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)

Innwa – Ava

Innwa - Ava

Innwa – Ava

Innwa, the Renowned Capital by U Thaw Kaung

Of all the many capital cities of Myanmar, Innwa (or Ava), like Bagan at one time, achieved international renown. Even the whole nation of Myanmar became known in England, France, and America as the Kingdom of Ava during the early Konbaung period in the 19th century.

Innwa’s History

The origins of Innwa goes back many centuries as it first became the capital of Myanmar not long after the eclipse of Bagan. In 1364 A.D King Thadominbya first founded Innwa at a strategic location where the Myitnge River entered the mighty Ayeyarwady, the lifeline of the country. Twenty kings ruled in Innwa for over 200 years during this first period.

Throughout various wars and conflicts, it remained as the capital of Upper Burma for several centuries, off and on. Among all the capitals of Myanmar Innwa was the capital for the longest period. Even during the time when the capital shifted to Taungoo and Hanthawadi (Bago), Innwa remained an important cultural center for the Myanmar people.

After the glorious period of Kings Tabinshwehti and Bayinnaung, Innwa became the capital for a second time from 1597 A.D when King Bayinnaung’s son King Nyaungyan left the Lower Myanmar capitals to go back to Upper Myanmar. Ten Kings ruled there for over 150 years during this second period.

There was a brief period in 1752 when Innwa was occupied by the Mons of Lower Myanmar, but King Alaungphaya soon re-establish the Myanmar Kingdom at Shwebo, and his son King Sinbyushin in 1764 shifted back the capital to Innwa. This was the third time that Innwa became the capital.

Although the capital was moved to Amarapura nearby in 1783, King Bagyidaw soon shifted it back to Innwa in 1822, for the fourth and final time.

It was during the time of these Konbaung Kings that Innwa became renowned far and wide. Even after the capital was shifted to Amarapura, Myanmar was still called the Kingdom of Ava by many foreigners. The royal court was also known as the Court of Ava.

After the first Anglo-Burmese War, when King Tharawaddy came to the throne in 1837, Innwa was finally abandoned as the capital city in 1841.

Why was Innwa the capital for such a long time? This question can easily be answered when we look at a map of the area. First, it is on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwady, the lifeline of Myanmar. The river was also the main “highway” as boats and small ships were the only means of transportations from Upper to Lower Myanmar until colonial times, when railways and motors roads were first built.

Secondly, Innwa is located in an important military strategic position, with the natural defense boundaries of the Ayeyarwady River on the west, the Myitnge River to the north and the Myittha River to the south-east. The early kings of the Innwa cut a channel to join the Myittha and the Myitnge rivers and thus made the surrounding area of Innwa into an artificial island.

Thirdly, Innwa at the mouth of the Myitnge River has access to the rice bowl of Upper Myanmar, the area around Kyaukse where rice had been grown since pre-Bagan times.

The name Innwa means in the Myanmar language “the mouth of the lake” or “entrance to the lake”. At one time there were nine natural lakes around Innwa, and the first founder of the capital had to fill in four lakes to establish the city.

Some scholars say that Innwa comes from the Myanmar word “A-Wa” meaning “entrance” or “mouth” as it is at the mouth of the Myitnge River. But some scholars think that the original name was “Inn Na-Wa” or “Nine Lakes” from the nine lakes that were in this area.

Innwa Today

Today, Innwa is a peaceful, pleasant, small town, easily reached by car or bus from Mandalay. As it is on an island visitors should cross over on ferries the Myitnge River or the main Ayeyarwady River from Sagaing. The shortest route is to go by road from Mandalay ten miles towards Sagaing and about a mile before reaching the Innwa Bridge to take a beautiful tree-lined avenue to the left. After about half a mile the road ends at the small ferry point. Cars can also be ferried across. But the most delightful way to see Innwa is to cross by the boat ferry and take a pony cart on Innwa.

The old palaces and residential buildings are all gone, but massive brick walls and tranquil moats remain. See the Gaung Say Daga near the Ayeyarwady: from there you have scenic views of Innwa Bridge and the Sagaing Hills.

Visitors should not miss seeing the famous Maha Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery, built by Queen Me Nu, the Chief Queen of King Bagyidaw, in 1818 for the famous Nyaung-gan Sayadaw, U Po and later the learned U Bok. Incidentally, this queen was the grandmother of our last Chief Queen Supayalat. Unlike many of the old monasteries of Myanmar, this monastery is not built of teak wood but is a stucco decorated brick building.

Near this monastery is the Htilaing-Shin Pagoda, built by King Kyansittha of the Bagan Dynasty. There are several other famous pagodas like the Lawkatharaphu and Laydat Gyi Pagodas in the southern part of the city. Like Bagan, only the pagodas and the monasteries remain. Old wooden carvings at Bagaya Monastery are very beautiful.


The only building left from the old palace buildings complex is a brick and teak watchtower called Nanmyin Watch Tower, 27 meters tall. At one time it was popularly known as the “Leaning Tower of Innwa” because an earthquake of 1838 tilted it to one side but in recent years the tower has been renovated and straightened out. The Department of Archaeology has carried out numerous restoration works at Innwa in recent years.

Unlike Mandalay and some of the other royal cities of Myanmar, Innwa’s city walls do not form a square or rectangle, of regular shape. As the city was a capital for a long time and as various Kings enlarged its area, the city walls form an irregular shape which some people have compared to that of a Chinthe, the mythical lion statues that are found in front of Myanmar Pagodas.

The classical name of Innwa is Ratanapura,the city of gems“. Even though the grand palaces and the powerful kings are no more, Innwa is still a precious place, a place renowned in Myanmar history and one that will provide a rewarding memorable visit.

Amarapura

Amarapura

Amarapura

Amarapura and the Immortal Beauty of Lake Taung-tha-man

I love to visit Amarapura, the “City of Immortals“, whenever I get a chance. I sometimes spend a few days and nights at the Maha Gandha-yon Monastery, one of the best Teaching Monasteries of Myanmar. This monastery is on the banks of Taung-tha-man Inn (lake), a peaceful retreat that became an important Buddhist center under the charge of Shin Zanakabiwuntha, a well-known author of many religious works.

I have been very fortunate in being shown around Amarapura, by another well-known monk author, U Pyinnya, who is a friend to all writers. He has become the historian of the area around Lake Taung-tha-man and his book Places of Historical Interest Around Taung Tha Man Lake in Myanmar, with an English translation by Prof. Dr. Than Tun, won a National Library Award as the best non-fiction work in the arts and humanities for 1996.

The best time to explore Amarapura is early in the morning or in the evening, as it is best done on foot walking around to various places, some being a few miles apart.

You can easily visit Amarapura from Mandalay which is only 7.5 miles to the north. The locals sometimes refer to the modern town of Amarapura as “Taung-myo” or the “Southern City” as it is to the south of Mandalay, now the urban sprawl of Mandalay has merged with this adjoining town to the south with no clear boundaries between them. Amarapura has been referred to as the “Southern City” even before Mandalay was built as it is to the south of “Mandalay Hill”.

Amarapura was the capital city twice during the Konbaung Dynasty. It was founded by King Bodawpaya in 1782 A.D, as the king transferred the capital from Innwa (or Ava). King Bagyidaw, a grandson of Bodawpaya, shifted the capital back to Innwa 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, located east of Pyatthat Gyi Village. King Bagyidaw died in Amarapura in 1846 after being de-throned in 1837. These two whitewashed brick mausoleums have inscriptions in English and Myanmar. They are actually small pagodas enshrining the cremated bones of the two kings. There is another smaller pagoda enshrining the bones of King Tharrawaddy who died in Amarapura in 1846. This is located to the north of the Palace Site, tourists can ask the local people to guide them to these mausoleums.

Of the old capital city of Amarapura, only the Treasury building called the Shwe Dike (Exchequer) which later also became a Record Office and the Mmyaw-zin (Tower) popularly known as Nan Myint (High Palace), both masonry constructions, remain. The wooden palace and the many other wooden buildings and monasteries were all dismantled, some being shifted to Mandalay.

Parts of the city walls and the moat can be seen from the road which links this old capital with Mandalay. There are four white pagodas marking the four corners of what was once a lovely city, described by a writer who visited it in its heyday as “a microcosm of Burmese civilization. There were concentrated not only the wealth, fashion and beauty of the country but also learning and scholarship”.

The three-quarters of a mile long U Pein Bridge crossing the Taung-tha-man Inn is one of the main attractions for visitors. It is the longest teak bridge in the world, although a bit rickety in some parts, it has withstood the storms and floods of over two centuries. The bridge is named after its donor-builder U Pein who was a clerk to Bai Sab, the Myo Wun or Mayor of Amarapura when it was the capital city. It was constructed in 1849 from old planks and timber posts of dismantled houses in Sagaing and Innwa. It took nearly two years to finish, but since it was opened in 1851 it has constantly been in use by the people and in recent years by foreign visitors also. There are now 1,086 posts and 482 spans. At nine points, a kind of drawbridges was made to allow the royal barges and war boats to go under the bridge and out to the Ayeyarwady River in the old days.

I have such pleasant memories of crossing U Pein Bridge at dawn with my mentor U Pyinnya telling me historical anecdotes of Amarapura and to see the sun come up over the distant Shan hills to the east. There are five rest houses on the bridge where you can rest for a while and chat or read.

Lake Taung-tha-man used to dry up into a small stream in the summer months when we could cross the lake-bed by car or trek across on foot, stopping at the wayside stalls to buy freshly boiled Indian corn on the cob or to taste the delicious fried shrimp of the lake. In the last couple of years, because of a dam recently completed, the lake is full of water all the whole year round, so U Pein Bridge has to be used, especially if you want to visit the Kyauk Taw Gyi Image and Pagoda on the further, eastern side of the lake.

This Buddhist temple was modeled on the Ananda Temple of Bagan. A Buddha image of Sagyin marble was carefully sculptured in 1830, it is 17 feet 9 inches high and was named Maha Thetkya Yanthi. To house this Buddha image the Taung Tha Man Kyauk Taw Gyi temple was built in 1850. The lovely frescoes near the east and west entrances are well worth studying to get a glimpse of Myanmar architecture, daily life and customs, costumes and hairstyles of the Innwa and Amarapura periods.

After visiting Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda you can walk back across U Pein Bridge and once you get back to the western end in Amarapura, you should not miss the fine avenue of huge Maizai trees (Madhuca longifolia), altogether 95 in number. They were planted by U Kyee and Daw O around 1875. There were 103 trees originally, but eight have perished over the 123 years or so that they have been in existence. The oil extracted from the Maizai seeds is used in soap and in leather tanning. The money received from the sale of these seeds is used for the maintenance of U Pein Bridge. Local people and Myanmar visitors love to sit under these trees as there are many open-air cafes and snack bars.

You should visit in the southern part of Amarapura, the Pahtodawgyi Pagoda modeled on the Mahacedi of Sri Lanka. The foundation of this pagoda was laid by King Bagyidaw and his Chief Queen in 1820. The pagoda was completed in 1824. The base measures 180 feet in circumference and the height also measures 180 feet. The official title of the pagoda is Maha Vijayaramsi. Do not miss seeing the 550 (or rather 547) Jataka stories depicted on glazed plaques around the plinth of this pagoda.

Amarapura has also a number of interesting places that are not connected with Buddhism. There is an old Chinese Joss House, a shrine of an Islamic saint, a Brahmanic statue of Hindu hermit, tomb of a Thai king and an ancient prehistoric Late Neolithic site.

The old Chinese Joss House is located in the Shwe Gwoon Doke quarter, not far from the Lake Taung-tha-man. It is actually a Temple of Kwangyin Si, and its origins go back to the Chinese community of Innwa who first built it there in 1774. It was moved to Amarapura in 1783 when the capital was shifted. The temple was destroyed in the big fires which ravaged Amarapura in 1811, 1830 and 1838, and rebuilt each time. The present temple was finished in 1847, so it is now over 160 years old. There are beautiful old wood carvings in both Chinese and Myanmar styles, and as hybrids, a bridge between the two cultures. The Yunnanese Chinese community of Amarapura and Mandalay maintain this old Chinese temple built during the Myanmar king’s time. You will usually see inside this Goddess of Mercy temple elderly Chinese sipping tea and you can have your fortune told.

The Shrine to the Islamic Saint Arbhisha Hussaini is a tomb which is commonly called Daraga Daw. It is to the north of the avenue of the Maizai trees, west of the Red Pagoda (Phaya Ni or Shwe Muttaw) and east of the wards called O-daw and Hmite Su. This Islamic Saint was born in 1776 and came to Amarapura in 1795 at the age of 19. He served the Myanmar king as the leader of the Islamic people but died at the age of only 39 in 1815. He wrote 30 works on Islam. The Durgah was built at this place as he had expressed a wish to be buried in this place of peaceful repose.

The Statue of Kappila, the Hindu hermit, was brought back from Banaras in Central India by a mission sent by the Myanmar king in 1810. The mission returned in 1812 with the statue. It is now kept in the Kyaw Aung San Hta monastery.

In the last few years, Thai visitors have come to see a tomb, an unmarked pillar made of bricks in Lin Zin Gon cemetery. The local people for generations have said that this is the tomb of an ex-king of Yodaya or Ayuthia. According to an illustrated parabaik in the British Library, this ex-Thai King was wrongly identified as King Ekat’at. But actually, this Thai king in King Uthumphon who abdicated and became a Buddhist monk. His elder brother then became King Borommaracha or King Suriyamarin, the last king of Ayuthia. The second last king, King Uthumphon, is known as “Chaofa Dawk Madua” (King of the Fig Flower). The Myanmar chronicles refer to him “Sawbwa (Chaofa) Dawk To”. When Ayuthia was sacked on 7 April 1767, the last king died, but the second last king who had become a Buddhist monk was brought back to Myanmar and he lived as a monk for nearly 30 years among the Thais at Ywa-htaung on the outskirts of Sagaing. He related his sad experiences and they were all recorded in Myanmar. When ex-King Uthumphon died in 1796, he was cremated in Lin Zin Gon cemetery in a befitting manner. His bones and ashes are supposed to be enshrined in this tomb-pillar. You can see it today, near the western end of U Pein Bridge.

Lake Taung-tha-man is indeed a very ancient site of human habitation in Myanmar, this was revealed when an old Neolithic site was found in on its banks around 1970 by the monk scholar U Pyinnya. The archaeology Department excavated the site twice in 1971 and 1972, unearthing human skeletons buried together with decorated pots, usually placed between or around the legs. This site is located on the banks of the lake between the Maha Gandha-yon and the Aung-gyin Shitper monasteries.

The name Taung Tha Man is taken from one of the four ogres who lived in this area near the east bank of the Ayeyarwady River. According to the legend, the Buddha visited the Sagaing Hills to prophesy that Buddhism will flourish in this region. At the request of 99 ogres living in the Sagaing Hills, the Buddha also visited the four ogres, Nga Taung Tha Man, Nga Taung Myint, Nga Taung Kyinn and Nga Taung Pyone who lived on the eastern side of the Ayeyarwady River. The Buddha received their homage and food offerings and made a prophecy that they would eventually be reborn in this area as kings and build cities named after them. Amarapura which is a Pali title meaning “Immortal” was the new city title for Taung Tha Man and its environs when it became the capital.

There are many other interesting and historical places in Amarapura. It is now a satellite town on the outskirts of Mandalay easily reached on the road from Mandalay to Sagaing, across the Innwa Bridge. There is a thriving weaving industry specializing in colorful cotton and silks. You can visit the Saunders Weaving Institute founded in 1914. Silk textiles are on sale in some of the weaving centers at very reasonable prices.

Visitors should not miss the newly built Bagaya Monastery on the left side of the main road as you enter Amarapura. This is now a grand museum, rebuilt in its original style, housing hundreds of Buddha images and other antiquities. The lower floor is a Pitaka taik or Library for old palm-leaf and paper parabaik manuscripts.

I enjoy walking around to view the immortal beauty of Lake Taung-tha-man, with pagodas and monasteries and other places of interest on its banks. The Myanmar people of Amarapura welcome visitors from far and near. Come for a visit soon.

Amarapura

First Seven Structures of Mandalay Palace

Structures of Mandalay Palace

The First Seven Structure of Mandalay by U Thaw Kaung

On 13 January 1857 King Mindon (1853-1878) issued a Royal Order to move the capital from Amarapura to Mandalay which was to become the last seat of the Myanmar royalty.

Although the order to shift his royal city to Mandalay was issued in 1857 it took a little over a year to begin the actual construction as a lot of preparatory work had to be carried out for such a big task. Mandalay is the well-planned city with straight roads crossing each other at right angles. It was only on 22 May 1858 that the foundations of the first seven structures were laid all simultaneously on that same auspicious day in ceremonies attended by the ministers and the people. These seven structures were;

  1. The Royal Palace
  2. The Moat and Wall for the Royal City
  3. The Royal Monastery – the Atumashi (Maha Atula Wayan)
  4. The Royal Pagoda – the Maha Lawka Marazein or the Kuthodaw
  5. The Royal Congregation Halls for Buddhist monks – the Thudhamma Zayats
  6. The Royal Library – Pataka Taik Taw
  7. The Royal Ordination Hall – Thein Taw

The seven structures were all auspicious buildings and appurtenances of Myanmar Buddhist kings and even from King Bayinnaung’s (1551-1581) time they had been constructed to mark a Royal Capital.The Royal Ordination Hall - Thein Taw

Mandalay took her name from the Mandalay Hill, but during the Myanmar king’s time, her official title was “Yadanabon” meaning a heap of jewels. It was the capital for 27 years till 1886 when the British annexed our country and shifted the capital to what was then called Rangoon (or Yangon to give its correct name).

The Royal Palace rose in splendor right in the center of the royal city and protected by an inner stockade built of strong teak posts. An auspicious title was given to the Royal Palace and it was called Mya Nan San Kyaw. It was built on a raised platform of about 11 feet in height, 1004 feet from east to west and 574 feet from north to south.

The grandeur of the Palace was noted by Grattan Geary, the editor of the Bombay Gazette who visited Mandalay in December 1885. He described the beauty of the Palace thus:

“The Hall of Audience is the finest structure of all that goes to make up the totality of the palace. A beautiful pinnacle of wonderful lightness and grace surrounds it…”.

“The Palace consists of a series of pavilions and other buildings, differing in size and detail, but all composed of teak, elaborately carved, and painted red when not covered with gilding…”

“The ingenuity of the designer and the skill of the workmen give variety and interest to every varying detail. There is no monotony, and no straining after the grandiose.”

Between 1886 and 1945 the Royal Palace suffered much degradation. It was turned into quarters for the British troops, some of the best rooms being used as an Officer’s Club.

Finally, at the Japanese retreat, the Allies bombed the palace on 17 March 1945 there was also artillery fire and the whole palace complex built largely of inflammable timber went up in smoke.

Out of the 114 buildings which existed in 1886, 89 buildings were reconstructed. The reconstruction work was completed on 18 September 1996. Now the Myanmar people and foreign visitors can once more view the palace buildings as they once stood.

The Moat with a width of 225 feet and 11 feet in depth has been completely dredged and concrete embankments constructed on all four sides. It is fed by a stream called Yadana Nadi, now popularly known as the Ye-ni Myaung. The repairing of the moat was completed in 1995.

A battlemented brick and mud mortar Wall surrounds the square-shaped central Royal City with about 10 furlongs in length on each side. It is quite a high wall of 25 feet backed by an earthen rampart. On each side of the wall, there are three gates, all at equal distances from each other. These 12 gates are surmounted by Myanmar Pyatthat (many-tiered spire-like wooden roofs). There is also a Pyatthat at each corner of the wall and 32 small Pyatthats making a total of 48. All the Pyatthats, gates and walls and the five bridges going over the moat have been repaired. The unsightly railway by the British crossing the moat and going through holes in the wall over the sacred ground to Madaya north of Mandalay has now been removed so that visitors can really enjoy the original beauty of the moat, wall, battlement and the wooden Pyatthat roofs on the gates and the wall.

The Royal Monastery is called popularly Atumashi or “the Incomparable”, its official title being Maha Atula Wayan Kyaung Daw Gyi. This magnificent monastery had taken about 18 years to build, and King Mindon, its donor placed his father’s throne there with a huge image of the Buddha adorned by a big 32-carat diamond. As befitting its name it was a most unusual structure, unlike any other monastery in Myanmar. One can see the influence of the West, the wood covered with stucco on the outside and its peculiar superstructure of five graduated rectangular terraces imitating in brick and mortar a kind of Myanmar Pyatthat.

Sad to say that the whole building was razed to the ground in December 1890, a few years after Annexation. An unknown visitor quoted by Scott O’Connor has given us the following impressions:

“It would be no great stretch of the truth to say that it is the finest in the world… The boldness of the general design, the noble proportions of the immense hall, and the great height of the golden roof soaring over the throne… fill the mind with surprise and pleasure. Pillars, wall, and roof are richly gilt, glass inlaying heightening the brilliance.”

The Royal Monastery was huge, 339 feet from east to west, 281 feet from north to south, in height 100 feet. For over 100 years it lay in ruins until October 1994 when it was rebuilt within 18 months and opened on 18 September 1996. The vast hall is now again being used for Buddhist ceremonies as in the Myanmar king’s time.

The Royal Pagoda popularly known as the Kuthodaw was given the official title Maha Lawka Marazein. It was modeled on the Shwezigon Pagoda at Bagan. This pagoda is often called “the largest library in the world” because it is surrounded by 729 small stupas each protecting a stone slab inscription, the total 729 lithic inscriptions comprising the whole of the Buddhist canon, the Tipitaka as checked and approved by the Fifth Great Synod which King Mindon convened to mark the 2,400 years of the Buddhist Era. This unique collection is often consulted by Buddhist scholars from all over the world. From September 1996 renovation work has been carried out at this pagoda, to repair the covered ways and a new covered Zaung-dan built to the south. Also, marble slabs have been laid on the Pagoda platform, the wall enclosures repaired, the small stupas repainted and so on.

The 18 large, open Royal Congregation Halls, the Thudhamma Zayats built of teak wood, can be seen to the north of the palace compound, near the foot of the Mandalay Hill. They are still in a fairly good state of preservation as they have been repaired every now and then.

Of the seven structures built to mark the foundation of Mandalay, not much is known now about the Pitaka Taik Taw, the Royal Library except that it was at the foot of Mandalay Hill near the Kuthodaw. The Thein Taw, the Royal Ordination Hall, has also disappeared. Maybe they too will rise like a phoenix from the ashes one day. Meanwhile, visitors can see and admire the five structures which are now in their original splendor.

Sale Yoke Sone Kyaung

Salay Yoke Sone Kyaung

Sale

Sale, an Ancient Myanmar Town Steeped in Cultural Heritage by U Thaw Kaung

Visitors to the ancient capital Bagan often make a 20 miles trip south to see Sale, an ancient town rich in Myanmar culture.

There is a good metalled road to Sale going through the town of Chauk, a Myanmar oil-producing center. It is a pleasant drive from Bagan for a day trip, traveling across a rather dry countryside dotted with tall toddy palms.

As Sale is also on the great Ayeyarwady River, like Bagan, another pleasurable way to get there is to go by one of the small motorboats available for hire and which usually leave Bagan from the Bu-Hpaya jetty. Sitting in comfortable cushioned chairs you can watch the river crafts on the big waterway, once the only real lifeline of Myanmar, with all the old towns lining its banks.

Some say that Sale has ancient pagoda which dates from the Bagan Period. There are over a hundred ruins around Sale, but unlike Bagan, many of them have never been systematically studied by archeologists and historians. Sale seems to have been developed as a town in the latter part of the Bagan Period and has been a center of Myanmar culture for at least over 700 years.Salay Yoke Sone Kyaung

For the present-day visitors, Sale is famous for its Yoke-sone Kyaung ( a 19th-century wooden monastery ) with exquisite wooden carvings, and also as the birthplace of one of Myanmar’s greatest poets and authors, Sale U Ponnya. In fact, since 1994, the Yoke-sone Kyaung also houses a museum to celebrate U Ponnya’s life and works.

Sale to the Myanmar people is also well-known for its zi-thee, the local plums, these tasty fruits are practical without the large seeds found in plums from other places. The plums are often dried and preserved and sent to towns all over Myanmar because the Sale plums are said to be the most delicious. Sale is also the town that has a fertilizer factory, producing fertilizers for the whole country.

Yoke-sone Kyaung

This old monastery is from the last years of the Konbaung Period, the last dynasty of Myanmar kings. The rich carvings are therefore a good example of Myanmar art from that period.

The DonorSalay Yoke Sone Kyaung

Visitors should know something about the donor U Pho Kyi and about the learned monk U Guna for whom the monastery was first built.

U Po Kyi was born in Taung Tha town to the northeast of Bagan, and although not much is known about his forebears, local scholars think that he probably came from poor peasant stock. He became fairly rich by trading in leather and hides, a trade which at one time was in the hands of Muslim merchants as Myanmar Buddhists were reluctant to do business in animal products.

U Po Kyi started this trade in King Mindon’s reign (1853-78) and was still very much involved in the same trade at the time of the Annexation (January 1886) of Myanmar to India of British Emperor, when personal trading records that he left behind ceased.

Among his personal family records written on parabaik ( paper folding books ), there is an interesting case of dacoity when he was robbed in his house in Sale by armed men, during the time of King Thibaw (1878-85). U Po Kyi left behind records of what the dacoits took from him in 1882 and how he wrote to his influential patron at the Royal Court in Mandalay, Hle-Athin Atwinwun U Shwe Maung, to obtain help from the Myanmar Hluttaw Parliament. Some of the robbers were eventually brought to justice.

The First Presiding SayadawSalay Yoke Sone Kyaung

The leading Sayadaw or Abbot of the Yoke-sone Kyaung Monastery, U Guna, was a leader of the Thudamma Sect, the main sect of Buddhist monks in Myanmar from the time of the Konbaung kings to the present. The Sayadaw was born in 1872 at Kon Saung village near Sale and his personal name was Maung Htaung. He became a monk from the age of 22, and later became the Thudamma Myoma Gaing Htauk Sayadaw, whom King Mindon and his Queen Sein-done Mibaya Gyi personally supported. Queen Sein-done had suzerainty over Sale and Talok towns. She first met Shin Guna in Amarapura while she was still a maid of honor and respected the learned monk all her life. King Mindon and his queen wanted the learned monk to come to the capital and reside in a Royal Monastery, but the Sayadaw did not accept the royal request as he wanted to practice religion as a “forest-dwelling monk” in tree-clad surroundings away from the busty life of the city, and he chose to stay on in Sale.

The rich merchant U Po Kyi and his wife Daw Shwe Thet supplicated King Thibaw for permission to build a big monastery modeled rather like the wooden palace of the Crown Prince with four stairways. The King not only acceded to the request, but he and his queen joined in the merit-making by giving a free permission to cut and take big teak trees from the Royal Forests. The best teak from forests near Rakhine Yoma hills was cut for the 154 big posts which formed the main supports of the monastery. It stretched 152 feet in length by 76 feet in breadth and had seven main rooms. Although the building of the monastery was started in 1882, the Third Anglo-Burmese War of 1885 and the subsequent years of unrest delayed the completion, so that about 12 years were spent in a building. In 1892 in the early years of the British period, the Dedication ceremony to consecrate the monastery was held.

The main rooms of the Sale Yoke-sone Kyaung monastery were:

  1. Kyaung Oo Pyat That, or Front Hall with wooden Pyat That tiered roofs
  2. Sanu Saung, or the Connection Hall
  3. Saung Pu, or the Low Hall
  4. Saung Hla (Beautiful Hall), or Zetawun Saung
  5. Saung Ma, or Yun Saung, the Main Hall
  6. Gone Saung, or Arched Hall (with arched roofs)
  7. A Nauk Saung, or the Back Hall

Salay Yoke Sone KyaungThe whole building is built of wood and is a fine example of the monastic architecture of the late Konbaung Period. Only the four stairways are of brick and stucco. A wide-open corridor goes right round this single-storied building.

The main attraction of the monastery is the decorative wooden panels made by the master carvers of the period whose meticulous workmanship is in many ways superior to those of later periods.

The carvings have a main theme, that of curbing shameful behavior, and sexual desire in order to live a model life as a Buddhist. The scenes usually
illustrate certain selected scenes from the Dhammapada and Jataka Buddhist texts. But there are also some scenes from what Myanmar call Hto-Zat, drama based on fantasy or legends, like the “Story of Ma Shwe U” or “Shwe Lu Wun and the Princess” where a man like bear married a princess.

The beauty of the carvings lies in the naturalness and humor of the depictions, like in the scene where an old lady knocks the head of her old man who is in his dotage. Of course, the background scenes and the costumes are all of the Konbaung Period, and we can see for example a lifelike view of a Yadanabon Mandalay shophouse, a couple offering food to monks, a caravan of bullock carts and so on.

For many years some of the scenes depicted in the carvings have baffled scholars, but now most of the scenes have been interpreted, and they have all fitted in like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into 26 depictions, some stories having up to three panels so that there is a total of 45 three dimensional wooden carved reliefs. They can now be admired as gems of Myanmar carving on the outside of the buildings.

Apart from the scenes from the Buddhist stories, there are also nine figures of Kinnara, a mythical bird with a human head, and by the side of the outer veranda like corridor there are stone sculptures of princes, Zawgyi or alchemists, and ogres carved out of sandstone and put on top of the supporting teak posts. Each of the four stairways are flanked by stucco figures of a mythical animal called naga, like a dragon with an elongated body, the mouths of the four nagas on the north side have their mouths open and the four on the south have their mouths closed, probably to differentiate stairways for going up or coming down.

There are also some fine examples of Buddha images from the Mandalay Period like the impressive large standing Buddha completely gilded which visitors can see in the Zetawun Saung.

As part of the U Ponnya Museum exhibits visitors can view the old lacquerware collected from around Sale and displayed on the tables. The ceiling also has some fine carvings. Chinthes, the mythical lions which guard religious buildings and stupas in Myanmar, can also be seen at the main entrance.

Monks used to reside in this building up to about six years ago when it was turned into a museum and put under the protection of the Archaeology Department. A new monastery has been built for the monks nearby.

Sale also has a number of old pagodas and other monasteries, like the Sasana or Lay-thar Monastery which is well worth visiting.

It is said that the Annexation of the country in 1886 and the court case which called in the presiding abbot as a witness were the main factors that prevented the completion of all the carvings because the scenes had been personally chosen by unhappy that he did not complete the carved panels. Sayadaw U Guna left the monastery after the Annexation and went to Lamu-gyi village in Hinthada District in Lower Myanmar where he died sometime after 1897.

In recent years the wooden monastery has been renovated and turned into a museum to honor U Ponnya, a native of Sale and one of the most famous Myanmar poets. The museum is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm daily.

Visitors to Sale can enjoy the delightful wooden carvings of traditional Myanmar art as well as see the exhibits on Sale U Ponnya’s life and works. It is well worth a day’s visit from the ancient capital of Bagan.