Friday, February 28, 2014

Myanmar - Day 8 - Mahagandayon Monastery

Monks at Mahagandayon Monastery line up for their meal.

On our last day in Myanmar we started with a visit to Maha Gandhayon Monastery in Amarapura. This is a working monastery and is home to perhaps 1200 monks who come to study.

Here are links to previous Myanmar posts.
Day 1 - Yangon                          Day 2 - Yangon and Inle Lake
Day 3 - Morning on Inle Lake     Day 3 - Afternoon on Inle Lake
Day 4 - Bagan                            Day 5 - Bagan and Ananda Temple
Day 6 - Village Life                    Day 7 - Mingun Temple

Young monks at Mahagandayon Monastery in white robes

My understanding is that basically all boys sometime after the age of 7 go through a ceremony called shinbyu where they exchange their worldly clothes for robes and shave their heads.

They spend a week or longer at a monastery to live life as a monk where they study and pray. Around age 20 they have another opportunity to become a monk if they have decided that this is their calling in life.

At Maha Gandhayon Monastery they all line up at 10:00 AM to receive their one meal for the day.

They will receive their rice and other food in the bowl that each carries.

Monks receiving rice at Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura

It is an honor and act of devotion for these women to be able serve the meal.

As you might imagine, this daily ritual attracts a lot of curious tourists.

The whole thing is a little surreal. Actually, I felt out of place as a tourist witnessing this. I can't really grasp the Buddhist tolerance of the hoards of tourists in the light of my Christian background.

But that didn't stop me from taking pictures.

Caprenters at Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura, Myanmar

As we wandered around the monastery we came across this crew of carpenters working on replacement window frames.

Click to enlarge any picture.

Do you think smashing your big toe with a hammer hurts more or less than your thumb?

It was all done by hand.

They were working next to this building.

These brooms were stacked up against the steps. Margot thought they were colorful. We didn't see them in action but the grounds were nicely maintained.

U Bein bridge at Amarapura, Myanmar

After the monastery, we visited U Bein Bridge.  This 0.75 mile long bridge spans Taungthaman Lake. It is supposedly the longest teak bridge in the world.

There are 1086 posts and zero handrails.

The bridge was built around 1850.
Young monks on U Bein bridge at Amarapura

The supports in this section have been replaced with concrete.

Here is Margot with the last successful souvenir vendor on our trip.

This is the next to last successful vendor. This was interesting. The guy coats a piece of glossy paper with ink and then uses a razor blade to scrap away the ink he doesn't want. Definitely takes some skill.

Click to enlarge.

Royal Palace wall and moat in Mandalay

Finally, a couple of pictures of the wall and moat around the royal palace.
Each of the walls is 2 km long and form a perfect square.

Tower, wall and moat at the Royal Palace in Mandalay, Myanmar

This place is sort of analogous to the Forbidden City in Beijing. However, this is much newer dating back to only about 1859.

Almost all of the buildings inside were destroyed by Allied bombing in World War 2.

The moat is 210 feet wide and about 15 feet deep.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Myanmar - Day 7 - Mandalay and Mingun Temple

Tour boats on Irrawaddy River

On the morning on day 7 we headed to the Irrawwaddy River for a boat ride up the river to Mingun Temple.

Boats being loaded on Irrawaddy River in Mandalay

This is the scene on the shore. You can bags of something loaded or unloaded by porters and stacked on the truck. I think I mentioned that the transportation infrastructure in Myanmar is lacking.

These boats double as work boats and house boats. This guy is taking a shower with river water in front of his outhouse.

The Irrawaddy River is 1,350 miles long and runs north to south right down the center of Myanmar.

Village on Irrawaddy River

The river level changes dramatically from season to season so I imagine this is a temporary village.

I guess this house is safe during the rainy season but getting down to the boat looks like a challenge.

Bamboo raft on Irrawaddy River

There is a lot of commercial activity. These families are transporting bamboo down the river. There is a motor boat pulling the raft.

This collection of boats was tied together and getting towed together down the river. There are a lot of sandbars and bends in the river so it would be pretty tough to navigate down without a boat to pull.

Mingun temple from the Irrawaddy River

This is our destination - Mingun Temple.

Once on shore you could take a taxi up to the temple. We chose to walk.

Mingun Temple

Here is a better picture. The temple was never completed. It was started in 1790 but construction was stopped after an astrologer told the king he would die if it was finished. There was a huge earthquake in 1835 that damaged the structure.

Mingun Bell

This is the second largest functional bell in the world. It was cast in 1808. The Chinese built a larger one in 2000. The largest bell ever made is also in Myanmar. Unfortunately the bell is under about 25 feet of mud in Yangon River were the Portuguese dropped it in 1602.

I changed the format to make it more mobile friendly. Let me know what you think.

This is Myatheindan Pagoda at Mingun. It dates to 1816.

Carving teak in Mandalay

After lunch we toured a teak carving workshop. This guy is just getting started on turning this slab of teak ...

Teak carving in Mandalay

... into this. I have no idea how many hours it takes.

Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay

The Mahamuni Pagoda is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Burma. The Buddha image here is the most highly revered Buddha image in the country. The pagoda was built in 1785 by King Bodawpaya of the Konbaung dynasty after the Mahamuni image was captured during the invasion of the Arakan Kingdom.

This is a hall where offerings are received. The monks on the far side under the umbrellas are reciting Buddhist scripture.

Here is the Buddha image. This Buddha is covered with gold leaf, also.

Bronze figures at Mahamuni Pagoda

These bronze figures have had a storied history. They were originally Khmer and were at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. A Thai king captured them in 1431. In 1564, a Burmese king captured them and brought them to Myanmar.

Shwenandaw Temple

This is Shwenandaw Temple, the only teak temple to survive World War 2. All the others burned down.

Teak carving at Shwenandaw Temple

There is a lot of carving on the structure. I think this was at one time part of the royal palace.

This the Buddha image inside.

This is the reconstructed Atumashi Monastery. It was re-built by the military government in the 1990s using prison labor.

It is a really large hall. There is monk in front of the Buddha figure but he is really hard to see.

Sutaungpyei Pagoda

Before sundown we headed to Mandalay Hill to visit Sutaungpyei Pagoda and watch the sun go down.

This is the Buddha figure in the temple.

The sunset wasn't quite as interesting as Bagan.

That is the Irraawaddy River in front of the mountains.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Myanmar - Day 6 - Village Life and Road Trip

Oxen in Min Nan Thu village at Nyaung U near Bagan, Myanmar

Day 6 of our Myanmar trip started with a visit to the village of Min Nan Thu in Nyaung U. Village life proceeds more or less as it has for generations. The village has decided to welcome tourists in exchange for the opportunity to sell their handicrafts.
Plums drying in the sun in Min Nan Thu village at Nyaung U near Bagan, Myanmar

These are plums, I believe, harvested from the trees in and around the village. Here they are set out to dry.
Woman sifting plum kernels in Min Nan Thu village at Nyaung U near Bagan, Myanmar

Here the crushed seeds are sifted. The plum seeds are sold to China for use in Chinese medicine.

It's a big business. We saw 4 or five locations like this just in this small village.
Peanuts drying on the vine in Min Nan Thu village at Nyaung U near Bagan, Myanmar

These are peanuts hang next to yarn that will be woven.

Click to enlarge.

Here are links to earlier posts in the series if you missed any of them.
Day 1 - Yangon
Day 2 - Yangon and Inle Lake
Day 3 Morning - Inle Lake
Day 3 Afternoon - Inle Lake
Day 4 - Bagan
Day 5 - Bagan and Ananda Temple
Peanut oil press in Min Nan Thu village at Nyaung U near Bagan, Myanmar

Peanuts are important to the village. This is a press for pressing oil from the peanuts. We didn't see it in operation but I gather one of the oxen is hooked up to a harness that is on the other side and then walks in a circle around this device. The center post precesses around the cone area and squeezes the peanuts. The oil comes out the small opening at the bottom.
Older woman smoking a large cigar in Min Nan Thu village at Nyaung U near Bagan, Myanmar

Remember what I said about smoking a couple of posts ago. I rest my case.

Margot thought these two were really cute.

This lady is preparing yarn for weaving.
Woman spinning thread in Min Nan Thu village at Nyaung U near Bagan, Myanmar

This lady is spinning fiber into yarn.

Click to enlarge and take a look at her fingers holding the fiber.
Ox cart and monk in Min Nan Thu village at Nyaung U near Bagan, Myanmar

There were ox carts everywhere hauling all sorts of agricultural products and occasionally people.

Looks like this guy has an empty cart.

These big baskets are used to haul the plums from tree to village.

Not sure what this is.
Ox cart hauling material from the field in Min Nan Thu village at Nyaung U near Bagan, Myanmar

You could not turn around without seeing another cart.
No. (95) Basic Education Primary School in Min Nan Thu village at Nyaung U near Bagan, Myanmar

This school is across the street from the village.

Notice the "Drug Free School" sign and the stupa in the background.

Students reading at No. (95) Basic Education Primary School in Min Nan Thu village at Nyaung U near Bagan, Myanmar

We asked our guide to ask the teacher if we could visit and we were quickly invited it. These younger students were studying English at the time and were excited to read to the foreigners.

They were excited to see their pictures, too.

This school obviously has had some foreign support. The facilities were nicer than most we saw.
Road construction near Bagan, Myanmar

After our visit to the village we started a road trip to Mandalay. Our group of 17 loaded into 3 large vans for the trip.

Shortly after we left Bagan we passed a road construction site. We were really past it by the time I got my camera organized but here is a glimpse of it. That line of rocks is the equivalent of the concrete Jersey barriers you see in the U.S. which separate the traffic from the construction crew. The women were using hammers to make small rocks out of big rocks and sorting and loading into small baskets for transport to the road shoulder. I imagine they will lay some asphalt once the rock base is complete. Not a machine in sight.

February is the dry season in central Myanmar. When the rains come this will become a river. In the meantime it is being cultivated.

As we stopped for gas and a bio-break, this local transportation truck pulled in. They filled up the barrel on the back with diesel - to provide a local supply back at their village, I suppose.

We stopped for lunch at a very local restaurant in Myingyan.

I have commented earlier that in Asia when you buy a chicken you get the whole thing - head, feet, internal organs, etc. No shop owner wants to accused of cheating you.

Believe it or not I ordered chicken not pork. I chose not to eat this piece because I couldn't identify it. No one in our group could identify it, either.

I have my guess but can anyone say for sure what this is?

You have to look at it as all part of the experience.