Day 8 – Around Mandalay

19 Mar

Breakfast this morning included pancakes, waffles, honey and a yoghurt.  Past trying of the local stuff!  We had been warned that the breakfast buffet might take us 45 minutes to navigate.  Quite a few of the group had given it a good go.

We joined our bus at 8:30am – a late start apparently! We started the long day with a drive south for about 4 miles to the Mahamuni Pagoda, which consisted of a large gong, a huge buddha hidden away in the middle of the complex and surrounded by lots of men (women forbidden!), and a bunch of young novices being inducted into buddhism.  The lippy was obviously not his first choice, but his father was very proud.  We followed the multi coloured procession around the pagoda, and easily blended with the professional photographers, bowls of fruit and coconuts.  Also on show were some large bronze figures – if ill you are supposed to rub the bit of the statue that corresponds to make it better.  A surprising number of stomach issues amongst the local population.  Graham also found it a bit difficult to read the English version explaining all about them.  In summary, nicked from Angor Wat in Cambodia in 1563, nicked by the Thais in 1598, returned in 1784.

Moving back through the throngs of market stalls, selling all sorts of golden buddhas, waving cats, and sticks of thanakha (it’s a tree – the stuff they use as sun/beauty cream), we reclaimed our shoes and socks and found a betel seller.  Using a betel leaf and some lime (the white stuff), she added tobacco some nuts and some other spices, rolled it up and gave it to Tom to chew.  He lasted slightly longer than I might have.  Cassandra was offered a sweet, mostly coconut flavoured version without the tobacco.  Not sure how that went down.  At another stall, I got some sticky rice cakes to taste.  No-one else seemed up for it.

Back on the bus, George’s insights into the strange ways of Myanmar continued.  This time he narrated the story of his cousin, who had to pay a fine for holding the hands of his girlfriend in public.  Woman are well protected in Myanmar!

Moving on, we headed to a marble stone sculptor, or two, or sixteen.  All focussed on carving buddha statues. Not so sure Buddha would have approved of this commercialisation of his image.  Further up the road, they had stone polishers, painters, gold leafers and those that would sell you the finished product for US$500 (not including freight delivery).

Next on the list of industries to visit were the wood carvers and tapestry makers.  With their toes millimetres away from the sharp chisels, the 5 toed workers showed their immense skill in the making of all sorts of decorative wooden objects.

Also today, we saw some more silk weaving, this time not just with shuttle looms, but with some very intricate hand weaving.  Some very colourful items for sale in the shop and I managed to succumb to a traditional longyi.  I’ll need to have some practice tying it!

Driving on, we caught a short ferry to an island in the middle of the Ayeyarwady River.  Short was indeed the key word there.  The only boat so far without life jackets, because you could basically reach the other side of the water with a long pole.  We arrived on the island of Ava (aka Inwa) to a reception from some overly keen woman with all sorts of bangles and trinkets.  We jumped on a pony and trap / horse and cart.  Albery jumped in the back of mine and I managed to sit next to the driver, with the hairiest mole on his neck – ever.  I think I may have been conversing with it, rather than the driver.

Driving around the island, where cars had never been, we saw an idyllic rural setting, with crops being cultivated in the fields and a large number of pagodas and stupas set amongst the rice paddies.

Stopping at the Bagaya Monastery, we had the chance to see the incredible 267 teak posts, some 60 feet high and 9 feet around.  Bare feet on hot teak is not a great feeling, especially when the metal nails are hotter still.  In one, rather noisy corner, a monk was presiding over the neighbourhood’s poor kids learning a religious text by repetition.  Unfortunately, lots of long lens Chinese cameras were inches away from their faces and the monk had to step in with a loud “No Photos!”  Quite right too.  The noise didn’t seem to be disturbing the bats clinging on to the roof.

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Back in the horse and cart, I was now sitting on the back when a young boy jumped on board.  Think he was just looking for a free lift around the island – all the drivers are also farmers and take it in strict rotation to drive the tourists.  He was gone again in a flash.

Next stop was the watch tower – 90m high and rivalling the tower at Pisa due to an earthquake from 1838.  We eventually found the correct side to see the lean, and unsurprisingly it was not available to climb!  At every stop, people were selling stuff, but at this one, artwork was available.  Karen had her eye on a painting and initially bought it, but John persuaded her that another one was better, and I snapped it up.  Technically I had no money, as the currency exchangers were only open when we were touring, but they accepted an IOU until the following day.

Moving on, the last stop on the island was to the Maha Aung Mye Bom San Monastery, known as Me Nu Oak-Kyaung (brick monastery).  With a yellow and black mould exterior, it had a white(ish) cool interior filled with children and monk keen to point out anyone wearing shoes.  Name and shame – that’s the way to do it!  The neighbouring white and gold buildings looked like they had either been abandonded or recently restored.  There is at least a government department responsible for promoting the historical momuments, so, if they have the money, things can only get better!

Before leaving the island, we stopped off for lunch at the Small River (Ava) restaurant for some chicken balls.  A two minute walk to the jetty saw us watching the local laundrette woman bashing the clothes like it was her unfaithful husband.

Back on the mainland, we headed to a monastery containing 1000 monks.  We were met with lots of novices practising their sweeping skills, although they appeared to be sweeping things and never picking them up.  Teamwork is obviously module 2.  Clotheslines full of red robes drying lines the streets of the monastery.  Everyday, donors from all over the country donate food for all 1000 monks, and they can stay overnight within the grounds.  The kitchens and dining rooms were huge.  The largest pots and pans ever seen were used on 8 huge wood fired rings.  Barrow loads of vegetables, and warehouses full of rice were used.  There appeared to be one unlucky sod who was in charge of peeling the garlic.  The monks sit on a raised floor with low tables to eat.  If you want to be a donor of food there is currently a one YEAR wait, it’s that popular.

On a never ending day, we hadn’t yet finished until we visited the famous U Bein Bridge – the longest teak bridge in the world.  It was thronged with pedestrians making the 1.2km walk.  With some shaky boards and no handrails or other method to stop you plummeting to your death (or at least breaking a few bones), we gingerly crossed, trying not to get knocked off by the faster and the far more H&S reticent Burmese.  A flock of carnivorous ducks below were waiting for a culprit to descend.  Half way across, we descended to meet our boats.  The easiest £3 ever earned by the boatmen.  One lap under the bridge and back and then all the boats lined up to await the sunset.

In the meantime, the boatman over from us was showing off his bulge in his longyi.  A cloud of locust like creatures swarmed around us (still awaiting the frogs and the blood) and a dragonfly perched on our oar.  As the sun set, in a bit of haze, the camera filters were put to good use.  Heading back to the shore, the amateur oarsmen were apparent.  I’m surprised that some boats ever got back, with one going in circles.  The crossed oar action was indeed unique and needs more training!

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Driving back to our hotel in Mandalay, we cleaned up and George offered a trip to a real local restaurant – Platinum.  Where “normal” is hot and “hot” requires hospital treatment.  Or 3.5l of lager, served at your table on tap. “Chicken feed” was on the menu.  We presume this was supposed to relate to the chicken feet in the fridge, although feed was probably more appetising.

Back in the hotel, dodging the alure of the neon and LED lit bars, I managed a late night trip to the hotel spa, before conking out on the bed.

The blog can wait …

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One Response to “Day 8 – Around Mandalay”

  1. Linda Johnston March 21, 2017 at 6:32 pm #

    looks amazing Tony

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