Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Mandalay - Buddhas, Temples and Pagodas

From Pyin Oo Lwin, we drove to our very nice hotel in Mandalay, where we required the assistance of a man with a big wooden pole to help us get the truck in underneath the mass of low hanging power and phone cables.

Our first day here was packed full of sightseeing, so I will cover it in three posts.  We'll start with the Buddhas, temples and pagodas.

Mandalay Hill was our first stop.  Supposedly, during his life on earth, Buddha visited Myanmar with his disciple Ananda, and he stood on Mandalay Hill and predicted that in the 2400th year of his religion, a city would be built below.

A statue was put up, with Buddha pointing to where the city would be built, and sure enough, bang on time in 1857, King Mindon did just that, with his Royal Palace in exactly that spot.

With a long day of sightseeing to be packed in to the day ahead of us, we had a good excuse for not climbing the 1,729 steps up the hill, and instead we all went up in one of the little mini truck taxis.  At the top we visited the rather impressive Su Taung Pyi Pagoda, originally built by King Anawratha, in 414, but added to over the years.

We also saw the statue of the ogress San Dha Mukhi, who severed her own breasts and gave them as an offering to Buddha during his visit. Buddha was so touched by this gesture that he said the ogress would eventually be reborn as a great king, and it is said that this was King Mindon himself.

One thing that you won't lack on Mandalay Hill - or around most of the temples and pagodas for that matter - is somewhere to buy something.  The whole route is full of little stalls selling souvenirs and flip flops.

I find the commercialisation of the temples a little strange really, and somewhat out of keeping with the religion; the selling of the footwear seems particularly ironic given that we all have to remove our shoes and socks to enter any religious building and are not supposed even to openly carry them.

Helen and Duncan did succumb to a souvenir, a coconut monkey that was really quite good, and he was respectfully named Mindon the Monkey in honour of the old king, and he now bounces about in the back of the truck.

Back down the hill, we headed to the Kyauk Taw Gyi Paya, where there is a very large Buddha made from a single piece of pale green marble.  No one seems to be quite sure how they managed to get such a large bit of marble from the hills across the river to this spot, but the one thing the various theorists agree on was that would have taken thousands of men.

Next was the Kathodaw Paya, which houses the biggest book in the world.  It is actually a collection of 729 small stupas, each housing a large stone tablet.

These tablets have engraved upon them the full set of the Buddha teachings. Bonus points to Nic on this one, as he spotted that 729 is not just a random amount, but is 9x9x9, which makes it significant as 9 is a lucky number here.

Our next pagoda was The Shwenandaw Kyaung, a teak monastery that was once part of the Royal Palace.  King Mindon died in the building in 1878, and his successor was sufficiently put off by that, that he decided to have the building moved away from the palace and used as a monastery instead.

It is good that he did, as it is now the only surviving palace building, because the rest were destroyed during fighting between the British and the Japanese in World War Two.

Our final pagoda for today is the Payagi Paya, where the star attraction is Maha Muni, a huge golden Buddha.  Some archaeologists disagree with the timeline, but it is said that this is one of only five statues made while Buddha was still alive.

He sat in meditation under a Bodhi tree for a week while it was made, and was so pleased with the image that he imbued it with his spiritual essence the next 5000 years. It is the most revered Buddha image in Myanmar.  He gets his face polished and his teeth cleaned by the monks daily at 4am.

Originally just metal, the 3.5m tall statue is somewhat fatter than he used to be due to a two inch covering of gold leaf.  Devoted followers buy small sheets of gold leaf and apply it onto the Buddha as an offering. Only the men can do this though because, as in many temples and monasteries, women are not permitted into the most sacred areas directly around the Buddha.

Apparently this is not sexist, it is just that with the monks being celibate, they are worried that a female in the vicinity might be too much of  temptation; why this overpowering allure is more of an issue in just that small space next to the Buddha image I don't know, but it is strictly enforced, as one of the ladies in our group discovered one time.  We are however allowed to watch from a safe distance, or on one of the handy TV screens.

In the same pagoda, there are four remaining bronze Khmer statues from a set taken from Anghor Wat in Cambodia.  Supposedly, you can heal a bodily affliction by rubbing the relevant part of your body on the same part of the statue.  Not entirely sure how this works with the elephant, but probably best not to ask.

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