker, casual labourer and a monk
The everyday people on the circular railway. Monks usually travel for free.
Well dressed gentleman and students on board
The Journey never ends on the circular railway – Young and old alike
Bananas ready for ripening, shacks selling food items on platforms and alongside tracks
Life just happens along the tracks of the circular railway
Station platforms and waiting area of Yangon central
The railways will be the way they are. It is a way of life for the people of the city.

Recent news reports suggest that Myanmar is readying for a major upgrade of the Circular line by signing agreements for funding and technical support with Japan and South Korea. We wish these projects huge success thereby improving the everyday lives of Myanmarese.

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 SouthernAll NipponBangkok AirwaysCathay PacificSingapore AirlinesThai 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.

The Myanmar Journey concludes here for now

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Yangon – Sights & Sounds 2

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The Shwedagon Pagoda at Twilight

In Part 1 of this blog series we explored the U-Bein bridge in Mandalay. In Part 2 of this blog series we explored the township of Mingun in the Mandalay region. In Part 3, we continued our exploration of Mandalay with a shore expedition to Innwa also called as Ava. Part 4 saw us visiting the cultural city of Bagan. Later, we started soaking in the sights and sounds of Yangon. In The first part of our Yangon Series, we visited the colonial era precincts on a wet day.

The Shwedagon Pagoda

The history of Yangon is intertwined with the history of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Wherever one may be in Yangon, in the busy town center, in the new towns of the east, in the industrial zone of the west, in the paddy fields of the north, the golden form of the Shwedagon will be seen on the skyline rising above the foliage of the tropical trees, and the top of high rises. Its history dates back to over 2500 years ago. The Pagoda is open from 4 AM to 10 PM with various modes of transport available. The entrace fee for Non-Myanmarese visitors is USD 8. It will be appropriate to dress conservatively with the knee and shoulders being covered. Please ask questions of your guide who will explain the place the way she explains to her kids. They are very well trained to answer questions.

The founding story of Shwedagon reaches back to the days of the Enlightenment of Gautama Buddha when He discovered the cause of universal suffering and the way to its elimination.

Describing the Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon is an archetypal Burmese-style zedi, or chedi, characterized by a wide, flaring base, a bell-shaped body, and a tall, tapering spire capped by a hti (umbrella finial). The zedi’s base is octagonal with redented edges, transitioning to circular bands 1/3rd of the way up. These in turn give way to the bell-shaped midsection (in Sri-Lankan fashion) topped with what is often described as an “inverted alms bowl”. From here, the shaft slowly tapers along a series of rings which give way to multiple ‘lotus-petal’ bands topped with a ‘banana bud’. As the banana bud tapers to a point, the hti covers the final few meters and is in turn topped with a vane and a diamond orb (the sein bu). [Courtesy – www.orientalarchitecture.com]

The Shwedagon pagoda
The zedi is gilded with gold, silver and copper plates that were often sponsored or donated by individuals seeking merit. Numerous jewels also bedeck the monument, with Stadtner noting that the very top of the monument holds “over 7,000 diamonds rubies, and sapphires attached to the vane and contained within the small orb-shaped object at the top” (Stadtner, p. 97). The vane alone weighs in at 419 kilograms and measures 130 centimeters in width, while the orb is 56 centimeters in diameter and contains 1,800 carats of fine diamonds.[Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitecture.com]

The main zedi is surrounded by 64 small stupas resembling miniature bells. These in turn are surrounded by almost a hundred square-shaped shrines located nearly at ground level. 

The Mahabodhi tree, 64 stupas around the main zedi and devotional halls
The Mahabodhi Tree in the Shwedagon Complex. Each monument around the main Zedi is associated with one of eight ‘planetary posts’ that corresponds to a particular planet, a specific animal, and a day of the week (Wednesday is given two posts, one for the morning and the other for the afternoon). Worshippers will typically begin their visit by praying at the planetary post corresponding to their birth date, then continue in a clockwise fashion around the ensemble. [Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitecture.com]

The Singu Min Bell

The Singu Min bell was donated in Year 1779 by King Singu, the fourth King of the Konbaung Dynasty. The official name of the bell is Maha Gandha meaning “Great Sound”. Weighing about 23 – 25 tonnes, 2.13 metres high, the Bell was said to have been cast between 1776 and 1779. The British attempted to steal the Bell which sank along with one of their boats. It was finally salvaged by the indigenous people of Myanmar.

Shwedagon complex and the singu Min Bell
The Singu Min Bell.. Attractive floor tiling. The Athangudi tiles of Karaikudi closely resemble the ones here. The wooden carved panels reminds us of the pagodas in the Mandalay region. Crowds milling around the Shwedagon complex

Chauk htat gyi temple of The Reclining Buddha

This temple features the largest Reclining Buddha in Myanmar. The entrace fee is a modest donation of USD 8. Opening times are between 6 AM and 8 PM. Needless to say, better to dress appropriately. The temple is well organized with enough space for the devout, visitors and even a gallery for photographers.

The reclining Buddha
The Buddha image is 66 metres (217 ft) long, and one of the largest in Burma.
The original Reclining buddha and image of Sir Po Tha
The construction was sponsored by a wealthy Burmese Buddhist, Sir Po Tha, in 1899.Being completed in 1907, it was believed that the proportion of the image was not appropriate and the Buddha had a very aggressive expression
Close up images of the head and eyes of the reclining Buddha
In the 1950s, the old Buddha image was demolished and temple trustees began work to replace the image. THe Naga Glass Factory created benign looking eyes of dimensions 1.77 by 58 metres. The image was consecrated in 1973
The Soles of the Reclining Buddha
108 distinguishing marks on both the soles representing the three worlds. 59 indicating the inanimate world, 21 indicating the animate world and 28 indicating the world of the conditioned. Essence is that Buddha is greater than all the three worlds. These marks were apparent right from the birth of the Buddha. Only one out of the 8 astrologers present predicted that the child born was destined to become the Buddha. There was an image of a universal monarch (Cakkavatti) on the child soles and a personage superior to a cakkavatti could only be a Buddha.

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 SouthernAll NipponBangkok AirwaysCathay PacificSingapore AirlinesThai 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.

We end our Myanmar series with a very interesting Train Journey. Watch out for Yangon Sights and Sounds Part 3

Sights & Sounds of Yangon – 1

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The City Hall Building of Yangon

In Part 1 of this blog series we explored the U-Bein bridge in Mandalay. In Part 2 of this blog series we explored the township of Mingun in the Mandalay region. In Part 3, we continued our exploration of Mandalay with a shore expedition to Innwa also called as Ava. In Part 4, we explored the raw energies of Bagan. Now, we set out to explore the key sights and sounds of Yangon during our first ever visit to this wonderful country.

Rangoon was the earlier name for Yangon since independence from the British in 1948. Yangon became the closest pronunciation to its original Burmese (Myanmar) name. The world now knows Rangoon as Yangon since 2006. We planned a two day tour of Yangon covering its key sights and sounds. A good Japanese made second hand rented, re-furbished and chauffered cab is usually available with the tour companies. They are well versed with the routes and are polite and very service conscious. If doing by self, taxis can be hailed but negotiation is a must before boarding.

Myanmar City Taxis and Private cars are mostly Japanese made and hand down models. Many retain the original Japenese kanji characters. However, they are clean and very well maintained.
Myanmar City Taxis and Private cars are mostly Japanese made and hand down models. Many retain the original Japenese kanji characters. However, they are clean and very well maintained.

Myanmar Tamils

Tamils have been an integral part of the ethnic fabric of Myanmar. Their presence dates back to the chola period between the 9th and 11th century AD. Later, after British annexation, many Tamils are said to have moved to Myanmar to work as labour in Rice fields and Rubber plantations. While current generation of Myanmar Tamils have embraced the Myanmarese way of life including their own name that resonates locally, they have kept their religious fervor alive by celebrating key Hindu and Tamil festivals. The Tamils inhabit townships in Yankin and Dala.

The Gopuram of Kali temple towers above the smaller gopuram near the entrance
The Kali Temple in Yangon was built in 1871 by Tamil Labourers is among the many HIndu Temples in the city.

The Holy Trinity Church and Scotts Market

The Holy Trinity Church was the first Anglican church to be built in Yangon between 1886 and 1895 replacing a modest structure. The church was designed by a Madras (now chennai) based architect Robert Fellowes Chisholm and accommodated architectural styles to suit the climatic conditions of the city. The Scott market bult in 1926 is the former name of what is now called Bogyoke Aung San Market named after the founding father of modern day Myanmar. The name Scott is said to have been attributed to Mr. Gavin Scott , a former Municipal Commissioner of the area. The former colonial era building now virtually sells everything; You may call it the Alibaba / Amazon of Yangon.

Holy Trinity cathedral and Kali temple of Yangon
The Holy Trinity Church is the main Anglican cathedral in Yangon. THe Kali temple is a key Hindu temple built by Tamil Labourers. Mud lamps are lit by devotees as part of their prayers.
Tanaka barks with a stone grinding accessory, pearls and dress materials of different colors
The Scott market is a touch and feel have it all kind of a market. Shop here for Tanaka, pearls, clothing of different states of Myanmar, Pre-paid calling cards, currency exchange, medicines and almost every kind of chinese plastic. If you do manage to find something please do bargain

Yangon CityHall area

The City Hall area gives you one place to marvel at all the colonial era buildings of Yangon. It is estimated that that Yangon has the most of these buildings in almost all of South East Asia. The City Hall is the administrative seat of the Yangon Development Council. The building dates back to 1936. In its vicinity are the Sule Pagoda, Maha Bandula Park, The High Court, Main Post offices and other structures. There are numerous snack and betelnut vendors and plenty of open space to just sit and indulge in people and building watching

The Obelisk at Maha Bandula park, Sule Pagoda and the City Hall building
The Obelisk installed in 1948 to commemorate Myanmar’s freedom from the British, The Imposing structure of the City Hall and the Sule Pagoda form a very busy town area in Yangon.

Travelling 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 SouthernAll NipponBangkok AirwaysCathay PacificSingapore AirlinesThai 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.

In part 2 of Sights and Sounds of Yangon, we explore the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Reclining Buddha

Seeing Myanmar along the Ayeyarwady / Irrawady River – Bagan, A Cultural Capital

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The landscape of Bagan as viewed from the terrace of Htiliminlo temple is breathtaking. This scenery needs to be viewed at different times of the day to experience what was once the Cultural capital of Myanmar

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. In Part 2 of this blog series we explored the township of Mingun in the Mandalay region. In Part 3, we continued our exploration of Mandalay with a shore expedition to Innwa also called as Ava. Here we cruise on the Irrawady and arrive at the shores of Bagan, another reason why Myanmar is on the world tourist map.

After an early start to the day in Innwa followed by shore excursions, rest of the day was reserved for cruising downstream along the Irrawady river within the Mandalay region. It gave us a glimpse in to the daily life of people working in the water and along the shores of the river. Along the way, the cruise personnel kept us busy with activities like applying Tanaka on each other, different ways of tying a Longyi and of course a sumptuous high tea. The Longyi is a fantastic alternative to the trouser – During formal occassions let it down, during emergencies when one has to wade through water or slush, just lift it up and tie it around your waist. Its a fabulous utility attire. The same attire is called Lungi / Khaili and is worn extensively across the southern states of India.

Mid Day activities on board the Strand cruise to keep the guests busy plus give them an introduction to the daily lives of Myanmarese like tying the lawngyi and applying Tanaka.
Mid Day activities on board the Strand cruise to keep the guests busy plus give them an introduction to the daily lives of Myanmarese like tying the lawngyi and applying Tanaka.

The Kingdom of Bagan

Bagan’s glories stretched from the 9th to the 13th century under the Pagan Kingdom. The Kingdom is largely credited for unifying the various regions that make up the modern day Myanmar. During this period the Kingdom is said to have constructed over 10,000 religious monuments. These monuments also served as centre for studies and attracted Monks and Students from nearby countries. Given that the same period also saw influence of Hindu civilization stretch towards south east asian countries of Cambodia and Vietnam, Myanmar too must have benefited from the Trade, Economics and spiritual wisdom of Ancient India. 

Around 2000 of these temples remain. Earthquakes have been responsible for bringing down many of them. Lack of restoration expertise has led to shoddy reconstruction using modern materials. The price being paid – Inspite of such a rich past, Bagan is yet to get declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This, despite being a strong contender and thousands of tourists descending in to experience this heritage. 

Shwegugyi, ThatByinnyu, Dhammayangyi and HtiloMinlo temple

Shwegugyi means "the Golden Cave" in Myanmar. t was built by King Alaungsithu in 1140 A.D. There is a legend saying, that there was a huge block of brick about 12 feet high sprouted from the ground in response to the king's greatness of accumulated merit. So with the huge block of brick, formed the plinth in the formation of the temple. It was mentioned that the Shwegugyi was completed in 7 months and 7 days. (Courtesy : http://bagan.travelmyanmar.net)
Shwegugyi means “the Golden Cave” in Myanmar. t was built by King Alaungsithu in 1140 A.D. There is a legend saying, that there was a huge block of brick about 12 feet high sprouted from the ground in response to the king’s greatness of accumulated merit. So with the huge block of brick, formed the plinth in the formation of the temple. It was mentioned that the Shwegugyi was completed in 7 months and 7 days. (Courtesy : http://bagan.travelmyanmar.net)
Thatbyinnyu is Bagan's tallest temple at almost 200 ft. (or 61 m.; some indicate 217 ft. or 66 m.) and represents a transition from the Mon period to a new architectural style that would soon be followed at the Sulamani, the Gawdawpalin and at Htilominlo. Constructed during one of the high points of Bagan political power and during a period of re-dedication to Theravada Buddhism and religious scholarship, it reflected that era's innovative architectural and artistic creativity. Paul Strachan, the important Bagan scholar, calls Thatbyinnyu "an expression of the self-confident Burmese spirit of nationhood." (Courtesy : www.orientalarchitecture.com)
Thatbyinnyu is Bagan’s tallest temple at almost 200 ft. (or 61 m.; some indicate 217 ft. or 66 m.) and represents a transition from the Mon period to a new architectural style that would soon be followed at the Sulamani, the Gawdawpalin and at Htilominlo. Constructed during one of the high points of Bagan political power and during a period of re-dedication to Theravada Buddhism and religious scholarship, it reflected that era’s innovative architectural and artistic creativity. Paul Strachan, the important Bagan scholar, calls Thatbyinnyu “an expression of the self-confident Burmese spirit of nationhood.” (Courtesy : http://www.orientalarchitecture.com)
The Dhammayangyi (or Dhamma-yan-gyi) Pahto, extending approximately 255 feet (78 m) on each of its four sides, is Bagan's most massive shrine. As much as it is huge in its appearance, there is still considerable amount of controversy regarding the identity of its builder. Ghastly events are said to have been inflicted on its alleged builder who didnt exactly lead a life of virtue (Courtesy - www.orientalarchitecture.com)
The Dhammayangyi (or Dhamma-yan-gyi) Pahto, extending approximately 255 feet (78 m) on each of its four sides, is Bagan’s most massive shrine. As much as it is huge in its appearance, there is still considerable amount of controversy regarding the identity of its builder. Ghastly events are said to have been inflicted on its alleged builder who didnt exactly lead a life of virtue (Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitecture.com)
he Htilominlo Pahto was built by King Nandaungmya (r. 1211-c.1230 AD) early in his reign to commemorate his selection on this spot as crown prince from among five sons of the king. The white umbrella had tilted toward him, and he became his father's successor. (Courtesy - www.orientalarchitecture.com) Right in front of the Htilominlo is a narrow entrance which took us to a terrace from where we could get a panoramic view of Bagan's Temple landscape. The terracota structures set amidst greenery is a photographers' delight.
he Htilominlo Pahto was built by King Nandaungmya (r. 1211-c.1230 AD) early in his reign to commemorate his selection on this spot as crown prince from among five sons of the king. The white umbrella had tilted toward him, and he became his father’s successor. (Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitecture.com) Right in front of the Htilominlo is a narrow entrance which took us to a terrace from where we could get a panoramic view of Bagan’s Temple landscape. The terracota structures set amidst greenery is a photographers’ delight.

The Ananda Phaya Temple, Shwezigon Zedi and Wetkyi-in Kubyauk-gyi Temple 

A strong influence of Indian Architecture from many temples of Bengal and Orissa is very clear.The Ananda Phaya Temple - Bagan. A strong influence of Indian Architecture from many temples of Bengal and Orissa is very clear.
The Ananda Phaya Temple – Bagan. A strong influence of Indian Architecture from many temples of Bengal and Orissa is very clear.
The Ananda temple was built in the year 1105. The Buddhist temple houses four standing Buddhas, each one facing the cardinal direction of East, North, West and South. The temple is said to be an architectural wonder in a fusion of Mon and adopted Indian style of architecture. The Archeological survey of India collaborated extensively with Myanmar and provided assistance for Structural Conservation and Chemical preservation of the Ananda Phaya Temple.
The Ananda temple was built in the year 1105. The Buddhist temple houses four standing Buddhas, each one facing the cardinal direction of East, North, West and South. The temple is said to be an architectural wonder in a fusion of Mon and adopted Indian style of architecture. The Archeological survey of India collaborated extensively with Myanmar and provided assistance for Structural Conservation and Chemical preservation of the Ananda Phaya Temple.
The Shwezigon Paya (pagoda, stupa or zedi), is one of the Bagan area's, and Myanmar's, most significant religious structures.It truly is a 'national' pagoda, since it served as a prototype for many later stupas built throughout Myanmar. The Shwezigon is also a major national center of worship. Pilgrims come from many parts of Myanmar for its festival held during the Burmese month of Nadaw (November/December) both because of its historic character and because of its religious significance for Burmese Buddhism. It is said to be one of the earliest symbols of the triumph of the purified 'Theravada Buddhism'. Courtesy - www.orientalarchitectures.com
The Shwezigon Paya (pagoda, stupa or zedi), is one of the Bagan area’s, and Myanmar’s, most significant religious structures.It truly is a ‘national’ pagoda, since it served as a prototype for many later stupas built throughout Myanmar. The Shwezigon is also a major national center of worship. Pilgrims come from many parts of Myanmar for its festival held during the Burmese month of Nadaw (November/December) both because of its historic character and because of its religious significance for Burmese Buddhism. It is said to be one of the earliest symbols of the triumph of the purified ‘Theravada Buddhism’. Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitectures.com
The Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan has a very simple representation of the Four sights that led Siddhartha, the Prince on his road to becoming Gautama. An old Man speaking about the consequences of aging, A sick man suffering from disease and pain, Sight of a Dead body and finally the sight of an ascetic who devoted himself to find out the cause for human suffering.
The Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan has a very simple representation of the Four sights that led Siddhartha, the Prince on his road to becoming Gautama. An old Man speaking about the consequences of aging, A sick man suffering from disease and pain, Sight of a Dead body and finally the sight of an ascetic who devoted himself to find out the cause for human suffering.
Wetkyi-In Kubyauk-gyi temple in Bagan, Myanmar
The interior of the Kubyauk-gyi is filled with numerous mural paintings, including an excellent representation of “The Temptation of Mara” behind the east-facing Buddha, and 544 jataka tales along the side walls and ambulatory. However, a number of the jataka plates are missing as they were plundered in 1899 by a German art thief, Th. H. Thomann, who inaugurated the grim tradition of modern-day looting to resell Bagan-era antiquities on the international market. Although Thomann and his team were caught by the local British authorities, a number of items reached Europe where they were acquired by Museum of Hamburg in 1906, though they have subsequently gone missing. Perhaps because of the heightened awareness surrounding art theft at Kubyauk-Gyi, the temple retains a full-time guard who also ensures that visitors refrain from photographing the murals. Although this a sensible precaution as flash photography easily damages Bagan-era pigment, the prohibition also extends to long-exposure photography using ambient light (Image and Text courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitectures.com). Some of these murals have been whitewashed and unravelling these Murals by getting done with the whitewash without damaging the Murals is proving to be an ordeal.

Lacquerware in Myanmar

Myanmar is well known for its Lacquerware works. Transcends from trinkets, personal accessories to decorative pieces. A family business by name Bagan Lacquer House has a workshop where one can watch the craftsment at work and also an inhouse store to pick up a few items for personal use or gifting.

This is a Must see for all those visiting Bagan. Nominally priced there are numerous gifiting options. The process starts with the Inner shell being made with Bamboo followed by lacquering the interior and covering it with “Thayo” a made resin paste with lacquer and mixed ashes. This work is in general carried out with the hand (or with very fine gloves). When an application is made on the mould in bamboo, one must then dry it in an obscure and wet place. The duration of drying is of approximately a week. Once finished drying, the lacquers carefully are washed and sandpapered if necessary. This stage is important for the quality of the future lacquer. After the first drying, one carefully sandpapers the object, one washes it, then one passes by again, the second layer and one turns over to drying. The object thus makes several outward journey and return with the warehouse of drying. Each time it thus receives a new layer of lacquer. It is only on the last layer that one colours.Engraving is done with free hands, without model, entirely of memory, directly with naked hands, using a stylet and of a brush.
This is a Must see for all those visiting Bagan. Nominally priced there are numerous gifiting options. The process starts with the Inner shell being made with Bamboo followed by lacquering the interior and covering it with “Thayo” a made resin paste with lacquer and mixed ashes. This work is in general carried out with the hand (or with very fine gloves). When an application is made on the mould in bamboo, one must then dry it in an obscure and wet place. The duration of drying is of approximately a week. Once finished drying, the lacquers carefully are washed and sandpapered if necessary. This stage is important for the quality of the future lacquer. After the first drying, one carefully sandpapers the object, one washes it, then one passes by again, the second layer and one turns over to drying. The object thus makes several outward journey and return with the warehouse of drying. Each time it thus receives a new layer of lacquer. It is only on the last layer that one colours.Engraving is done with free hands, without model, entirely of memory, directly with naked hands, using a stylet and of a brush.

We end our cruise on The Strand in Bagan and fly out to experience the capital city of Yangon.

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 SouthernAll NipponBangkok AirwaysCathay PacificSingapore AirlinesThai 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.

Seeing Myanmar along the Ayeyarwady / Irrawady River – Innwa An Ancient capital

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A family out for their morning chores use traditional bullock carts for their travel. The graceful lady of the house presents a confident smile while cradling her little one; All this while the husband while watching the road is also keeping an eye on his family

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. In Part 2 of this blog series we explored the township of Mingun in the Mandalay region. We continue our exploration of Mandalay with a shore expedition to Innwa also called as Ava

Creating Travel Experiences in #Myanmar

As we wound up our excursion in Mingun, the Strand Cruise team helped us to our rooms, introduced us to the staff on board, amenities available and ensured that we got comfortable with the facilities. The ever smiling staff accompany you during excursions with a picnic basket containing refreshments, wet towels as it can get extremely sweaty after monsoons and during summers and upon return to the boat you just feel like gulping all the cold drinks on offer. The staff request you to place your sandals which are cleaned off the mud and delivered outside your room. Comfortable slippers are provided to walk around inside the cruise boat. 

After a long day in Mingun, we continued 35 kms along the Irrawady river and halt for the night on the banks of the Ancient Capital City of Innwa or Ava as it was called when it was the seat of the Burmese Empire. The empire lasted over 360 years between 1365 to 1842 on 5 separate occassions. 

Tourism has provided the residents of these towns a wonderful opportunity to talk about their country, listen and understand what Tourists expect and ensure they carry home wonderful stories. Out of the moored Cruise boat in the morning, we board Horse carts to take us through the narrow and rain washed streets of Innwa to various places of interest. While it may seem like a very uni-dimensional way to travel, Myanmar will slowly but surely bring in experiences even to the smallest of monuments / destinations. However this opportunity we got was to explore a raw country which had just opened up. No sanitised experiences as of now like in Singapore, Malaysia and other SE Asian counterparts.

Pagodas & Monasteries of Wingaba, Myint Mo Thaung and Lawka Dawtha Man Aung

Based on interactions with locals during his journeys in Burma, Robert Bruce Thurber in his book In the Land of the Pagodas (Paya as referred by the locals) gives the probable reason for many Pagodas lying in a state of repair. It is believed that no merit accrues to anyone who repairs a Pagoda, except those of great note, repair-merit going to the original build. We really dont know if this is now a business of the state or Myanmar has transcended these beliefs.  

Wingaba, a square shaped Monastery is a deviation from the standard spire shaped Pagodas one regularly finds. Looking in dire need of maintenance, the flat roof seems to have remnants of spires that have collapsed. Insides of the Monastery have stairs to provide access to the top
Wingaba, a square shaped Monastery is a deviation from the standard spire shaped Pagodas one regularly finds. Looking in dire need of maintenance, the flat roof seems to have remnants of spires that have collapsed. Insides of the Monastery have stairs to provide access to the top
The Myint Mo Thaung is a Circular shaped Pagoda or Paya as it is called locally, with a staircase on the outside leading to the top. Seems a simple climb from outside but tests your lungs first thing in the morning. Nevertheless, the views of the countryside from the top are stunning. The rains leave a marshy pathway to be negotiated carefully.
The Myint Mo Thaung is a Circular shaped Pagoda or Paya as it is called locally, with a staircase on the outside leading to the top. Seems a simple climb from outside but tests your lungs first thing in the morning. Nevertheless, the views of the countryside from the top are stunning. The rains leave a marshy pathway to be negotiated carefully.
The spired stupa is the Lawka Dawtha Man Aung Pagoda. The Pagoda encloses a small shrine with a statue of Buddha in a small building nearby. The Pagodas house relics but not always one is able to find original relics and house them. Many Pagodas have housed replica of the relics and have drawn the faithful.
The spired stupa is the Lawka Dawtha Man Aung Pagoda. The Pagoda encloses a small shrine with a statue of Buddha in a small building nearby. The Pagodas house relics but not always one is able to find original relics and house them. Many Pagodas have housed replica of the relics and have drawn the faithful.

The Yedanasini Temple

The temple in Innwa is in a state of ruin yet looks spectacular. The temple is said to have been build way back in the year 1820’s/1830’s. A major Earthquake in the year 1839 brought down the temple to its current state. 

The Yedanasini temple is probably among all the well photographed temples in Myanmar. Set amidst thick countryside vegetation, the brick monument stands out in contrast in terms of color values.
The Yedanasini temple is probably among all the well photographed temples in Myanmar. Set amidst thick countryside vegetation, the brick monument stands out in contrast in terms of color values.
The complex houses the remnants of a triad of Buddha statues in good condition. These images have graced the pages of many travel magazines.
The complex houses the remnants of a triad of Buddha statues in good condition. These images have graced the pages of many travel magazines.
Assembly halls with multiple bays, windows and columns are said to be thematically similar to Siamese assembly halls of Ayutthaya (Courtesy - www.orientalarchitecture.com)
Assembly halls with multiple bays, windows and columns are said to be thematically similar to Siamese assembly halls of Ayutthaya (Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitecture.com)

The Leader

The people of Myanmar have shown tremendous grit and have survived numerous crises as they transitioned from Freedom – Military Rule – Democracy. Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi has been at the forefront of this transition. Respect to her is played out at almost all the places that we travelled to.

Suu Kyi also referred to as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi apart from being a Pro-democracy leader who has led her country on the path of democracy is also a source of inspiration for her countrymen. Youngest daughter of Aung San who died aged 32, she has battled hard to ensure that her countrymen are able to savor the freedom that democracy offers. She currently holds the post of a State Councillor which is equivalent to the post of a Prime Minister.
Suu Kyi also referred to as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi apart from being a Pro-democracy leader who has led her country on the path of democracy is also a source of inspiration for her countrymen. Youngest daughter of Aung San who died aged 32, she has battled hard to ensure that her countrymen are able to savor the freedom that democracy offers. She currently holds the post of a State Councillor which is equivalent to the post of a Prime Minister.

Maha Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery

Probably the best preserved monastery, one that survived the great earthquake of 1839 and subsequently got the attention it deserved towards re-building. This monastery is said to have been constructed by a queen for the Royal Priest. 

The monastery is a brick replica of typical wooden monasteries of that period. Constructed on a large base course / foundation with Masonry stairs, there are a total of 8 stairs leading to the shrine which is recognized by the Pyathat - a multi staged roof with an odd number of tiers. Within the monastery, there are living quarters for Monks along with a classroom; On the same level are the Royal Priests’ residence and Buddha’s image chambers.
The monastery is a brick replica of typical wooden monasteries of that period. Constructed on a large base course / foundation with Masonry stairs, there are a total of 8 stairs leading to the shrine which is recognized by the Pyathat – a multi staged roof with an odd number of tiers. Within the monastery, there are living quarters for Monks along with a classroom; On the same level are the Royal Priests’ residence and Buddha’s image chambers.
There are two sets of Perimeter corridors within the main Monastery. While walking through the corridors, it provides perfectly habitable weather with no requirement for any artificial lighting and ventilation. Today the monastery is no longer inhabited but is maintained in good condition. (Courtesy - www.orientalarchitecture.com)
There are two sets of Perimeter corridors within the main Monastery. While walking through the corridors, it provides perfectly habitable weather with no requirement for any artificial lighting and ventilation. Today the monastery is no longer inhabited but is maintained in good condition. (Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitecture.com)
Chinthes are Leogryphs or Lion like creatures seen at the entrances of Pagodas and temples in Buddhist countries in the region. The chinthe is revered and loved by the Burmese people and is used symbolically on the royal thrones of Burma. Predating the use of coins for money, brass weights cast in the shape of mythical beasts like the chinthe were commonly used to measure standard quantities of staple items.The Chinthes seen here are at the entrance to the Maha Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery.
Chinthes are Leogryphs or Lion like creatures seen at the entrances of Pagodas and temples in Buddhist countries in the region. The chinthe is revered and loved by the Burmese people and is used symbolically on the royal thrones of Burma. Predating the use of coins for money, brass weights cast in the shape of mythical beasts like the chinthe were commonly used to measure standard quantities of staple items.The Chinthes seen here are at the entrance to the Maha Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery.

Moving on from Mandalay, our cruise set sail towards another ancient capital city of Bagan.

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 SouthernAll NipponBangkok AirwaysCathay PacificSingapore AirlinesThai 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.

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

5
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.