Mount Popa Geopark

Mount Popa Geopark

Mount Popa Geopark and its Aesthetic Values

by Than Htun (Myanmar Geosciences Society)

Under the National Geopark Committee, National Geopark Executive Committee has been striving to establish, by the collaborative effort of Myanmar Geosciences Society, Forest Department and Geology Departments of various Universities, the first National Geopark in Mount Popa region. With the approval of Union Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Ministry and Chief Minister of Mandalay Region, Geopark field party started reconnaissance survey and assessment in Mount Popa Area in December 2016. The geology, vertebrate paleontology, paleobotany, forestry, cultural, and archaeology sites have been selected for sites in a total area of 1964 sq.km, the whole Kyaukpadaung Township, NyaungU District in Mandalay Region.

Historical Record

Mount Popa seems to be a great mountain because it stands solitary, almost in the centre of the plain of Myingyan. It has stood sentinel over the varying fortunes of the Burmese people, whose first settlements in the middle Irrawaddy valley wherein the Myingyan plain. It is an extinct volcano whose subterranean fires first saw daylight some two hundred and fifty thousand years ago, but whose raging fires died out only in historic times. According to the Burmese chronicles, in 422 B.C. there was a great earthquake and Mount Popa ‘rose like a cone from the plain’. There is a crater at the top of the cone, but one side of the crater had been blown away during one of the volcano’s many eruptions.

Thagya Nat, Mahagiri Nat, Popa Taungkalat

The Mount Popa was visited by King Pyusawhti in A.D.167. King Thinlikyaung established a new cult by proclaiming that Popa Ywa was given as a perpetual fief to U Tint De and his Sister, Nat spirits in A.D.352. And King, ministers, and people visited them once a year.

To an early chief at Bagan, Popa Sawrahan 613-40, is attributed the introduction of the present Burmese era (Kacchapancha), starting in March 638. Siam uses it under the name Chulasakaraj. Doubtless, it was drawn up by Hindu astrologers at one of the courts in Burma. Popa Sawrahan’s name suggests wizards and primitive beliefs at the volcanic peak of Popa, and perhaps it was about this time that the noble Mahagiri
myth took its present shape (G.E. Harvey, 1925).

In the flower forests of Mount Popa, moreover, there lurked robbers and outlaws. Anawrahta himself, while striving to regain his father’s throne usurped by another, formed his army on the slopes of Mount Popa in A.D.1044. There are many remanences of traditional furnaces in the western part of Mount Popa, for smelting iron concretions from Irrawaddy sandstone to make weapons for the battle against Bagan King Sukade.

Kyansittha, after the defeat of the forces of Anawrahta’s son by the Peguan rebels, led the remnants of the Burmese army to Popa Hill to be re-quipped and reorganized. Perhaps at one time, the hill itself was worshipped as separate from the gods and goddesses, and it was probably considered to be ‘a hallowed ground of victory’ whose very touch would give success to ‘men of endeavor’ in their ‘mighty undertakings’ (Maung Htin Aung, 1959).

After having many serious problems with his alchemistic experiments and replacing his eyes with eyes of goat and bull, Monk Goat-Bull (Shin Isa Gawna) obtained the Philosopher’s Stone on the top of Mount Popa.

In A.D.1249, Uzanar took thrown and after visiting Nat festival at Mount Popa, Pwa Saw of Kanpyu village became Queen of Bagan.

The Thirty-seven Nats

Throughout human history, people of all races have pictured their gods and goddesses as living on a mountain. The Buddhists believe that their gods and goddesses live on Mount Mayu, just as the Ancient Greeks believed that their gods and goddesses dwelt on Mount Olympus.

In the same way, the early Burmese came to believe that Mount Popa was the home of their gods and goddesses. They came to believe, too, that beautiful ogresses, who lived not on flesh but flowers, played hide-and-seek in the groves of Mount Popa, and that on its slopes there wandered magicians and alchemists in search of potent herbs and roots.

Under King Thinlikyaung in A.D. 344-387, the religion of the Bagan people must have been very similar to that from the animism now practiced by the remoter hill peoples of Burma. Nat spirits were worshipped everywhere in the country but each village restricted its worship to its own local Nats. After reaching Saga tree the new city of Thiripyissaya King Thinlikyaung had an opportunity to establish a new religion or at least a new cult. The king’s carvers soon carved out of the tree trunk images of U Tint De and his sister, and then covered them with gold. The images of the two Nats were put on golden palanquins and attended by the king himself, they were carried along the road to Mount Popa. The procession reached the summit of Mount Popa on the full moon day of the golden Nat shrine, awaited the two images. The images were set up in the shrine with great pomp and ceremony, and the king proclaimed that the village on the slope of the hill, Popa Ywa, was given as a perpetual fief to the two Nat spirits.

Except one of the 37 Nats-namely Thagya Nat, all are spirits of deceased heroes, and in most cases, they also have royal blood or are linked to royalty. Most are associated with historical figures who lived between the 13th and 17th centuries. The 37 Nats are:

1.Thagya Nat,
2. Mahagiri Nat,
3. Hnamadawgyi Nat,
4. Shwe Nabe Nat,
5. Thonban Hla Nat,
6. Taung-ngu Mingaung Nat,
7. Mintara Nat,
8. Thandawgan Nat,
9. Shwe Nawratha Nat,
10. Aungzwamagyi Nat,
11. Ngazishin Nat,
12. Aungbinle Sinbyushin Nat,
13. Taungmagyi Nat,
14. Maung Minshin Nat,
15. Shindaw Nat,
16. Nyaung-gyn Nat,
17. Tabinshweti Nat,
18. Minye Aungdin Nat,
19. Shwe Sippin Nat,
20. Medaw Shwesaga Nat,
21. Maung Po Tu Nat: a trader from Pinya who was killed by a tiger,
22. Yun Bayin Nat,
23. Maung Minbyu Nat,
24. Mandale Bodaw Nat,
25. Shwebyin Naungdaw Nat,
26. Shwebyin Nyidaw Nat,
27. Mintha Maung Shin Nat,
28. Htibyu Saung Nat,
29. Htibyu Saung Medaw Nat,
30. Bayinma Shin Mingaung Nat,
31. Min Sithu Nat,
32. Min Kyawzwa Nat,
33. Myaukpet Shinma Nat,
34. Anauk Mibaya Nat,
35. Shingon Nat,
36. Shingwa Nat,
37. Shin Hnemi Nat

Alchemy

India seems to have been the first centre of alchemic experiments. From India, alchemy spread westwards to the Arabs, the Egyptians, and the Greeks, later to the medieval Europeans, eastwards to Burma and farther east to China. By the fifth century, A.D. alchemy was being practiced in China and Burma. In Burma, the great period of alchemy was roughly between the fifth century A.D. and the eleventh century, and it became almost a religious cult by itself. But in the eleventh century, its popularity waned with the introduction of Buddhism into the century, for Buddhism frowned upon alchemy. Thus, after the eleventh century, alchemy started to decay, and although the cult has never completely died out, it has long ceased to be in any way a rival to Buddhism.

Alchemy in Burma is known as Aggiya, meaning ‘the work of fire’. ‘Work with fire’ is indeed the essence of alchemy, for the alchemist endeavors to transmute metals utilizing fire. This endeavor to transmute base metals into precious metals is not peculiar to the Burmese alchemist and was the common heritage of alchemists all over the world. But Burmese alchemy has as its background a deeper philosophy- a philosophy so deep and developed at one time that it was almost a religion. The endeavor ‘to turn lead into silver and brass into gold’ is to the Burmese alchemist merely the first step towards a great goal, namely to discover by further experiment ‘the stone of live metal’, or the stone of live mercury’, which is the Burmese equivalent of the Philosopher’s Stone in European alchemy. Again, ‘the stone of live metal’ itself is not the final goal. The final goal is to attain, after more experiments, a superhuman body, and an eternal youth.

When the alchemist has discovered the right metal compounds, the first task before him is to search for a faithful pupil who will bury him in the forest, away from human beings, who will scare away evil spirits and magicians, and who will watch over the spot under which the alchemist lies buried. When the faithful pupil has been found the alchemist makes him dig a hole in the ground and, on entering it, the alchemist will swallow the metal compounds. Then the hole is filled up, and seven days later the alchemist of his own accord and in great joy jumps out of it, for he has become a Zawgyi, a fully developed alchemist. All the supernatural qualities of the ‘stone of live metal’ are now possessed by him in his supernatural body. Then he will enter the forest and come back to the abode of human beings very seldom, if at all.

As the alchemist’s body has become superhuman he can wander at will, flying in the air or traveling underground; physical fatigue is no longer known to him and his body needs no further nourishment. His body will remain youthful until he dies, and death will come to him only after thousands of years. On the whole, the successful alchemist is happy after achieving his heart’s desire, but he also has his troubles. His is an intensely lonely life. He does not have to eat, but occasionally he eats fruit, as he cannot eat meat because of its smell. Therefore, it follows that he cannot stay with human beings for more than a few minutes, as they are eaters of meat and smell too much for him. On the slope of Mount Popa, there are trees whose fruits have exactly the size and shape of the average human maiden, and by his alchemic power, the alchemist puts some sort of ‘life’ into them, so that the fruits become animated. He makes love to them, but unfortunately, as they are but fruit, they soon get crushed and become of no use to him. The majority of the Burmese Buddhists frown upon alchemic experiments as a wanton waste of time and look upon the alchemist as a seeker after gold and after sensual pleasures.

The Cult of the Magus

It is not known whether there was a cult of the Magus in Burma before A.D. 1056. However, the hero of Burmese alchemy, the monk Master Goat-Bull (Shin Isa Gawna), seems to have been worshipped as their patron by those interested in alchemy. The details of his life had been mentioned in Burmese folk-tales was written by Maung Htin Aung in 1948. After having many serious problems with his alchemistic experiments and replacing his eyes with eyes of goat and bull he obtained the Philosopher’s Stone. He announced his intension of leaving the world of human beings the next morning and requested the king to melt all his lead and brass in huge pots in front of the palace at sunrise. When the sun appeared Monk Goat-Bull went first to the palace and then to all the houses, and threw his Philosopher’s Stone into every pot. The stone jumped back into his hand every time, its mere touch having turned the lead in the pots into silver and the brass to gold. The people of Bagan became very rich, and with so much gold and silver at their disposal they built the countless pagodas that still stand at Bagan today.

When he had passed every house, Monk Goat-Bull, still attended by his novice, went to Mount Popa. At the mountain-top, the monk dug up some magic roots and ground them with the Philosopher’s Stone. The ground roots formed themselves into six medicine balls and the monk swallowed three. The other three he gave to the novice and the novice swallowed the medicine balls with nausea. ‘It is clear that you are not fated to share my success in alchemy’, said the monk sadly, ‘and we must say farewell here’. The novice bade a tearful farewell to his master, who gave him a piece of gold as a parting gift.

Mount Popa Geopark

Mount Popa

Minbu-Saku

Minbu-Saku
Magway Myathalon in Distant view from Minbu

Minbu-Saku

Minbu and Saku in the history

Minbu is located at the confluence of Mann Creek and Ayeyawady River. Writer Letwe Minnyo (U Chan Tha) depicted a love scene between King Mohnyin and Shin Boh Mei in Minbu, quoting the poems on the concluding of Temiya Jataka composed by venerable Sayadaw Minbu U Obhasa.

Minbu is 376 miles from Yangon along the waterway. As Ayeyawady River divides Magway and Minbu, Setkeinte Pagoda in Minbu faces with Myathalun Pagoda in Magway.

Myanmar Encyclopaedia mentions Saku was under the management of a governor in Myanmar monarchical era. The town governor and town head built wooden monasteries decorated with Myanmar arts and crafts. The agriculture was of agro-based business in the Saku region where locals cultivated crops in farmlands irrigated by water from Mann Creek. The paddy produced from the Saku region was called Sakubyat.

In 1886, the district level offices were set up in Saku after the British had occupied Myanmar. In 1962, the government allotted district level offices in Minbu but township level offices in Saku. On 7 August 1972 when the district administrative system was terminated, township offices were moved to Minbu from Saku. On 31 March 1973, Minbu (Saku) Township was constituted with Minbu and Saku towns, seven wards, and 150 villages from 87 village-tracts.

Minbu-Saku

some picture of Minbu-Saku region

Minbu (Saku) Township on 642.71 square miles of land is 46 miles in length and 42 miles in width. The township shares its border with Ayeyawady River in the east, Ngaphe Township in the west, Minhla Township in the south, and Pwintbyu Township in the north. Ayeyawady River is crossing in the township from the north to the south while Hsapwet and Mann creeks flow from the west to the east.

Minbu (Saku) Township is 164 feet higher than the sea level. It had 48.54 inches of rainfall in 2017.

The total population in the township reached 192,295 in September 2018, 180,497 of whom were Bamar ethnic, accounting for 99 percent.

According to the statistics of the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are 210 pagodas and stupas and 229 monasteries in Minbu (Saku) Township, 144 of those pagodas were located around Saku. Htegyi Pagoda in Saku is an eminent religious edifice in addition to Mann Shwesettaw, Shinpin Setkeinte, and Dattawkon pagodas.

The Pitakat chamber of U Obhasa takes a position in Ward 1 of Minbu and Hmankin Yokesone monastery and the Pitakat chamber in Ward 1 of Saku.

Works of some researchers showed some evidence of Pyu culture in the Saku region. So, some researchers assumed Saku had been in the Pyu era. At present, not only old stakes of buildings and ancient structures built of bricks with finger lines but also wooden monasteries decorated with Myanmar crafts can be seen in Saku.

Three stories monastery of Minbu-Saku

Three stories monastery of Minbu-Saku

Ancient monasteries

Kings and royal families and wealthy persons built monasteries built of bricks and wood in various regions such as Mandalay, Inwa, Sagaing, Salay, Salin, and Myaing townships.

Konbaunghset Maha History mentioned King Alaungphaya, King Naungdawgyi, King Myedu, King Badon, King Sagaing, King Thayawady, King Bagan, King Mindon and King Thibaw funded the construction of monasteries, most of which were built with Myanmar architectural works. However, some monasteries such as Thakawun and Yaw Atwinwun were decorated with European and Myanmar styles.

Wooden monasteries in Saku

Pahtama Three-storey Monastery and Hmankin Yokesone Monastery are the most significant in Saku. Yokesone Monastery in Lekaing takes a position in Pwintbyu Township but travelers from Saku have easy access to such monastery.

Pahtama Three-storey Monastery in Saku was built by U Thaik and son in late-1920. The monastery was renovated in 1970. A record mentions that a stake driving ceremony took place for the monastery on the morning of 6th waning of Nayon, 1266 Myanmar era and the construction of the monastery started in the afternoon the same day.

The monastery with 111.5 feet in length and 52.49 feet in width was built of 115 teak posts for the tier-roofed building, Sanu building, and main building. Posts in the east, west, and southwards were curved with plots of sculptures from Vidhura Jataka. The rail of the northern corridor was created with the lifestyle of locals such as playing Ozi and sweeping works.

Minbu-Saku

Ancient Monastery in Minbu-Saku region

Hmankin Yokesone Monastery in Saku was built of 136 teak posts based on concrete boards. The monastery was 131 feet long and 65.5 feet wide formed with the tier-roofed building, Sanu building, and main building. Saku building was flanked by an annex hall each.

A brick ladder each was built on the northern and southern wings leading to the monastery. The main building was installed with doors decorated with sculptures of mythical birds. The rails of the monastery were curved as sculptural works depicting Buddhological works as well as the lifestyle of locals in the Konbaung era.

The northwest wing of the monastery was created with works of Cula Paduma Jataka, the southeast corner with that of Utena Jataka and the northern wing with that of Ma Mei U. Likewise, statues of the dragon, ogre, minister, general, and hermit were curved on the walls.

Lekaing Yokesone Monastery near Saku was built by U Anthony, son of the head of Kuni Village in 1891. U Anthony and his son built five monasteries around the area.

U Anthony spent 17.5 baskets of coins on the construction of Lekaing Yokesone Monastery. He took responsibility for the food and accommodation of workers for the construction. Head of Kani Village, a relative of donor, contributed labor of elephants to transport of teak lots to the construction site free of charge.

Lekaing monastery was built with 214 teak posts. The donor recruited 20 sculptors led by Saya Hman Gyi from Mandalay to curve sculptural works to be decorated at the monastery. The monastery installed with eight ladders was formed with the tier roofed building, Sanu building, the main building, and the Bawga building. Now, the main building and Bawga building can be seen in good conditions while the tier roofed building and Sanu building collapsed.

Ancient Monastery in Minbu-Saku region

Ancient Monastery in Minbu-Saku region

The walls of the monastery from the south to the north were decorated with sculptural works in plots of Buddhology. A lacquerware Buddha image is kept in the monastery till today. Tombs of donor U Anthony and relatives take positions in the west of the monastery.

Among Myanmar cultural heritages in townships of Magway Region, wooden monasteries decorated with Myanmar arts and crafts in Minbu (Saku) Township are damaged in weak maintenance. Only when these monasteries decorated with reliefs and sculptural works in Myanmar architectural style can be maintained for the long run, will these artworks be showed to travelers from home and abroad.

Walls of Saku

The walls of Saku built-in 661 Myanmar era was excavated on 4 September 2019. The 500 meters long eastern wall, the 290 meters long western wall, the 640 meters long southern wall, and the 240 meters long northern wall were excavated but the northwest corner of the wall was eroded by Mann Creek.

The Department of Archaeology and National Museum excavated the five meters wide and seven meters long eastern wall of Saku and found six feet wide 26 bricklayers. Four earthen urns were found near the bricklayers. Bricks of the wall were 13 inches to 15 inches in length, seven to nine inches in width, and two to three inches in thickness.

Minbu-Saku

Wat Thae Lake

Amarapura, three tombs of kings, and Bodaw Phaya

Sagaing Bridge

Amarapura, three tombs of kings, and Bodaw Phaya

By Maung Tha (Archaeology)

Amarapura established in the Konbaung era which lasted from 1752 to 1885 AD has been distinct as an old royal palace of Myanmar till today. Heritages in the Konbaung era such as U Bein Bridge, Pahtotawgyi, Naypukhan Buddha Image, Kyauktawgyi Buddha Image, Shwekyetyet, and Shwekyetkya located in Amarapura Township are crowded with travelers. However, most of the travelers do not notice the tombs of three kings in the Konbaung era in Amarapura.

Amarapura City became a royal palace in the Konbaung era two times—once in the reign of King Badon from 1783 to 1823 AD and another in the time of King Thayawady from 1837 to 1857 AD.

At present, Amarapura is included in Mandalay District of Mandalay Region, sharing a border with Mandalay. Amarapura Township on 80.11 square miles of land is formed with two towns as Amarapura and Myitnge, two wards, and 170 villages from 42 village-tracts.

The township shares border with Patheingyi and Pyigyidagun townships in the east, TadaU and Sagaing townships in the west, Singaing Township in the south, and Chanmyathazi Township in the north.

Amarapura, the native of Pariyatti treatise compiler venerable Ashin Janakabhivamsa and venerable Mogok abbot U Vimala who established a large number of Mogok meditation centers across the nation, is famous with masterpieces of silk industries and weaving production.

King Badon who established Amarapura City

King Badon called Bodaw Phaya, as well as Maung Waing, was one of the sons of King Alaungmintayar. After assassinating nephew King Sinku, King Badon came onto the throne in Inwa on 11 February 1782 and became the sixth king of the Konbaung dynasty.

King Badon drove golden and silver stakes in seven sites for the city, moat, royal palace, Shwegu, monastery, Pitakat chamber and lake on 20 December 1782 to establish the royal palace in Htipaungka area rounded by Taungthaman Lake, Dokhtawady River, Shwetachaung canal, Tatthay Lake and Aungpinle Lake. Starting from 14 January 1783, seven royal buildings were constructed simultaneously. The royal city was formed with 12 gates, 35 turrets, and tier-roofed building on four wings.

King Badon exited Amarapura City from U Hnein Gate on the east wing on 1 June 1783 and went around the city clockwise to occupy it. The king ruled the city as the longest reign in the Konbaung dynasty. The king took Raja consecration at the royal palace in Amarapura on 17 May 1783.

Professor of History Department Sayagyi Dr. Than Tun reviewed Inwa was the best royal palace in upper Myanmar. The move of the royal palace from Inwa to Amarapura caused crises and hardships to the State and the people.

With farsightedness, King Badon ordered to enumerate a State census to address all issues of the country. After collecting number of the households across the nation, data on areas of towns and villages, and several towns and villages were ordered to put them on record on the toddy palm leaves.

Thanks to the census of King Badon, everybody knew there were 1,831,457 population in the mainland and 170,000 in Rakhine and Taninthayi regions, totaling 2,001,467 across the nation.

Record-breaker King Badon (Bodaw Phaya)

King Badon called Bodawphaya, as well as Maung Waing, could break various records mentioned in Myanmar history, according to the book with the title of Searching Konbaung. King Badon in the longest-lasting reign in the Konbaung era passed the ordinary life for 38 years and ruled the country from the royal palace for 37 years. Number of queens, lower grade queens and royal relatives were abundant, breaking records. The king had had 54 queens and wives and 137 offspring in addition to 500 royal relatives.

King Badon possessed the widest area of Myanmar along with the Konbaung era. He contributed to casting the largest bronze bell named Mingun Bell and built the massive Mingun Stupa which was not completed. When he became king, he accepted the longest honorary title with 33 letters in Myanmar language— Thiri Pavara Vijaya Nantayasa Tribhavanaditaya Dhipati Pandita Maha Dhammarajadhiraja.

In classifying the two portions of the Konbaung era, the first one was set from ascending the throne of King Alaungphaya to the time of King Badon till his demise. Veteran journalist U Nyo Mya remarked that the second portion comprised the time of ascending the throne of King Bagyidaw to the time of King Thibaw captured away. The first portion for 66 years in 133- year Konbaung era glittered as the sunrise period and the second portion for 66 more years was similar to the sunset period of the Konbaung era.

Three graves of kings

The mausoleums of three kings in the Konbaung dynasty buried in Amarapura can be seen as urn pagodas. King Badon (1782-1819 AD) passed away on 5 June 1819, Saturday, and his grandson the crown prince buried the remains of the king at the site, northeast of the court in the royal palace on 7 June.

The grave of King Bodawphaya took a position, north of Shwesakar Pagoda southeast of the old royal palace in Amarapura. Anyone can pay a visit to the grave along the circular road of Taungthaman Lake or through the gate to the military unit from the southern gate of the walls. In the 80 by 80 feet precinct of the pagoda based on the 50 feet diameter structure is not the urn pagoda of King Badon. Only the grave with a tier-roofed building at the southwest corner of the platform is for the king. A stone plaque bearing salient points of the king was erected in front of the tier-roofed building.

After King Badon had passed away, his grandson King Sagaing (1819-1837 AD) ascended to the throne. The dethroned king passed away on 15 October 1846 under the care of his younger brother King Thayawady. The remains of King Sagaing were cremated inside the compound of Amarapura Royal Palace.

The brick tier-roofed pagoda of King Sagaing is located on the circular road of the lake in front of Shwelinpin Pagoda in Pyatthatkyi Village, southwest corner of Amarapura Royal Palace. The tier-roofed building of the king faces Taungthaman Lake, in the same direction of the place where his first queen Nanmadaw Mei Nu was killed into the water. However, some experts assumed Nanmadaw Mei Nu was killed at Thayettabin graveyard in Amarapura.

A sitting Buddha image was kept in the pagoda with three arches based on the 20 by 20 feet brick structure in the 40 by 40 feet precinct. A stone plaque bearing the salient points of King Sagaing was erected beside the entrance to the tomb tier-roofed building.

King Thayawady (1837- 1846 AD) who dethroned King Sagaing passed away on 17 November 1846, one month later the event which King Sagaing passed away. His son King Bagan cremated the remains near the time signal drum, northeast of the court.

The tomb of King Thayawady can be seen in the centre of the ancient Amarapura royal palace. Some experts assumed that as the tomb of King Thayawady close to the northward of present Basic Education High School of the military unit was similar to the tombs of royal families in Yadanabon era, the king’s tomb might be rebuilt. Historical researcher Yan Naung Soe (writer Ya Naung, Dwe) wrote the original tomb was supported by four posts on the brick structure with the use of tier-roof.

King Mindon established Yadanabon Mandalay Royal Palace in the late Konbaung era and moved his throne from Amarapura. As such, Amarapura remained an ancient royal palace. Ancient buildings including pagodas and stupas built by King Badon and King Thayawady in their reigns still exist in Amarapura. As heritages and Myanmar cultural evidence in Konbaung era as past images of Myanmar history were preserved in Amarapura, ancient edifices in Amarapura including tombs of three kings in Konbaung dynasty is proving the high value of Myanmar history.

Mt. Tuyin

The Sacred Tooth Relic Tuyin Taung cedi

The Mt. Tuyin

The Tuyin Taung is situated west of Nuaung Oo — Kyaukpadaung motor road about six miles away south-east of Bagan. The motor road goes right up to the foot of the western stairways which takes you up to the hilltop cedi. There is a large lake west of the Turin and Thet Soe Taung range which is called Mya Kan (Mya Lake). On the north-west of Mya Lake, there once used to be an ancient stone building. It is called the Paper Repository or Mya Kan stone building. In the Bagan region the Mya Kan stone building, the Kyaukgu U-min (tunnel) and the Nanhpaya are the only buildings made of stone bricks. The Tuyin Taung plays an important role not only in Bagan history but also in the religious history of the period. Ancient Myanmar historical records say that the Tuyin range is the place where King Alaungsithu in the guise of a thief exhibited his physical prowess and equestrian skill to prove that he was not yet decrepit with age.

The Mt. Tuyin is the northern continuation of Bago Yoma and made up of sandstone and clay of Pegu Series (Miocene). The mountain range occupied 12 to 15 miles length. The Sacred Tooth Relic Tuyin Taung cedi is situated at the northern tip of Tuyin range and Gwegyo Hill is situated at the southern tip. The Tuyin range is magnificently exposed on the Myingyan plane. The region is mainly composed of Obogon Alternations, consisting of rapidly alternating thin beds of sand and clay which is the upper part of the Pegu Series.The Sacred Tooth Relic Tuyin Taung cedi

All who write about Bagan try not to leave out the fact that in the construction of the Shwezigon Pagoda sandstone from Mt. Tuyin was used. Mt. Tuyin acts as a fortified wall affording protection on the East and when the plants and trees on the mountain were thriving in the rainy season the water washed down to fill Myakan (Emerald Lake) and the environs of Bagan were green and verdant and not dry and dusty as it is today. Tamarind trees and Ingyi trees grew in profusion endowing Tuyin Mountain with grace and beauty and it was also a vital factor in carrying out deeds of merit. Stone was quarried and cut from Tuyin mountain and relayed hand to hand by people to the site of the Shwezigon. In relaying the stone the people were lined up three in a row under the shade of huge Tamarind trees along the way. This long column of people must have been vast and one can imagine how verdant these huge trees were to be able to provide adequate shade for the host of people. Furthermore, leaving aside the notion of spiritual power, the very thought that stone from the Tuyin mountain was passed hand to hand by a huge crowd of people lined up in orderly rows is enough to inspire immeasurable happiness and religious wonder.

According to Dr. Ma Tin Win 2009, Shwezigon Pagoda is one of the five monuments built of stone bricks quarried from Tuyin Taung. She mentioned four religious monuments built of Tuyin Taung sandstone in Bagan as follows:

1. The Pitaka Taik or Setku Taik at the foot of Mt. Tuyin
2. The great Shwezigon Pagoda
3. Kyaukgu Umin (Cave) and
4. Nan Hpaya

The Pitaka Taik or Setku Taik at the foot of Mt. Tuyin

The Pitaka Taik or Setku Taik at the foot of Mt. TuyinAccording to Mya Kan lithic inscription, The Pitaka Taik or Setku Taik at the foot of Mt. Tuyin in the 11th Century was believed that it was built by King Kyansittha. Then King Kyaswa and the young generation renovate the building. The pillars are made up of stone bricks and the wall is about six-foot thick. Some parts of the roof are collapsed and the design is similar to the current cathedral. The sandstone bricks are also similar to those of Nan Phaya Temple. The basic structure of windows and arch styles is similar to Nan Phaya but the sculptures are much simple than Nan Phaya. Professor G.H. Luce gave its name Mya Kan Lithic Inscription Library. We regret to know that the sandstone bricks of collapsed royal libraries were used in building roads and dams in 1959.

Shwezigon Pagoda

The great Shwezigon PagodaIn the south-west of residential quarters of the Town Nyaung Oo, on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwady River lies a religious precinct of over seven hundred fifty feet in length, fenced in on all four sides by great thick walls. In the middle of this precinct stands majestically an immense monument of one hundred and sixty feet in width at the base and one hundred and sixty feet in height. This monument is Shwezigon Pagoda of the early Bagan period. The original builder of Shwezigon Pagoda was King Anawrahta (1044-1077 A.D.). Construction was begun in February 1059 but was not finished in his lifetime. King Kyanzittha (1084-1113 A.D.) resumed the work in December 1089 and the Pagoda was completed in 1090.

Throughout its history of over 950 years, Shwezigon Pagoda has been the object of worship and devotion by royalties, nobilities, aristocracies, and common folks. Three factors explain the strength and durability of Shwezigon Pagoda, despite its old age. Firstly that it is a solid type of Pagoda of a bell shape. Secondly that it was built of stones brought from quarries of Turin range. Men were lined up along the distance of seven miles between quarries and the site of construction and hewn stones were hand-carried by a human chain, and thirdly that masons and architects of the Bagan period were skillful and their technique pretty high. So, the Pagoda has been able to withstand all weather and calamities through ages. On 8th July 1975 at 6 pm a severe earthquake took place in Bagan and most monuments were damaged by it. But Shwezigon Pagoda was effected very little (Shwezigon Pagoda Trustees, 1994).

view from Mt. TuyinThe sandstone from Mt. Tuyin was relayed hand to hand and the great Pagoda was built of sandstone bricks from the base to the upper levels of the decorative inverted lotus and the spreading lotus flower. Pieces of cement had been dislodged from the stupa in the violent earthquake of 1975, but repairs were made a certain part of the pagoda was left uncovered for the edification of the general public. A study of this part shows how closely and evenly the bricks had been laid and that unlike other pagodas lime cement was used to lay the bricks. This demonstrates an ancient technique of mixing lime and milk in making and applying cement. The stone for the Shwezigon was quarried from the Tuyin Mountain and bricks made from it according to size. The stone hewn and obtained from the mountain was then conveyed hand to hand by people standing one behind the other in rows of three and the line of people stretched from Tuyin Mountain to the site of the Shwezigon Pagoda.view from Mt. Tuyin

Pyin Oo Lwin or stunning mountain resort in Mandalay Region

Pwin Oo Lwin

Pyin Oo Lwin or stunning mountain resort in Mandalay Region

Pyin Oo Lwin is a popular mountain resort and a scenic hill town in Mandalay Region and has long been a hot-season getaway for local travelers. PyinOoLwin was originally called Maymyo and was a summer retreat during British rule. It is located 3,538 feet above sea level upon the cusp of the Shan plateau and is far 42 miles from Mandalay, an ancient cultural capital or the second-largest city in central Myanmar. It takes over an hour to get there by car or motorbike from Mandalay.

The temperature in the daytime, it is not hot, around 28 degrees, but the sunshine is so strong. PyinOoLwin is home to breathtaking waterfalls, beautiful gardens, and glittering pagodas, as well as many eye-catching scenes that have made it an attractive destination for both local and foreign visitors. PyinOoLwin’s colonial-era architecture still holds the key to the town’s charm and the surrounding area offers plenty to explore, including several wonderful waterfalls, farms, and gardens. PyinOoLwin has become famous for its fresh fruits, jams and wines made from grape, dragon fruits, strawberry, lychee and pineapples. PyinOoLwin is well known for its cool weather and an abundance of seasonal flowers. PyinOoLwin is famed for strawberry fields and several gardening as well as is the dream of every traveler.

PyinOoLwin is renowned as one of the most beautiful hilly towns in Myanmar for its colonial-style houses with large compound, pine trees, unique horse carriages. Knitted sweaters, wines, strawberry jams, and different fresh fruits are popular products in PyinOoLwin Township. The train ride from Mandalay to Hsipaw along the Mandala-Lashio Railway Road is thought to be one of the most exciting routes for the tourists.
The main highlight of it is Gokteik Viaduct. The bridge was built in 1901 and is an absolute masterpiece of engineering. The facility is 97 meters high and 690 meters long. PyinOoLwin hot air balloon festival is held in November yearly but it is smaller in scale to the festival in Tauunggyi, which takes place at the same time on a grand scale. Tourists who want to take home a little taste of the region should visit the PyinOoLwin market, situated at the center of the town where they can buy locally-made food and a variety of traditional clothes.

Most of the globetrotters visit significant tourist attraction spots in PyinOoLwin such as Kandawgyi National Landmarks Garden, Pwe Kauk Waterfall, Dat Taw Gyaint Waterfall, and Peik Chin Myaung Cave. Tourists also come to PyinOoLwin to see colonial-era ancient buildings, explore the living style of local people from nearby villages and observe agriculture and the traditional handicraft industry. A total of 27,405 foreign travelers visited PyinOoLwin in 2019, said an official from the Directorate of Hotels and Tourism. The number of registered hotels, motels, and guesthouses in PyinOoLwin Township has reached 60 with a capacity of 1,542 rooms so far, according to the DHT. Besides, there are many guesthouses that are registered at the township development committee.

“I was given an opportunity to enjoy natural sceneries in PyinOoLwin. I also saw some unspoiled European-style buildings dating back more than 100 years. I was very happy with riding a pony cart around PyinOoLwin. The happiest movement for me was when I observed plantations and met vendors in nearby villages,” a French woman tourist expressed her feelings. Tourists come to PyinOoLwin via Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, NyaungU, Taunggyi, Inle Lake, and Sagaing and proceeded to the Goteik Viaduct and Hsipaw, Lashio and Kyaukme Townships in Northern Shan State by train. With the prevalence of peace and stability coupled with a variety of scenic beauties, ancient cultural heritages, temples, pagodas, icy mountains, and natural beaches, tourist arrivals to Myanmar have increased significantly when compared to previous years.

With its mix of culture, history, and undamaged natural beauty, Myanmar has quickly become one of Asia’s top emerging tourist destinations. Myanmar has emerged in recent years as a top tourist destination in the Southeast Asian Region known for its tourism attractions. Since the country has opened its doors through reform processes in 2011, many tourists have been attracted to its diverse landscapes, rich culture, and heritage. The tourism industry continues to grow in Myanmar, with the skyrocketing number of visitor arrivals to the country on the rise.

Yenangyaung

Yenangyaung Lei Thar Gone Guesthouse

Yenangyaung

Advertisement and brochure of Lei Thar Gone Guesthouse of Yenangyaung Town

Dear Guest,

After touring in Myanmar and enjoying Myanmar’s splendid sights at Lei Thar Gone you might, first of all, enjoy lazing around the pool and admiring the wonderful view from Lei Thar Gone. But there is more to do here.

Visiting the local Market

Don’t miss the colorful local market of Yenangyaung. You most probably will not meet any tourists there. You will be greeted by everyone with a smile and a friendly Mingalaba.

Ask at the reception how to get there, step down the steep stairs behind the pool toilet that takes you to the village. After passing through the gate, take the first turning on the right and follow the crooked sandy lanes for about 30 minutes. You will be greeted by everyone with a warm Mingalaba and a friendly smile. If you get lost, ask people for the market. They don’t mind you taking pictures of them. But sometimes they might also want to take a picture of you!

Go through the modern market building – it even has an escalator! – and enjoy the scenic food market on the other side of the building.

To come back, just get on any three-wheel-taxis (tuk-tuk) that is going in the right direction (like a bus), pay 200 kyats and get off on the main road in front of the Country Motel. Follow the sign (Lei Thar Gone Guest House) It’ll take you about 10 minutes to walk back to the guesthouse. Another option is to hire your tuk-tuk for 2000 kyats and it will take you directly to the Guest House.

Visit the brick factory

While you are having breakfast, you have a wonderful view of one of Yenangyaung’s brick factories. Do you want to have a closer look? Ask for the key to the gate at the reception desk, in case the door is locked. Step down the steep stairs behind the pool toilet. Pass by the roofed pool and you will come to the gate. After the gate turn left, walk down along the sandy lane for about five minutes; lookout for a path that takes you to the brickfield.

The sandy clay is dug out of a nearby mound of earth. It is filled in buskets and carried by women on their heads to the conveyor belt where the bricks are pressed and cut by a simple machine. The bricks then are dried in the sun for a couple of days before they are piled up and a kiln/oven is built around them.

You may watch women carrying the bricks on their heads several meters up.

The kiln is fired by wood that is taken from the nearby scrubland. The bricks are baked for some days, then after some days of cooling down, they are ready to be sold.

Treat yourself to a round of nostalgic golf at the Yenanthar Golf Club

a leftover from British colonial times – but make sure you don’t hit the cows that might be gazing on the green…

The nine-hole round comes complete with clubs, balls, and a caddie plus a couple of hours guaranteed fun. Stop for tea or beer on the way back.

Guided tours

All guided tours can be booked at the reception, one day in advance. The tours can be modified according to your wishes and depending on the season.

Tour 1 – Explore the countryside around Yenangyaung by motorbike

You will be guided by one of our experienced motorbike drivers – passing patrol towers, pagodas, and vast cultivated fields.

Once you are installed on the motorbike you will see – after a short ride – lots of old oil towers. There were hundreds of them in Yenangyaung before World War II. In 1942, just before the Japanese arrived, the British decided to set them on fire – for fear the Japanese would make use of the oil to continue on their way westwards to invade India. The whole British population in Yenangyaung fled to the north of Myanmar and further to India. Later, when the British came back, some of the oil towers were reactivated. There are still many in working order – you may want to stop, have a look and take some pictures, but if there are people around it’s better to ask first.

From the beautiful Taung Komath Pagoda, you have a wonderful view: the Irrawaddy, with huge lush of green fields of onion, sunflower, sesame or peanut – depending on the season.

The driver will take you down to the river and the fields. If you wish you may go up to the Skilia Pagoda. The driver will take you further along the fields and you might even want to cross the river on foot!

Not far from here there is a new Memorial, the Chinese Pagoda, with good information about the history of the war in 1942. The Chinese played a crucial role in this war because they came to help the British and the Burmese, fight the Japanese.

Tour 2

The Irrawaddy River is about 3 km walk and/or motorbike ride from the Guest House.

At the riverbank, the fisher boat will be waiting for you – or will soon arrive and you will spend an hour or two on the Irrawaddy River.

Don’t expect a lot of action on this tour, nor will sitting on the low bench be very comfortable. But the simple pleasure of being on the old rusty boat is peaceful and relaxing! Enjoy observing the locals passing by on their boats, admire the beautiful landscape and watch the birds.

Our western society is constantly on the go and no longer used to waiting, so fishing might sound challenging, but the peaceful river and the age-old rhythmic motions of the fisherman have a very soothing, almost hypnotic effect so that even time spent waiting seems to fly.

Soon excitement mounts as the fisherman start pulling in the net, neatly folding it layer upon layer, expectantly looking for silvery flashes, indicating a small fish in the net, which when found is gently removed and carefully laid in a wet cloth. The whole process is repeated several times, and you are welcome to have a try. All of a sudden, without realizing it, you recognize that you’ve drifted back to the starting point. It’s time to say goodbye, but the good news is: the catch of the day goes with you and MaThu, our chef, will be happy to prepare a tasty dish for you — a perfect souvenir of an amazing adventure.

Tour 3 – Motorbike Safari

Discover authentic Myanmar on this adventurous excursion along the banks of the Irrawaddy to Sale (Hsale). Explore ancient pagodas from the Bagan period. This tour will probably become your most memorable one.

After leaving Yenangyaung the driver follows sandy paths along fields or through the water depending on the season. Passing by pretty bamboo dwellings your first photo stop is at the bamboo basket weaver village Nyaung Pin Thar.

Continue on past fertile fields with laborers wearing khamauk, the typical bamboo hats, see herds of goat and cattle, picturesque little roadside shops and impressive Banyan trees – all part of the timeless scenery. After about 40 minutes you will see the first pagodas that will remind you of Bagan.

In Sale you are free to roam around the hills and discover the three dozen temples; a few have unfortunately suffered the ravages of time. Inside the others, you will discover wall paintings, some with Mahayana’s motives. They are as intricate and beautiful as usually seen only in Bagan. As a bonus there are no entrance fees, no hawkers, no “do not touch” signs. And in the background, the Irrawaddy river is ever-present.

Tour 4 ( Ladies only ) – Visit a local hairdresser and enjoy wellness “Myanmar style”

There was a time, not long ago, when long, black glossy hair was considered the crowning glory of a Myanmar woman and the longer and thicker the growth, the better. A Myanmar woman didn’t allow herself to be seen with hair tousled or tangled. A home-made, natural shampoo provided weekly care & cleanliness. After washing, the hair was always oiled with pure fragrant coconut oil and knotted in place.

The main ingredients of this shampoo are the bark of a shrub known as “Tayaw” and the soapy fruit of the “Kin-Mun Tee”. The plants are soaked, shredded & boiled, then limes are added. This traditional shampoo gently cleanses the hair and is a natural conditioner making the hair soft and easy to comb!

Ready for the adventure?

A tuk-tuk will collect you and take you for a short drive to “Venus, Hair & Beauty”. Meet Ma May Hlaing Oo, owner of the shop and a capable hairdresser, also trained in hair design and cosmetics.

Make yourself comfortable – Myanmar style – on the shampoo & massage bed.

Relax and enjoy the revitalizing massage and the deep cleansing treatment which will leave your hair squeaky clean!

After all that, it’s time for refreshment at the Naing Tea Shop! Enjoy a coffee or tea and a sweet or salty Myanmar snack, freshly prepared right before your eyes!

An absolutely enjoyable excursion with a big portion of authentic Myanmar life included!

Salay Town

Sunset view of Salay from the Ayeyarwady river
Sunset view of Salay from the Ayeyarwady river

Salay Town

During my visit to Salay in Chauk Township of Magway Region, I aimed to observe Salay sculptural Yokesone monastery and facts about great poet Salay U Ponnya. Hence, I did not have adequate time to observe the remaining subjects in Salay. Even though I spent all the time observing the Yokesone monastery, I was not satisfied with missing chances to visit monuments of U Ponnya.

Locations of cultural properties in the Bagan era

Salay is an ancient town filled with cultural properties. Some archaeologists assumed Salay was a place of flourishing Pyu culture. My presentation was not on a point of archaeologist view but of an ordinary traveler.

Salay House

An ancient building called Salay House in the ward of old Salay is used in the tourism industry. A local youth medical doctor bought the house built in 1906 from original owners and created it as a place of services for accommodation and food for local and foreign travelers and as a souvenir shop.

A couple of medical doctors explained to me how to build the house for the resilience of climatic impacts and security measures. At a time when the administrative machinery deteriorated, wealthy persons in Salay were often robbed. Moreover, the couple explained the locations of the sites where travelers should make observations.

Salay House
Salay House Inn seen from the front.

Shinpin Sarkyohla Pagoda

The pagoda is located four miles south of Salay. It was built by King of Bagan Narapatisithu in 1191 AD. It is a medium-scale pagoda called “Sakyohla Pagoda”. It’s a ceiling of the eastern stairway was decorated with mural paintings and masonry works. The medium-scale temples were called “Phayahla” in the Bagan era and named with “Hla” based on the decoration of masonry works.

Sarkyohla Buddha image was magnificently seen as a sitting structure in Gandakuti Chamber. A stone plaque with inscriptions on dorsiventral sides and another one with one side alone were posted near the window in the north of the chamber. Teak posts from the prayer halls on the platform of the pagoda were gilt. There are about 60 public rest houses made of wood outside the walls of the pagoda. A local said that being a famous pagoda, Buddha Pujaniya festivals are held before and after the Buddhist lent period annually when the public rest houses could not give adequate accommodation to the visitors.

In history, King Alaungsithu built five Phayahla pagodas under the guidance of Pantthaku Mahathera. Such a story was mentioned in the royal glass Maha Yazawindawgyi. These pagodas can be seen as Chauk Phayahla in NyaungU, Myepontha Phayahla near Bagan-Shwehsandaw, Kazunboe Phayahla near Minnanthu-East Phwasaw Village, Thagyartaung Phayahla in Tuyin Hill-Taungsun, and Sarkyo Phayahla, four miles south of Salay. I deeply mean the land of Salay is not free from the relationships of Bagan.

Shinpin Labha lacquered image

Shinpin Labha Buddha image in Salay is the largest work of lacquered images in the entire Myanmar. Its structure was the work of the Bagan era in the 13th Century.

The image is 18 feet high, 14.5 feet in width between the two knees and 11 feet thick at the structure of knee structure. In about 1250 Myanmar era when Ayeyawaday River raised the water level, abbot U Budd led local people and members of the Sangha to salvage such an image. I saw a door installed behind the throne to enter the interior of the image. Visitors should pay homage to the image whenever they arrive in Salay.

U Ponnya Pitakat Chamber

Everybody knows that great poet Salay U Ponnya created topics related to Pitakat treatises, astrology, history, medicines and poems in various compositions to improve the Myanmar classic literature. U Ponnya was one of the persons bringing honor to Salay as well as shaking Salay with his astrological forecasts.

I was eager to search a place concerning U Ponnya to be able to see the place where he compiled the classic literature and where he kept his literary works and how it happens now. I saw such a place. I was delighted at the systematic maintenance of the place.

Myanmar figure 26 is labeled on the exterior of the building. The temple designed building was fenced with a concrete wall. Its entrance was installed a double iron door. The left wall of the door was labeled “U Ponnya Pitakat Chamber, repaired on 12-9-61, No 26”.

The inner section was about 15 feet by 15 feet area with 20 feet high roof. While visiting, I was satisfied that the size and design of the Pitakat Chamber do not tarnish the prestige of poet U Ponnya.

Mya Si Kon Pagada
Mya Si Kon Pagada, Nine caves with Buddha images were present below deck.

100-post Sasana Yaungchi Monastery

Thanks to Salay sculptural Yokesone monastery opened as an archaeological museum, Salay is famous throughout the world. The monastery built in the reign of King Thibaw in 1224 ME is a suitable site for travelers on visits.

Likewise, the 100-post Sasana Yaungchi Monastery is suitable for the visit. Travelers can observe Myanmar arts and crafts there because it is older than the Yokesone monastery. The about 150 years old Sasana Yaungchi Monastery was built in the reign of King Mindon in 1228 ME.

The monastery was built with the use of over 100 teak posts. The monastery was installed with works of large lotus flowers at the tier-roofed structures and decoration of floral crafts around the buildings.

Visitors can observe ancient teak cupboards, paintings and post-box depicting works of Buddhological stories. Abbot of the monastery U Pandita patiently showed me ancient palm-leaf inscriptions, folded papers and bamboo ribbed roll of cloth for palm-leaf manuscripts from the teak post-box.

Shinpin Tapetoe Buddha Image

Abbot U Pandita urged me to pay homage to the Shinpin Tapetoe Buddha Image on the opposite side of the monastery. Local people said it was the place where the bodyweight of Princess Manisanda in the history of the Bagan era increased to one penny.

In retrospect, four hero warriors of King Anawrahta achieved victory over Yun troops on the land of Oktha-Bago. The King of Oktha offered up the sacred relic of the royal relatives and princess Manisanda in the same weight of a lion statue.

The princess was under escort of four heroes in rotation from Oktha to Bagan. On arrival at a place, the bodyweight of the princess was heavier than that of the lion statue. The Buddha image was built at such a place. Before paying homage to the Buddha image, I saw a signboard bearing 13th Century AD. The structure of the pagoda is a small replica of Ananda Temple in Bagan.

Pagoda No. 36

Before departure from Salay, I took photos on Yokesone Monastery. During the previous visit, I could not catch smart photos of the monastery due to the sunray.

Moreover, I had one more wish to meet with writer Maung Maung Latt (Archaeology) who is selling souvenirs in the precinct of the monastery. Since my first trip, he had urged me to visit Pagoda No. 36. He pledged to take me to the pagoda if I had to visit there. But I missed the chance of visiting there due to a shortage of time.

This time, I asked him for ways to the pagoda and went there. The pagoda is located in the north of the Yokesone Monastery and southeast of Salay Fertilizer Plant. It needs to walk some 100 yards to the east of Chauk-Salay road. It is a small temple facing the west. A sitting Buddha image damaged with detached pieces of concrete is in the temple.

I saw good conditions of a mural painting on the wall above the Buddha image. Some experts assumed that the picture in the painting did not depict the Buddhology. In assessing the painting, they assumed that it was a culture earlier than the Bagan era.

I think that those adoring the ancient culture wish to systematically preserve such places for works of ancient fine arts.

The aforesaid topics mean the suitable sites for observation of travelers on my trip to Salay. I admitted these topics could not comprehensively depict the image of Salay but I firmly believe they would be bits of help for visitors.

Salay Town
Salay Town Entry Signboard

Seeing Popa Taungkalat from Mount Popa

Mount Popa
Mount Popa

Mount Popa

Trekking in forests, seeing Popa Taungkalat in the clouds, guarantees life-long memories by Chantha (Meiktila)

With the first two or three rainfalls of the monsoon season, the high temperatures in central Myanmar have fallen and residents are at last feeling some relief from the heat. The early rain during the monsoon season reminds me of my annual trekking to Mt. Popa in central Myanmar.

I started to make preparations, including for my motorbike and cameras and called my colleagues, who have also fallen in love with trekking.

This year is the fifth consecutive year that I am going on a trekking trip. I still remember my first experiences, five years ago, of trekking to the peak of Mt. Popa, which is 2417 feet high.

I believe that a trekking mountain makes me healthy. Another reason why I went trekking is that I can take photos that are different from our daily scenes. Being a photographer with the Meikhtila District Information and Public Relations Department also encouraged me to make the trip.

It was in the rainy season about five years ago that I took my first trek to Mt. Popa, along with members of the Meikhtila University Hiking and Trekking Association.

To see the idyllic view of Popa Taungkalat or volcanic plug, which is mistakenly known as Mt. Popa from the mountain, has become a lifelong memory. Clouds are floating under us and around the Popa Taung Kalat.

It was on 15 June 2019 that I set off on my fifth consecutive trip, along with six colleagues, leaving Meikhtila, which is some sixty miles from Kyaukpadaung where the mountain is located. We left our motorcycles at the foot of the mountain and went trekking in the forests, continuing to the peak of Mt. Popa.

I have no words to express my feelings as I walked in the forests in the cool weather, especially for me, since I had been living in hot weather throughout the summer.

During my fifth trip, I noticed that the number of trees was decreasing. Maybe, I think, because of forest fires, which occasionally happen there. We also did not see butterflies, which are believed to be rare species in the South East Asia region and are facing extinction.

But, we did find birds making nests in rocks on the mountain.
After two hours of trekking, we reached the retransmission station of the Myanma Radio and Television, which is about 30 minutes trekking from the peak of the mountain. We stayed there for one night.

“Vegetables are ready for dinner,” one of my colleagues cried, and in his hands, he held tender roots and leaves he found in nearby forests. Trekking over two hours, and eating fresh and tender roots and vegetables with fish paste, gave us appetites.

The next morning we proceeded to the peak of the mountain, located 4081 feet above sea level. We also did not miss the chance to visit a pagoda at the top of the mountain. The wind blew very strong, while we were standing near the crater of the extinct volcano. Visitors have tossed coins to the bottom of the crater, which is believed to be 2000 or 3000 ft deep. I thought I would go down into it on my next trip.

Winter is also a favorite season and trekking in the cold weather attracts students and tourists.

The Popa area is well known as the oasis of the arid region of Myanmar. There are rare species of flora and fauna in the forests of Mt. Popa, which is an ancient volcano that sits beside a huge 737-meter dramatic-looking volcanic plug.

Mt. Papa has always welcomed local and foreign travelers, including botanists and biologists, to enjoy the natural environment and considerable biodiversity.

Popa Taungkalat
Popa Taungkalat

The Mandalay Royal Palace

The Mandalay Royal Palace

The Royal Palace of Mandalay

Myanansankyaw Golden Palace by Maung Tha (Archaeology)

Those who have visited Mandalay royal city could see Myanansankyaw Golden Palace built in the royal city and could take pride in royal traditions and buildings of Myanmar. Royal buildings including Myanansankyaw Golden Palace where two kings of the Yadanabon era resided in the late Konbaung era before Myanmar lost its independence are heritages to foster the patriotic spirit of Myanmar.

Myanansankyaw Golden Palace is one of the cultural heritages of royal Myanmar. As architectural works of Myanmar royal palace and various kinds of culture are collectively showcased, homegrown and international tourists observe these items daily.

King Thayawady called King Shwebo (1837-1846 AD) came onto the throne in Inwa. One year later, he established Amarapura City and moved his throne there. In 1840, Amarapura Royal Palace was completed. King Thayawady named the royal palace as Aungmyesanya, and the golden palace tier-roofed building as Shwenansantha. King Bagan and King Mindon also resided at the golden palace. However, King Mindon resided at Amarapura in 1853, and four years later, he established a new city Yadanabon.

New Yadanabon City which would be renowned as Mandalay was rounded with the border embankment in the east, Ayeyawady River in the west, Dokhtawady River in the south and Madaya River in the north. The area among them was selected by King Mindon himself. The land preparation for the royal palace started on 12th waxing of Nadaw, 1219 Myanmar Era (27 November 1857), Friday.

On 16 July 1858 when Yadanabon Royal City and Royal Palace had been built, King Mindon and the First Queen entered the Royal Palace through Myay NandawOo Stairs by jewelry palanquin. The same day, the white elephant captured by Thaungthut chieftain arrived at the royal city by the raft.

Before the reign of King Mindon, respective thrones were positioned at relevant buildings of the Golden Palace. Although there were eight kinds of thrones, the palace had two Thihathana Thrones. That was why the number of thrones at the palace hit nine. Thihathana Thrones were placed at the ground tier-roofed building and the royal court respectively. Although some records mentioned that all nine thrones were built in the reign of King Bodawphaya, veteran historian Dr. Than Tun wrote that all kinds of thrones were built with the use of golden and silver construction equipment on 7 May 1858 at the same time.

The Mandalay Royal Palace

The Golden Palace established by King Mindon was formed with 32 royal halls in the east, four royal halls and 78 halls for queens at different levels in the west, totaling 114. The king named the royal city as Laykyun Aungmye and the golden palace as Myanansankyaw.

The brick building of Nanmyint hall, King Thibaw brick building, Taungpankhontaw brick building, and western ceremonial halls from the western royal halls were built in the reign of King Thibaw. He dissolved the royal golden hall where his father King Mindon passed away, close to the glass hall, and rebuilt it as the golden palace monastery at the foot of Mandalay Hill dedicating to his father.

Yadanabon City was fenced with walls which were 5.03 miles long in total. The city was formed with 144 “Pya” plots, 16 plots of which were built by the royal palace and 128 plots of which were resided by princes, counselors, and wealthy persons. Local people lived in the remaining 54 plots. Veteran historian Dr. Than Tun wrote that walls of the royal city from the east to the west was one mile and two furlongs long and from the north to the south, two furlongs and 88 yards long.

The golden palace built on the 11 feet high brick structure was 1,004 feet long from the east to the west and 574 feet wide from the north to the south. The golden palace was fenced with log walls and 27 feet high brick walls. Each side of the walls had three gates, so there were 12 gates at four sides of the walls.

Three royal ladders were installed for the king and the first queen on the front wing of the golden palace. The east Samok hall was located for princes and staff of the palace to attend the royal conference at the foot of the ladders. The ground Sanuhall was located between the ground tier-roofed hall and the east Samok hall. At the royal conference, the left general, the right general, and chieftains paid respects to the king. The east Samok hall was between the left and right ground ceremonial halls.

The ground tier-roofed hall, west of the ground Sanu hall, was a significant hall with seven tiers and 207 feet in height. Thihathana Throne was placed in the centre of the hall. The whole hall was gilt. Both king and first queen accepted respects paid by followers in the early year, before and after the Buddhist lent.

Zetawun Hall in the design of the facility in the time of the Lord Buddha was built west of the ground tier-roofed hall. Hanthathana Throne was placed in Zetawun Hall, Gazathana Throne in Byetaik Hall, Thinkhathana Throne in Laytha Hall, Migathana Throne in South Samok Hall, Mayurathana Throne in North Samok Hall, Padumathana Throne in West Zetawun Hall and Bamayathana Throne in the glass hall.

Titles of the royal halls were named with essence, and the thrones were decorated with significant artistic works. These thrones were placed in respective halls and the king and the first queen took positions.

Yadanabon-Mandalay city lasted for 28 years from 27 November 1857 to 28 November 1885 due to the occupation of colonialists. Consequently, the royal palace became firewood. In the Second World War, various buildings of the royal palace were burnt in bomb blasts. The golden palace monastery built by King Thibaw at the foot of Mandalay Hill remains unchanged in original works.

In recent decades, the government decided to rebuild Myanansankyaw Golden Palace in the ancient style during the reign of King Thibaw following the records from palm leaves, English-Myanmar records and historical documents to be able to show the firm documents of possessing independence and sovereignty of Myanmar’s kings.

The cornerstones were laid for royal heritages Myanansankyaw Golden Palace on 8 December 1989. It was rebuilt with four tier-roofed buildings at the corners of the walls and Laythein Gate on the northern wall and Oohteik Gate on the eastern wall with seven tiers roofed buildings. A total of 35 damaged tier-roofed structures in wars were rebuilt on 48 ‘PyaOh’ positions on the walls.

Myanansankyaw Golden Palace rebuilt in original style was inaugurated on a grand scale in conjunction with Maha Atulawaiyan (Atumashi Monastery) at the foot of Mandalay Hill on 18 September 1996. Currently, the Nanmyint Tower hall, the eastern halls and the western halls for queens at different levels can be seen in Myanansankyaw Golden Palace in the original style. Visitors may enjoy the aerial view of the royal city from Nanmyint Tower.

The Mandalay Royal Palace

The cultural museum of the Department of Archaeology and National Museum opened at Myanansankyaw Golden Palace showcases records in the Yadanabon era, royal equipment, royal regalia, and documentary photos. Thanks to Myanansankyaw Golden Palace, Myanmar people will embrace the spirit of adoring cultural heritages.

Translated by Than Tun Aung

Reference:

  • Myanmar Encyclopaedia Year Book (1995)
  • Royal Palace built with fences of plots (Natmauk Tun Shein)
  • Dates History of Myanmar, Konbaung era (U Tikkhadhammalankara and Dr. Than Tun)

Taungpyone Nats Festival

Taungpyone

The Taung Pyone Nats Festival

“The maiden’s Taungpyone Festival is around the corner;

Let me accompany with the Myoma musical band to the Festival;

“Hey, brother-in-law”, someone is cracking a joke from behind;

Be patient, fair maiden, it’s a custom, indeed;

“Fair one, hurry back to your home, the toddlers are crying, jests another.”

From: Pyoh Taungpyone
(A maiden’s Taungpyone)
A popular song in Mandalay

Myanmar is a land of pagodas, legends, and myths. In the long span of the nation’s history, almost all the Myanmar great kingdoms flourished and ended in the heartland, and so in a general sense, there is the stronger pull of tradition and folklore in Anyar or Upper Myanmar. And like elsewhere, along the path of the country’s cultural development, elements of folklore and legend have blended into the forms of daily worship of the people.

Look into the home of every Myanmar, and you will find a small shrine in its proper place other than the holiest room reserved for the Image of Lord Buddha. Moreover, in the rural areas where the majority live you will see little shrines beside ponds, under large shady trees and even within the compounds of some monasteries and pagodas. Everyday actions of the common people, maybe subconsciously or unconsciously, are shaped by their beliefs, and these small shrines manifest the undercurrent of folk worship finding expression in various forms of piety.

The Locale

About nine miles north of the Mandalay Hill lies the small Taungpyone village nestling quietly among the green fields. In the east are the hillocks, then the cliffs which recede into the blue rolling mountains of the Shan Highlands, in the west is the Ayeyarwady river with brown barren hills of Minwun range forming the backdrop. And in the village stands a small pagoda bearing testimony to the incidents of yore and the lives and love of the two young princes of Bagan era.

The small village is a perfect setting for whatever you care to call it – folklore, myth or history. Taungpyone area is one of the original places of settlement of the Myanmar tribes, and it has deep roots in the past. According to one school of historical thought, this riverine land called Tonplun Kharuin was the northern advance post of Myanmar facing Nanchao and Tagaung in the north. In 1110 A.D, near the end of the reign of King Kyansittha, the last Nanchao invasion was met and defeated here in this area.

Two Strangers

Oral tradition has it that two young Indian brothers, probably after a shipwreck, landed somewhere on the coast of Lower Myanmar at the time of Bagan period. Clinging to a circular piece of flotsam, the two brothers were known as Byat Wi and Byat Ta, the names being derived possibly from Byat which in native tongue means the circular tray, and in this case the lifesaver for the two strangers.

After being cared for by a monk the two young brothers by happenstance came to possess miraculous physical powers when they ate the flesh of a dead Zawgyi or alchemist, whose sweet-smelling shell of the corpse was the size of a young baby. The elder brother Byat Wi was involved in a love affair at Thaton or Thuwunnabumi that led to his tragic death, so his younger brother Byat Ta escaped to Anyar or Upper Myanmar where the great king Anawrahta was on the throne. While serving the daily duty of offering flowers to the King of Bagan, Byat Ta fell in love with Mei Wunna, the flower eating ogress, at Mount Popa. She bore him two sons, Shwe Phyin Gyi and Shwe Phyin Kale, who in time became dashing young courtiers of the court.

Knocking the Steely Heart

Taungpyone was a breadbasket for our ancestors, and it is still handing down its fertility to the present. Now, the villagers are mostly cultivators, and to augment their income fish ponds are also raised. Shwe Phyin Kale, the more aggressive younger one, had a crush on a village beauty named Mei Oo, whose husband was far away plying the timber rafts. Working daily at her hand-loom, she waited patiently for her beloved husband but instead came the wild advances of Min Kale. In the end, however, the young prince found himself knocking in vain the steely heart of the virtuous Mei Oo. After tragedy hit them both in their lives they became Nats or spirits sitting pretty in their own domains.

The Two Missing Bricks

When you enter the Taungpyone Hsu Taung Pyae (Wish-Fulfilling) Pagoda from the eastern entrance, you will find a hollow space for two missing bricks overhead in the inner side of the arched entrance to the chamber of the Image of Lord Buddha. When King Anawrahta built this pagoda he ordered all his courtiers to contribute a brick each to his royal merit, the two princes, however, seemed to be away on their escapades.

Consequently, the two wayward brothers failed to contribute the two bricks in time, and the King ordered that the two young brothers were to be duly punished. But the royal underlings, perhaps with a touch of overkill, threw the book at the two brothers by executing them. And they became the powerful Nats or spirits. The event bears a painful testimony to the tragic lives of the two princes.

The Festival

Come the month of Wagaung (August/September) every year, the streams and rivers are swollen. Overhead the sun and the clouds play hide-and-seek as the hot humid breeze blows in from the south. The little village becomes alive as it holds the week-long annual pagoda festival of Hsu Taung Pyae, commonly known as Taungpyone Nat Festival. And the nearest point of eminence from where you can watch the faithful and the revelers coming to pay respects is from the top of the Mandalay Hill where you can also enjoy a bird’s eye view of the whole flat plain.

At the height of the festival, a long line of vehicles ranging from deluxe saloons to World War II vintage buses moves haltingly along the narrow road that leads to the village. Revelers, some on the roofs of various vehicles and some at the back foot-boards, crack jokes at each other hurling such homespun epithets: mother-in-law at the elderly women, brother-in-law at the young men and at the fair maidens – how come they visit the festival leaving the crying toddlers behind.

The Nat festival reaches the climax on the fourth day when the faithful observe the bathing ritual of the two Nat princes, in the past the nearly life-size statues of the princes were carried on palanquin followed by a train of the procession to the Shwe Ta Chaung stream (the Golden Stream) which runs close to the west of the village.

Starting from that fourth night the propitiation ritual dances, accompanied by Natchin ritual songs, are performed throughout the night. The true believers convey their wishes through the spirit-mediums who dance in front of the statues in various state of abandon, trance, and possession. Some light-hearted revelers perhaps spurred on by the influence of liquor and by the wild rhythms of Nat music, mimick the spirit-mediums frolicking in their own rapture.

Adjacent to the shrine of the two princes are the makeshift booths of the spirit-mediums with various Nat figurines on the shelf where the faithful come to place their offerings and to hear the spirit-mediums read their future. Around the outer precincts of the pagoda are the food stalls, shops displaying their local wares and Zat Pwe (sone and dance troupes) entertainment serving the visitors throughout the night.

Taungpyone is arguably the biggest Nat festival in the country, so the faithful make it a point to attend the festival annually from wherever they are at that time. And on the last day of the festival, the Fullmoon Day of Wagaung month, the beautiful moonlit night is matched by the mood enveloping the revelers, and when dawn breaks in the eastern horizon the small village again sinks back into its quiet routine.

Times change and modern life become more and more complex yet the simple faith in these two princes of distant Bagan era makes the faithful come every year with renewed hopes and wishes. After all, in our everyday lives don’t we often live by emotion rather than by reason?

Myanmar Images and Memory by Yay Chan (Mandalay)