14 January 2009

The Ancient Cites

On Tuesday we again met up with our friend and guide Zeze and headed
off out in what the locals call a lei bein (translates as four wheels)
or what we would call a 40 year old Mazda pick-up! These little vans
are the main way to get about over larger distances without having to
venture onto the dangerously overloaded local buses.

Mandalay is famous for the manufacture of the gold leaf that is used
to decorate the many temples, stupa and statues throughout Myanmar.
Our first stop was to see a gold leaf factory where they hand beat
gold leaf sheets. Each stack of sheets takes 5 hours of beating with a
7 pound lump hammer, quite a feat when the temperature's in the 30's.

Our next port of call on the way out of town was to see longyis being
made. Longyi are a sarong type traditional skirt worn by both men and
women. They are all hand wove on a loom and it can take up to 4 weeks
to weave an intricately designed ladies one.

Next we headed 12km out of town to the ancient city of Amarapura which
was the royal capital prior to Mandalay between 1783 and 1857. There's
not a lot left of the old city to see as most of the buildings were
took apart and rebuilt in Mandalay Palace (where they subsequently
burnt down!). We were there to pay a visit to Maha Ganayon Kyaung, a
monastery of one and a half thousand monks. At 11am every day the
monks silently collect and eat their last meal of the day. We also had
time to stop at the Temple of a Thousand Buddhas where as well as the
Buddhas we saw a strange statue of a man riding a giant chicken.

From there we made our way to Sagaing, which is another former royal
capital and important Buddhist centre with 500 stupas and 6000 monks
in the area. There we made the climb on foot up Sagaing Hill for a
view of the Ayeyarwady river and the temples below. Our next stop was
Inwa (Ava) which is isolated from the roads by a series of rivers and
canals. Here we took a horse and cart around several of the sights
including Bagaya Kyaung (a monastery made entirely out of teak),
Naymin Watchtower (otherwise known as the leaning tower of Inwa) and
Maha Aungmye Bonzan (a brick monastery from the early 1800's).

Unfortunately for us our horse, Niha, had a slight problem with wind!
The fields around Inwa were full of rice paddies that were being
worked by hand or ox. It felt a little like being transported back to
the middle ages (or the start of the Borat film) as we were pulled
along by our (windy) horse in our cart.

Finally to end our tour we returned to Amarapura to see U Bein's
Bridge and the sunset over Taungthaman Lake. The bridge is over 200
years old and the worlds longest teak bridge at 1.2km long.
Unfortunately large sections of the support structure have been non
too sympathetically repaired using Southeast Asia's favorite building
material . . . concrete! It doesn't spoil the view from the top though
and the atmosphere there was really buzzy with everyone going about
their business.

Once we got back into town we headed for dinner at the well known and
highly recommended Mandalay dining experience that is the open air
Chapati Stand. Quite possibly one of the strangest dining experiences
we've had - perched on a tiny plastic chair watching the chaos of the
street side kitchen as we were served our dinner by a boy who couldn't
have been any older than 8. It was a bargain too, 3 chapatis, chicken
curry, lamb curry, rice, 2 potato dhals, 3 unidentifiable but very
tasty side dishes and a liter of water for 3000 kyat - about one
hundred and eighty of your English pence!

We ended day, feeling a little exhausted, with a nice cold Mandalay
Beer on the roof terrace of our guesthouse.

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