Credits: Jessica Sprague Dig in Deeper Course Materials
The day didn’t start out promising. Our first stop was the King Galon Gold Leaf Workshop, which (as the workshop’s name suggest) highlighted gold leaf making—an element strewn throughout Myanmar and quite significant to the country.
Not exactly my cup of tea but I get why it is an integral part of our guide’s itinerary. Step inside a temple, and you will find locals rubbing a piece of gold leaf on the Buddha as an offering. At the workshop, you will see gold leaf affixed on lacquered boxes, trays, and accessories. Gold leaf is even made into traditional medicines when added with other ingredients. Some also apply it on their faces as a form of cosmetic. So you can say that Myanmar is known as a country of gold leaf and it has become an indispensable part of Myanmar culture.
Mahamuni Buddha Temple (also known as Mahamuni Pagoda) is one of the best examples of a temple detailed with gold leaf.
At its center is the Mahamuni Buddha image covered in gold foil donated as tributes by worshippers and pilgrims.
Temple and Monasteries, if you haven’t noticed, are a significant part of Myanmar life. Half a million males, thereabouts, are either vocational or novice monks and around 50,000 women become nuns.
Essentially every Buddhist Burmese boy between the age of 7 and 13 go through monkhood once in their life.
They are expected to enter the monastery as a novice monk for a period of a few weeks to several months. They live in one of the many monasteries and nunneries that revolve around prayers and religious study, utterly dependent on daily alms for their needs.
At around10:30 every morning, monks line up at the Magandayon Monastery in Amapura, just outside Mandalay.
Monks with their empty bowls on their way to collect their daily alms.
It is a prominent Monastic College that accommodates thousands of monks in the country. For the Buddhists, it is their duty and honor to serve the monastery by giving alms.
From here, things got a lot more interesting as we crossed the Myittha River in a local ferry to Inwa. A trip here is like going back in time.
Though what used to be the Kingdom of Inwa during the Second Myanmar Empire is now destroyed and abandoned after a series of major earthquakes in 1839. The ruins, fort walls, and moat, however, still have traces of its past splendor and quite a few pagodas, and monasteries remain.
The more comfortable way to go around the island is by horse carts. The unpaved roads can be exhausting, and this allows for one to choose only the sites that catch your attention. Here’s what caught ours:
This magnificent teakwood monastery once served as a royal palace. The entire monastery is decorated with timbers inscribed in repeating peacock and lotus motif, an impressive example of works from the Inwa era.
Today, it houses and schools local children.
Yadana Hsemee Pagoda
In a runic ambiance of small stupas in ruins stands a forgotten Buddha in lush green surroundings.
Nan Myint Watch Tower
The Nan Myint or the watchtower, a square bell tower of beautiful masonry
It is the remains of the palace building nicknamed “the leaning tower of An.”
Just before the day ended, we headed back to Amapura to catch the sunset. It was the perfect ending to an insipid start.
We had a few beers in a bar overlooking the U Bein bridge, a crossing that spans the Taungthaman Lake. The 1.2-kilometer bridge, built around 1850, is believed to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. It may not look very royal, but its history indeed is as the planks of teaks used were taken from the old royal palace of Inwa.
Add a dramatic sunset, and the U Bein bridge becomes magical.
One can hire a boat to go around the lake and admire the beauty of the bridge in all angles.
I can imagine Mandalay to be spectacular in the past for lurking around the ordinariness of today’s Mandalay are beautiful pagodas and monasteries.