NEAR MANDALA: MINGUN, KING BODAWPAYA'S PAGODA, INWA, MAYMYO HILL STATION AND THE MOGOK RUBY MINES

NEAR MANDALAY

NEAR MANDALAY are several interesting former Burmese capitala that are remnants of a time when kingdoms came and went and new kings celebrated their accession to the throne with the commissioning of ambitious new palaces, temples and capitals. U Bein Bridge in Amarapura is a tourist destination near Mandalay. Across the Irrawaddy River, on the west side, lies the Great Mingun Pahtodawgyi and Mingun Bell. Crossing the Irrawaddy River is another exciting feature. Pyin Oo Lwin is the City of Flowers with rare species. Mogok produces the best gems in the world.

Kyaukse (45 kilometers from Mandalay) is famous for the Kyaukse Elephant dance. The festival is usually held around October and November. The huge elephant is made from bamboo and paper. Then the figure is decorated with colorful and beautiful decorations on it. Two men are needed to dance in the elephant: one for the front legs and another one for the back legs. The front person has to take the lead and the back person follows the lead. They have to dance in rhythm to keep the elephant in balance. The elephants usually pay homage to the Shwe Thar Lyaung Pagoda in Kyaukse. They make three rounds to the pagoda and only after that they come back to the town and dance. Although these are just elephant figures, they look very much and move like real ones.

Palate Snake Pagoda (23 kilometers, or 30 minutes by car from Mandalay) is the found in the town of Palate. The reason for its name is due to the snakes that surround the main Buddha figure. At present there are three snakes however for a long time there had only been one but mysteriously two more turned up unannounced. For the local people the snakes have for a long time been a symbol of guardians of Buddha. whatever the reason these passive snakes are quite happy for visitors to hold them and take pictures and at 11:00am every morning they take a bath in the small pool nearby. Whether you’re a snake lover or not this temple is certainly worth a visit.

The formal name of the pagoda is “Ratana Laba Muni Sutaungpyi Muei Phaya” but it is known to be as “Meui Phaya” or “Snake Pagoda”. In 1977, a Buddhist monk was clearing the bush in that area and found a Buddha image inside a ruined Pagoda. On top of the image were three large pythons and from that time on the place became known far and wide in the country as the Snake Pagoda . Each snake was fed a pot of milk and three eggs every five days. But later on, due to instructions from a veterinarian each was given50 ticals of goat meat for protein. Every morning at 11:00am the snakes are given a bath .Pilgrims from various parts of the country come to pay homage to the snake Pagoda in Palate town whenever they arrive in Mandalay. It is Buddhist belief that even animals though merit earned in previous existences are deserving of care and attention.

Umbrella Shaking Pagoda (west of Hnakyatkhwe village, Kyaukpadaung Township, Mandalay Division) was built in dedication to the ordicolornation of Shin Arahan and five hundred arahants. It has four significant points: 1) if shaken from upturned and down-turned lotuses the whole pagoda visibly shakes; 2) there is only one lion statue in Tuesday corner; 3) a seik-phalu tree of unchanging size grows at Rahu corner and it flowers in all months of three-month Lent; 4) The banyan branches do not go over the brick wall and if they do they fade incessantly. The village was so named as the soldiers under King Alaung Sithu were ordered to dig a pond there brought for each. two and a half ticals of sand for it. and hence the name of the lake. and also the village. The lake is north of the village. In the south is another called peiktha lake.

MINGUN

MINGUN (11 kilometers upriver from Mandalay) is one of the premier sights outside Mandalay. Located on the opposite side of the Irawaddy from Mandalay and accessible via a pleasant 1½ hour boat trip that passes by many interesting sights, Mingun is the home of the world's largest uncracked ringing bell and one of the world's largest temples. Cast in 1790, the bell weighss 90 tons and is 13 feet high and 15 feet in diameter. It is possible to stand inside the bell and have a friend give it a thump from the outside. The sensation has been compared to being punched in the head by Mike Tyson.

Mingun is located on the western bank of the river Irrawaddy north of Mandalay. It is reached by ferryboats across the river and takes 1 hour for upriver and 40 minutes for down-river. It is famous for many Buddhist shrines, monasteries, meditation centres and monuments of historical and cultural importance. Mingun is about 20 kilometers from Sagaing and you can reach there by road. It takes about 30 minutes.

When you arrive along the motor way to Mingun from Sagaing, you will first arrive at Kandawgyi, one of the prominent big four temples in Mingun. Kandawgyi was formed while digging earth to make bricks for a building of Mingun Pahtodawgyi. It was built by King Bodaw Badon in 1791. You will come to Mingun Pahtodawgyi after Kandawgyi . From the top of the pagoda at Mingun Pahtodawgyi there are good views of Mingun and Irrawaddy river. You can use this stair to climb to the top. There are all together 174 steps.

Hsinbyume Pagoda (Mingun) was built by King Bagyidaw in 1816 in memory of his senior wife. Built as a representation of the Sulmanau Pagoda, which according to Buddhist lore, stands on top of mythical Mt. Meru, it has seven terraces which represent the seven mountain ranges around Mt. Meru. The pagoda was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1838 and restored by King Mindon in 1874.

KING BODAWPAYA'S PAGODA

KING BODAWPAYA'S PAGODA (in Mingun) is the largest brick building in Asia and, according to some, the world's largest unfinished Buddhist shrine. Built under King Bodawpaya (1782-1819) by thousands of slaves, on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River, it was constructed between 1790 and 1797 to enshrine a tooth reputedly belonging to Buddha and other sacred objects. The king is said to have helped conceive the design and used 10,000 laborers just to fire the bricks at a rate of 300 a day each per person.

It has long been said that the temple reached about a third of its planned height when Bodawpaya died in 1819 and the king's children abandoned construction of the pagoda because it drained to much money from the kingdom's treasury. This, it appears, was a story dreamed up and perpetuated by the British who wanted to discredit the Burmese royals by making them seem decadent. One British visitor called the pagoda project an “extraordinary folly.”

Each side of the enormous brick base is 236 feet high, the lowest terrace measures 450 feet across. The colossal decorated door is 162 feet high. The shrine was used until in 1838, when an earthquake created the huge fracture and fissures on the facade of the shrine that visitors see today. Visitors climb to the top on a modern stairway mounted on the ruined corner of the monument. No access to the summit originally existed.

The temple is considered unfinished because it doesn’t contain a tower, a feature of most Burmese temples. Evidence gleaned from royal documents seems to indicate the temple was finished and that thus had a new design that was different from designs used in the past. It now seems the temple was designed as a broad temple rather than being the unfinished base of a tall one.

Leading to the temple is a formal processional path from the river with crouching guardian lions marking the entrance. Each of the four faces of the pagoda has a 30-year-old ornamental doorway leading to a small room whose purpose is unknown. Inside the chamber facing the river is a relatively new Buddha statue at which local people leave offerings of food and flowers.

Downstream from the pagoda a little closer to the river bank is a 15-foot-high model of King Bodawpaya's Pagoda. Downstream from the model is Settawya Pagoda, which contains a footprint of Buddha that was brought to Mingun by King Bodawpaya when the relic chamber in the base of his huge pagoda was sealed up.

The building of Mingun Pahtodawgyi started in 1791. According to the tall tower theory had it been completed it would have been 500 feet tall. It was stopped at 162 feet height. Its girth is about 450 square feet. It is King Bodawpaya built Mingun Pahtodawgyi aiming to worship it from Shwebo in the distance where he has ascended to the throne. There are two enormous statues of lions in Mingun. One of the main attractions is the east stairway of Pahtodawgyi which faces the Irrawaddy river. From here, you can also enjoy natural scenic beauty of Irrawaddy river and green and pleasant Minwun hill. If this pagoda been completed. then it would have been the largest monument.

King Bodawpaya dedicated a massive bell near the Mingun Cedi at Mingun on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River, facing Mandalay. The bell was made of bronze; but it is said that Buddhist devotees inserted gold, silver ornaments and jewellery into the bronze. The bell measures eleven cubits and four thits (fingers) in diameter at its mouth; 33 cubits. one mit (6 inches) and four thits in circumference and 13 cubits., one mit and four thits in height. It weighs 55555 viss. It is the world's biggest ringing bell.

SAGAING

SAGAING (21 kilometers miles southwest of Mandalay on the banks of the Irrawaddy) was the capital of a short-lived Shan kingdom, which was established in 1315, after the fall of Pagan, and remained in place until 1364 when a new capital was established across the river in Inwa. From 1760 to 1764. Sagaing was once again the capital. Today Saiging is famous for its temple studded hill and as a religious retreat and meditation center. Once you cross the Inwa Bridge. you see the hilltops, each crested with a pagoda and banners proclaiming the Buddha's teaching. There are over 600 monasteries for monks and nuns are facilities for Buddhist studies and meditation. The Padamyazedi dates from 1300 while the U min Thonze, or “Thirty Caves Pagoda” has many Buddha images in a crescent shaped colonnade. Murals can be seen in the Tilawkaguru cave temple. which was built around 1672. At the nearby village of Ywahtaung you can see silver workers producing bowls and other silver items by traditional methods. The impressive Soon Oo Pon Nya Shin Pagoda nearby was constructed in 1312. The view of Sagaing from Soon Oo Pon Nya Shin and its approach is marvelous.

Inwa Bridge (spanning the Irrawaddy between Mandalay and Sagaing) was the longest bridge in Myanmar until the Thanlyin Bridge was completed in 1993. Opened in 1934, it is a mile-long structure with two-lanes, a railroad tracks and 16 spans. In 1942, the British put the bridge out of action and slowed the advancing Japanese army by destroying two spans. The bridge was not repaired and reopened until 1954. It is currently the only bridge that spans the Irawaddy river. A new bridge across the river is being constructed near Prome.

Kaunghmudaw Pagoda (10 kilometers from Sagaing) has an enormous 151-foot-high (64-meter-high) bulbous dome modeled after the Mahaceti Pagoda in Sri Lanka. Built in 1636 to commemorate the establishment of Inwa as the capital of Myanmar, the pagoda has a base which is surrounded by 812 five-foot-high stone pillars which record the details of the pagoda's construction.

Other Sights in the Sagaing Area include Thabyedan Fort, to the left of the bridge on Inwa side, built as a last ditch defense by the Myanmar before the third Anglo-Myanmar war; Tupayon Pagoda, constructed in 1444 and noted for its unusual three circular levels, each encircled with arched niches; Aungmyelawka Pagoda, a sandstone structure modeled after Schwezigon Pagoda at Pagan; and Hsinmyashin Pagoda (the Pagoda of Many Elephants), built in 1429 and badly damaged by earthquakes in 1485 and 1955.

AMARAPURA

AMARAPURA (11 kilometers south of Mandalay) is ruined old city with buildings scattered and mixed with fields, villages and the new buildings of the town of Taungmyo. The capital of Myanmar from 1783 until Mandalay was founded in 1857, is contains several interesting royal structures and temples.

Patodawgyi Pagoda, is well preserved pagoda built in 1820. The upper terraces offer splendid views of the Amarapura and the marbles slabs on the lower terraces illustrate scenes from the Jataka. Little remains of the old Amarapura palace, but still standing are the treasury building, old watchtower, the tombs of King Bagyidaw and King Bodawpaya, and the corner pagodas of the old city square. There is also a Chinese joss house.

Amarapura lies on the left bank of the Irrawaddy River. A suburb of Mandalay also known as Taung-myo (Southern Town) or Myohaung (Old City), it was founded by King Bodawpaya in 1783 and was the capital city of Myanmar during the Konbaung Dynasty. Amarapura means “City of Immortality.” King Bodawpaya transferred the capital from Inwa (or Ava) to Amarapura. King Bagyidaw, the grandson of Bodawpaya shifted the capital back to Inwa in 1823, but King Tharrawaddy his successor again took the capital back to Amarapura in 1837 and it remained as the capital until King Mindon built Mandalay in 1857 and shifted the capital there in 1860.

Visitors to Amarapura can still see the tombs of King Bodawpaya who died there in 1819, located to the north of Shwezaga Pagoda, and also of King Bagyidaw, east of Pyatthat Gyi Village . King Bagyidaw died in Amarapura in 1846 after being de-throned in 1837. These two white-washed brick mausoleums have inscriptions in English and Burmese. They are actually small chedis (pagodas) enshrining the cremated bones of the two famous kings. There is another smaller chedi enshrining the bones of King Tharrawaddy who died in Amarapura in 1846. This is located to the north of the palace site close to the present family lines of the 3rd Battalion. Electrical and Mechanical Engineersl Corps II. Tourists can ask the local people to guide them to these mausoleums. Amarapura is famous for its silk weaving industry. Most of the Myanmar people are very proud to attend the cultural ceremonies in Achiek longyis. mainly produced in Amarapura.

U Bein Bridge (in Amarapura) is rickety teak bridge—the longest teak bridge in the world—that spans shallow Taunthaman Lake. This bridge is named after its donor, U Bein, a clerk to the Mayor of Amarapura. It was constructed in 1849 from old planks and timber posts from dismantled houses in Sagaing and Inwa. It took nearly two years to finish, but since it was opened in 1851 it has constantly been in use. There are now 1086 posts and 482 spans. At nine points there were drawbridges built to allow the royal barges and war boats to go under the bridge and out to the Irrawaddy River in the old days.

Kyauktawgyi Pagoda (in Amarapura) was built by King Pagan in 1847 and modeled after Ananda Temple at Pagan. It closely resembles the Ananda in exterior form but it falls short of the latter in construction and interior decoration. Unlike the Ananda, which has a perfect vaulted roofs, Kyauktawgyi has wooden rafters and beams, which account for the weakness of the structure. There is one principal image carved out of a single block of Sagyin marble. The walls in the east and south porches are adorned with paintings depicting many religious buildings erected by the donor and other kings in different parts of the country as well as scenes from contemporary Burmese life.

Pahtodawgyi Pagoda (southern part of Amarapura) is modeled after the Mahazedi of Sri Lanka. The foundation of this pagoda was laid by King Bagyidaw and his Queen on 2nd March 1820. The pagoda was completed on 19th February 1824. The base measures 180 feet in circumference. The height is 180 feet. The official title of the pagoda is Maha Vijayaramsi. This well preserved pagoda stood outside the old city walls. The lower terraces have marble slabs illustrating scenes from the Jataka (stories of the Buddha’s life and past lives). You'll have a fine view over the surrounding countryside from the upper terrace. An inscription stone within the temple precincts details the history of the pagoda's construction.

Shwe Gu Gyi Pagoda (the west of the railways compound and between wards Zay Cho and Hman Dan in Amarapura) is a temple whose name means “Golden Big Cave).” One contemporary inscritpiton found at the cave temple mentioned that the ruin left by King Narapati Sithu (A.D. 1174) was repaired by the Crown Prince (Sirimahadhammabhidhaja Sihasura) who held Shwe Daung and Dapayin in fief and his consort (Siri Tilakamaha Subbadda ratanadevi) in the time of King Badon (1782-1819). The repairs were completed in Sakkaraj 1145 (A.D. 1783). According to the inscriptions: 1) the religious land given for the pagoda measured 820 pe. 2) For keeping the pagoda precincts clean and for doing necessary repairs from time to time 63 workers (male and female) were employed. The height of the whole edifice is 90 feet. On the south of the Shwe Gu Gyi there is Shwe Gu Tha which is also a cave temple but. It is known for its paintings for interior decoration. Both temples are under the care of the Archaeological Department.

INWA

INWA (21 kilometers from Mandalay and three kilometers south of Amarapura) was the capital of the Burmese kingdom for nearly 400 years. Situated at the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Myitnge Rivers, it was established in 1364 and the remained the capital of the Myanmar kingdom until the seat of the kingdom was moved to Amarapura in 1841. In imperial times a channel known as the Myittha Chaung was dug between the Myitnge and Irrawaddy rivers, making Inwa into an easier-to-defend island.

Interesting sights in Inwa include the 90-foot high masonry watchtower; Htilaingshin Pagoda, which dates back to the Pagan period and has an inscription recording the construction of a wooden palace during the first Inwa dynasty; the Bagaya Kyaung, a wooden monastery; and the impressive four-story Layhtatgyi Pagoda.

Also worth checking out is Maha Aungmye Bonzan, a masonry monastery built in imitation of traditional wooden styles. Farms, villages and ruined pagodas are all mixed together within the old city walls. In particularly good condition is the northern gate, also known as the "hair washing gate" because it was where the kings had their hair ceremoniously washed.

Inwa was formerly known as Ava and Yadana Pura. It was first founded as a capital by King Thado Minbya in 1364 A.D. Later kings fought wars with King Raza Darit of Bago and the Shan chief Thohan Bwa, who overran the capital. Gradually the kingdom grew weaker and finally it became a vassal to the Taungoo Empire. Later kings shifted the capital from Inwa back and forth many times until King Bayint Naung's son King Nyaung Yan re-established his capital at Inwa in 1596 A.D. It continued to be capital till 1782 when Bodawpaya moved the capital to Amarapura. But his son King Bagyidaw moved his capital back to Inwa. It was destroyed by the earthquake of 1838.

The ruins of the palace, the massive fort walls and moat can still be seen. Inwa lies south of Mandalay and can be reached by a 30 minute drive. The king’s palace no longer exists. From 27-meter-high Nanmyint tower you can see numerous pagodas, temple and monasteries from historical Inwa. The monastery Maha Aung Myay Bon Zan built with brick and stucco is particularly interesting. It was established to 1818 by the queen Me Nu for the royal abbot at that time U Po. On the road to Sagaing. just before you reach the Inwa bridge. there is a road branching east ward. The Inwa bridge crosses the Irrawaddy River. This road leads to a ferry station where you can cross the Myittha river to reach Inwa. Interesting Places

Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery (in Inwa) was built in 1822 by Nanmadaw Me Nu, Chief Queen of King Bagyidaw, for the royal abbot Nyaunggan Sayardaw U Po, then offered to the 2nd Nyaunggan Sayardaw U Bok. Also known as Me Nu Oak-kyaung (Brick Monastery, it was damaged by the earthquake of 1838 but was repaired in 1873 by Sinphyumashin. the daughter of Me Nu and a queen of King Mindon. This monastery is one of the finest specimens of Myanmar architecture from the 19th century Konbaung Period. Its architecture imitates the architecture wooden monasteries with multiple roofs and a prayer hall with a seven-tiered superstructure.

Bagaya Monastery (in Inwa, 20 kilometers from Mandalay) was built on the southwest of Inwa palace in 1593. During the reign of King Bagyidaw (1819-1837) a great fire broke out to Kontha quarter of Inwa in 1821 to the south of the palace. Hluttaw, the tooth relic tower, the watch tower and the northern gate caught fire and it seems that Bagaya monastery was damaged in the fire. The government tried to reconstruct it in 1992. It intends to build a (gadhakuti) special shrine for the use of Buddha image and Pitaka scriptures. So it put the new brick building in the place of the old monastery. The new monastery is modeled after the old monastery.

Bagaya monastery has a three-tiered roof. Its adjacent religious lecture hall on the eastern side of the monastery has a seven-tiered roof. The monastery has 267 teak posts. The largest teak post is nine feet in circumference. The post is 60 feet high. The monastery is 118 feet long and 103 feet wide and has four brick stairs. The entire building is decorated with carvings, floral arabesques and reliefs of birds and animals as well as small pillars on the wall decorated with artistic works from the Inwa era. Large teak doors are also beautifully decorated with sculptures and reliefs. There is a reverential statue on a throne in the Marabin or a large hall with its partition reaching from the floor to the ceiling.

Nan Myint Watch Tower (in Inwa) is about 90 feet (30 meters) high. It is the solitary masonry building that remains from Bagyidaw's palace built in 1822 owing to the earthquake of 1838. Only the lower part was left after the earthquake but the tower was restored to its original height. The watch tower is one of the best examples of Myanmar architectural style of early 19th century.

MONYWA

MONYWA (136 kilometers northwest of Mandalay) is a city in central Myanmar situated on the eastern bank of the Chindwin River. It lies along the Mandalay-Budalin branch railway line and has served as a major trade center for India and Myanmar through Kalay Myo road and Chindwin river. The name Monywa comes from "Mon" meaning "cake or snack food" and "Ywa" which is the Myanmar word for village. There is a legend which says that in the old days a Myanmar king fell in love with a seller of cakes from this town and made her his queen. In Monywa town, there are busy markets, restaurants, a college affiliated with Mandalay University. Nearby Kyaukka village is known for its unique style of lacquerware. Shwe Gu Ni Pagoda

Shwe Gu Ni Pagoda (32 kilometers east of Monywa) contains a Buddha image so covered in gold foils it is difficult to make out the image’s face. Kyaukka (16 kilometers east of Monywa) is famous for lacquerware. A few hours drive will also bring you to Twintaung hill, an extinct volcano whose crater now forms a beautiful lake. The surrounding area has lush vegetation and there are views of the area from the rim of the crater lake. Ledi Kyaung Monastery was established by the famous Ledi Sayadaw. a renowned Pali scholar. There are now 806 stone slab inscriptions which preserve some of the Sayadaw's writings.

Thanboddhay Pagoda (in Monywa) is one of the largest pagodas in Myanmar. It reportedly contains 582,357 images. The Buddhist temple complex covers 37 acres of land and is part of the Mohnyin Forest Monastery retreat. The pagoda was started on 20th June 1939 and completed on 2nd March 1952.It was the brain-child of the famous Mohnyin Sayadaw whose life-like effigy can be seen nearby. Entrance to the pagoda: US$3.

Some visitors say that this Pagoda reminds them of Borobodur. It is similar in architectural design. But unlike Borobodur this is a modern place of worship. There are many different Buddha images, row upon row in ascending tiers in niches along the walls. Unlike most of the pagodas in Myanmar, the entrance is not guarded by Chinthes, mythical lions, but by statues of a pair of magnificant white elephants which are sacred and auspicious in Buddhist symbolism.

Thanboddhay also has a unique shape. The square temple base (each side is about 166 feet), which worshipers can enter, is topped by receding terraces, with myriads of small stupas (864 in number) surrounding the central golden chedi, 132 feet in height. Twenty tagundaing— huge decorated pillars—feature big masonary fruits in the shape of bunches of bananas and coconuts, watermelon, mangos, jackfruits, papaya and others. These fruits are also objects of veneration by local farmers. If you can go at the beginning of the Myanmar month of Tazaungmone (usually around November) you can see the annual pagoda festival, which goes on for several days. Villagers from all around come to enjoy the music and dancing. Various stalls are set up by sellers from all over the country.

Bodhi Tahtaung Po Khaung Taung (8 kilometers from Monywa and Thanboddhay Pagoda by car along a good branch road) is a small range of hills in the Monywa area with a fast growing forest of one thousand Bodhi trees (Ficus religiosa). These trees—also known as Bo or pipal trees—are sacred to all Buddhists because Gaudama Buddha attained Enlightenment while meditating under one. A much venerated monk, now popularly known as the Bodhi Tahtaung Sayadaw, it is said, can make your wishes come true. He first started planting this forest grove about in the 1980s. Each tree has a large Buddha image underneath, and many Buddhist come to pray here.

Po Khaung Taung (just beyond Bodhi Tahtaung) is a range of hills where you can see one of the largest reclining Buddha images in the world. Measuring 300 feet in length it is even bigger than the colossal Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha image in Bago (Pegu) which has a length of 180 feet. The head is 60 feet in height. It was only built in 1991, and there is still no roof or shelter to protect it from the elements.

This huge image has a hollow cave-like structure inside and you can walk from the head to the feet. You will then see inside 9,000 one foot high metal images of the Buddha and his disciples in various postures. There are also representations of some of the important events in the life of the Buddha. If you are interested in Buddha footprints you can study the 108 auspicious symbols which are depicted on the soles of this huge image.

See Sculpture

Aung Sakkya Pagoda (near the Reclining Buddha, also on Po Khaung Taung rang) is 441.75 feet in height (including the base of 216.75 feet). This pagoda is a landmark for the area around Monywa as it can be seen from afar. It is surrounded by 1,060 smaller satellite pagodas which shelter over a thousand sacred images of the Buddha. In the hills and mountains in the area are caves with Buddhist statues and murals dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. Most exhibit the Inwa style. Some may date as for back as the 14th to16th centuries. A covered stairway climbs a hill to the main cave shrine. There are dozens of large and small caves in the area of Pho Win Hill and the Pon Daung Pon Nya mountain range filled with old Buddha images. There are over 400,000 images in these and other nearby caves. Shwe Ba Hill just beyond Pho Win Hill. features unique pavilions cut from the surrounding sandstone and filled with plain Buddha images. There, temples and caves are curved out of volcanic rocks. The inside walls of some caves are decorated with 13th to 18th century murals.

MAYMYO HILL STATION

MAYMYO (72 kilometers east of Mandalay) is a 3,500-foot-high, British-built hill station known for its pleasant climate, colonial style houses and rich gardens. In the colonial era it is where Burma's old colonial masters went to escape the heat and dust of the plains. Maymyo still boasts red-brick mansions covered in ivy and pleasant gardens with roses, which flourish in the almost alpine climate of the hills. See Military

The drive and the train ride from Mandalay to Maymyo are noted for their views and wonderful scenery. The Maymyo area is famous for strawberries and orchids. Books: For an interesting description of the town in the early 1970s read Paul Theroux's Great Railway Bazaar . For information on its history read Barbara Crossete's Great Hill Stations of Asia .

Shaded by fragrant eucalyptus, pine, silver oak and teak trees and also known as Pyin Oo Lwin (Pin U Lain) , Maymyo has many colonial buildings, such as the Candacriag Hotel and Nanmyaing Hotel, which were built after the hill station was established in 1886. Near the clock tower is a lively fruit, vegetable and flower market which is frequented by members of hill tribes that live in the mountains around Maymyo.

Maymyo is situated on a plateau over 1,000 meters in the Shan Hills. Even at the height of the hot season, Maymyo is pleasantly cool and at certain times of the year it can get quite chilly. Sweater-knitting is the biggest occupation in town. Getting to Maymyo is part of its attraction. At the half-way mark you pass ‘View Point’, which was spectacular views. The standard transport around the town is miniature, enclosed wagon pulled by a pony. Another highlight is the magnificent botanical garden. Strawberries are in season in February and March. They’re cheap and delicious.

Military Regime’s Maymyo: The two military academies in Pin U Lain, a new town built from scratch near Maymo, have new buildings and young cadets walk about in sharp uniforms. The golf course has a helipad. Describing Pin U Lain, Bertil Lintner wrote in the Washington Post, “Built in the lush hills northeast of Mandalay, the new town is a kind of refuge -- but for the Burmese military. Instead of the British Victorian-style mansions of the old Maymyo, you'll find gaudy luxury villas in the new one. The town is also home to the Defense Services Academy, Burma's West Point, which trained many of the generals. [Source: Bertil Lintner, Washington Post, September 30, 2007 \>

“When construction on the officers' town began in late 2005, the Irrawaddy, a magazine published by Burmese exiles in Thailand, reported that "no expense has been spared to allow the generals to live in what basically is a resort, complete with an artificial beach and a man-made stretch of water to lap onto it." The theme-park retreat will also include replicas of a famous pagoda in Rangoon, the old royal palace in Mandalay and a popular beach resort -- which, the magazine dryly noted, "is probably where the fake beach comes in." \>

Thanks to a newly upgraded airport, the retreat is a quick plane ride to Burma's new capital, Naypyidaw, built in the wasteland and jungle 200 miles north of the old capital, Rangoon. Naypyidaw means "Abode of Kings," and kings are precisely what the Burmese generals see themselves as. On the capital's parade ground stand newly erected, larger-than-life statues of three famous pre-colonial warrior kings whom the junta's leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, sees as his role models. \>

Kandawgyi Botanical Garden (Maymyo) was founded in 1915 by a British botanist named Mr. Roger who began collecting local plants and trees and cultivating them on 30 acres of land at the present site. It was only in 1919 that the Government gave official sanction to it. The original area of the Botanical Garden was 170 acres of land and 70 acres of water totaling 240 acres. With a constant supply of sufficient spring water from a lake nearby, the garden was laid out in the design of Kew Gardens in England. In several plots were planted 4840 trees, mostly pine varieties, and 575 different floral species as well as many exotic fruit and shade trees from abroad that were acclimatized to grow in the Garden. In addition, vast meadows and several seasonal flower beds were arranged and hundreds of wild orchids from different parts of the country were collected and displayed in the Orchid greenhouse.

Maha Nandamu Cave (five kilometers south of Wetwun village, 20 kilometers east of Maymyo) is known for its stalactites. Also known as Peik Chin Myaung, the cave is at the entrance to the Peik Chin Myaung ravine and was formed out of a fault. On entering the cave you see springs flowing from different directions. The water at some places is as deep as five feet. Water seeps from the walls of the rock; and is clean and cool. It is said that this water cures eye ailments and itching. So pilgrims take this spring water home in bottles. The Great Cave covers an area about 48 acres. Once inside the cave. you shiver with cold what with the springs and small waterfalls. The Buddha-to-be's life story up to His Enlightenment is featured at appropriate places. There are also Buddha images and pagodas in corners and niches.

Maha Anthtookanthar Paya is a pagoda that was not planned, but just came to be. The reason for this is that three marble Buddha figures made in Mandalay were being transported to their planned home in China. On this journey one of the Buddha figures fell from the lorry and could not be reloaded due to its weight. After many attempts it was left behind and the other 2 were taken on their way. The Buddha image left behind. needed to be moved. but no one knew how to go about this task. A local Buddhist monk decided he would try faith. He sat for 7 days on this figure and preached to the locals and recited teachings of Buddha. After 7 days the figure was. apparently. easily lifted and placed in its current location and the local people built a pagoda as an offering to Buddha.

Other Sights Around Maymyo include Pwekauk Waterfall (also known as "Laughing Water" and Hampshire Falls) and 200-foot-high Anisakhan Waterfall. The village of Aungchantha is noted for its flower, fruit and vegetable market.

SHWE BO

SHWE BO (100 kilometers miles north of Mandalay on the motor and railroad to Myitkyina and 25 kilometers west of Kyauk Myaung) is a riverside town on the Irrawaddy famous for glazed pottery works. Here from toys, cups, bowls, pots and huge water jars are tied in hundreds and floated down the river as rafts. These are widely used throughout the country. Shwebo was the hometown of U Aung Zeya. the founder of the Konebaung Dynasty, and thus was the first capital of the last dynasty of Myanmar kings and became known as the “Land of Victory.” Even after the capital was shifted to other places, kings, royal officials and high ranking army commanders used to come back to tread the "earth of victory land" at Shwebo. During colonial times this belief was discouraged, but still people continued to believe that before any important undertaking the victory land at Shwebo should be trod. After Independence, the people of Shwebo under the guidance of Webu Sayadaw. built a Victory Land Pagoda and established a Victory Land Enclosure and also a monastery called Aung Mye Kyaung Daik or Victory Land Monastery. Visitors nowadays usually take back a handful of Victory earth to keep in their houses.

The palace, royal parks, lakes, moats and watch tower are ruins. The government launched the reconstruction of the palace buildings, parks and dredged the royal lake for the benefit of the visitors and locals. Shwebo can be reached by car or rail from Mandalay under four hours. The Pyu culture dating back to the second century A.D. flourished at Hanlin. the ruins of which can still be seen. a few miles south of Shwebo. Travel by car under is less than an hour. It is the rice bowl of Upper Myanmar with vast stretches of paddy land.

Shwe Chet Thoe Pagoda was built by king Alaung Hpaya on the place where U Aung Zeyar (The King) was born and his umbilical cord buried. King Hsin Byu Shin, son of King Alaung Hpaya donated the bell and the Chief Queen Khin Yun San of King Alaung Hpaya donated the Tower for this bell. Mya Theindan Pagoda also built by King Alaung Hpaya, in this cae to earn merit. Zabu Simee Pagoda was built by U Hpo Mya and Mai Palaung, the parents of Queen Khin Yum San.

Shwe Tansar Pagoda is one of the oldest pagodas in Shwebo. It is supposed to have been built by King Alaung Sithu of the Pagan Dynasty. Its main feature is a famous image of Buddha carved out of a very fragrant wood. This image is called the “Shwe Tazar,” which means “Ornament of Beatitude” and the pagoda derives its' name from this image. The image is so famous that Kings of Myanmar had vied for it and had taken it to the different capitals: Inwa, Hantha, Waddy, Taungoo and back to Inwa, Sagaing and finally to Shwebo. Shwe Theindaw Pagoda is another very old pagoda. Dating back to the Pagan Period, it derives its' name from the venerable Thein (Sima) or Ordination Hall where monks are ordained into the Order. The inscriptions on the two bells in the pagoda were donated by King Badon mentions that the pagoda was built by King Narapati Sithu. Its unusual feature is that it is enclosed within three walls. The outer two walls are in ruins due to dereliction but the innermost stone wall is well preserved.

MOGOK AND ITS RUBY MINES

Mogok (128 miles to the north-east of Mandalay. and 60 miles to the east of Irrawaddy river) is where most of Myanmar’s rubies and sapphires are mined. The town of Mogok lies in a beautiful mountain valley with the Great Lake of Mogok in the center of the town. The mountain ranges of Mogok are a part of the great Shan plateau. The residents are mostly Lisus and Shans who make their living by mining and cutting, polishing and marketing gemstones.

For centuries, rubies and sapphires have been found here. In the old days, it is said, these gems were so abundant that they could be scooped up by hand from among tufts of grass-roots in the hill-side kitchen garden. Gems so begotten are now known as 'grass-root stones'. And the kind of loose upper soil where they are easily found is named 'Manipur paydirt' because in old days Manipur immigrants were ordered by the king to work the mines. In those days the price of ordinary rubies was almost nothing. They were seen everywhere: bought and sold everyday. Only extraordinary ones: large, flawless and of pigeon-blood color were considered valuable. Rich men, lords, ladies, sawbwas (chieftains) and kings used to collect only those extraordinary gem-stones. And among gems. rubies rank No.1.

Mogok and its environs –– Momeik, Twin, Nge, Thabeikkyin and Waphyudaung — together comprise a a gem-bearing area of 1916 square miles. There are now over 1000 mines, which are of two main types –– tunnel and open-cut. Small-scale traditional mines. such as lay-bin-gyin (four-sided pits, three feet square) are also worked in some places. Rubies and sapphires are found in most of the mines and they bring the highest prices. Mogok also produces numerous gems of lesser quality such as alexandrite, amethyst, apatite, aquamarine, black tourmaline, black John, danburite, flourite, garnet, green tourmaline, lapis lazuli, moonstone, peridot, quartz, rose quartz, spinel, topaz, white sapphire and zircon. Some years in the past, private mines in Mogok were all closed and even Myanmar nationals who visited Mogok didn’t have the chance to see how the famous mines worked.

Modernjeweler.com reported: “For centuries, the mystique surrounding Burma ruby has centered on stones from one extensive jungle tract known as Mogok. So valued were Mogok's rubies that England annexed Upper Burma in 1885 rather than let French firms negotiate mining deals there. Today the mere mention of this origin point still invites expectations of ruby so high that a Mogok ruby is considered the gem equivalent of a Rembrandt painting. [Source: modernjeweler.com ]

But Mogok isn't just the 70 square miles of a 400-square-mile area east of Mandalay that have variously been combed for ruby for 700 years at least. To the few gemologists and dealers who have visited this ruby-rich locality since a 28-year ban on travel there was lifted in 1991, the term Mogok now encompasses nearly a dozen far-flung mining sites throughout Burma, many of which are recent workings. However, because the finest rubies from each of these old and new deposits possessed similarly stellar appearance, color, and transparency, ruby experts let the place-name Mogok serve both as a composite for Burma's ruby localities and a generic for the unsurpassed excellence of their top stones. In other words, Mogok is a quality-assurance term for fine Burmese ruby the way Muzo is for fine Colombian emerald. Or so it was until 1992. That's when Mogok suddenly ceased to be Burma's main ruby-mining district and the country's stones lost the long-standing privilege and protection of the Mogok name.

Here's why. Before 1969, the year Burma's gem mines were nationalized by the country's ruling generals, Mogok was, for all practical purposes, the world's sole significant source of ruby. But the sudden cut-off of Burmese material forced the market to rely on Thailand and, to a lesser extent, Cambodia for ruby. Early in this decade, just as Thailand's mines were being exhausted, Burma reasserted mining leadership when rubies from a mammoth new deposit at Mong Hsu (pronounced variously "Mong" or "Maing" Shu) to the southeast of Mogok began flooding the Bangkok market.

Almost overnight, Mong Hsu goods became "five to ten times more plentiful" than Thai goods in the heyday of that country's ruby production. Ever since, Thailand has been a ruby processor only. Don't get the wrong idea, though. Without Thai gem alchemy, most ruby, Mong Hsu's especially, would be unsellable. This total dependence on heat-treatment has made Mong Hsu goods equal cause for celebration and consternation. For the first time in years, decent-quality Burmese ruby has been widely available at bargain prices. But while makers and marketers of low-end jewelry cheered, their counterparts on the market's high end jeered. Why the sharp difference in opinion?

When Mogok was the preeminent source of ruby, heating was common but not essential. But with Mong Hsu material, which is zoned with blue areas and clouded with fissures when mined, enhancement is as much a prerequisite as it is for Colombian emerald. In the case of Mong Hsu ruby, however, enhancement involved heating rather than oil or epoxy impregnation. Yet even after heating, Mong Hsu's best aren't comparable in quality or looks to Mogok's best.

In no time at all, the gem world was threatened with a major provenance crisis having to do with the “fifth C”: country of origin. Here's how Richard Hughes, author of Ruby and Sapphire, explains this crisis: "You now have two distinctly different types of Burmese ruby. First, there are stones from older localities that are what you might call classic Mogok-type rubies. Second, there are stones from Mong Hsu that usually fall far below the Mogok ideal and are worth far less. Yet origin reports often fail to distinguish between the two. Is that fair to consumers?"

It is a question with which the directors of many of these labs are wrestling. "It would not be difficult to differentiate between Mogok and Mong Hsu ruby," says Ken Scarratt of the American Gem Trade Association's Gemological Testing Center in New York. "But doing so might create demand to pinpoint mines in other countries such as Thailand where far less data is available to aid in such determinations."

Nevertheless, Scarratt may soon have no choice in the matter. Dealers who regularly buy in Thailand, the world's chief corundum trading center, note a growing number of specialists in Mogok ruby who are doing all they can to create a two-tier market between Mogok and Mong Hsu stones. "Since Mong Hsu ruby requires heat treatment and Mogok ruby doesn't, these dealers are now refraining from heating goods in order to further distance Mogok from Mong Hsu," a New York ruby dealer. In other words, Mogok is being positioned as a source of stones that are not only aesthetically superior to those of Mong Hsu but all-natural to boot. If this market strategy succeeds, get ready for the Mogok mystique to work more magic than ever before.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Myanmar Travel Information, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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