The Road to Mandalay: Inwa, Mandalay City and the Festival of Light – 7

Demonstrating the substantial girth of a teak pillar at Bagaya Kyaung Monastery
Demonstrating the substantial girth of a teak pillar at Bagaya Kyaung Monastery

ABOARD RV KINDAT PANDAW – Inwa, like Bagan and Mandalay, and now Yangon, is a former capital city. It seems that country’s kings had a habit of building new ones, so the decision of the country’s former military government to build a new capital city at Naypyitaw, continues a long tradition.

When we disembarked in Inwa (called Ava during colonial times) around 8:30 a.m. we promptly boarded horse carts — our fifth mode of transportation so far on this cruise (river vessel, coach, tuk tuk, foot, and now horse cart). We trotted along dusty, bumpy roads first to Bagaya Kyaung Monastery, a dark masterpiece of intricately carved teakwood surrounded by rice fields. Here the teak pillars supporting the roof are so large, Stu could just manage to reach around one and touch fingers.

Entrance to Bagaya Kyaung Monastery
Entrance to Bagaya Kyaung Monastery

Next, we stopped at Yedanasini Pagoda, a ruin beside the road, where we were surprised to discover a large stone Buddha in a roofless temple.

At Maha Aungmyne Bonzan Kyaung we had to stoop as we walked through narrow passages in a dungeon, where many princes were imprisoned before being murdered. We couldn’t help but observe that Burmese history seemed as bloody as English history. Our final stop here, Nan Myin Tower, the only remaining building in the 19th century palace complex, was damaged in an 1839 earthquake and now leans at an angle reminiscent of Pisa’s more famous one.

Our 5th mode of transportation on this cruise
Our 5th mode of transportation on this cruise

Returning to our vessel in time for lunch, we moved upriver to Sagaing where a coach picked up passengers and our guide for a tour of Mandalay. Skipping the Mandalay Palace that was totally destroyed during WWII and rebuilt during the 1990s, we opted instead for Shwenandaw, or Golden Palace Monastery. This intricately carved teak building was once completely gilded and located within the palace complex. It was moved out of the palace because it displeased the king, and thus it is the only original palace building extant.

It happened to be Full Moon Day, always a holiday in Myanmar, and this time coinciding with the annual Buddhist Festival of Light, so shops were closed and many local families were out visiting the sights, making for larger than normal crowds.

U Bien’s Bridge at sunset; Lake Taugmyo in Amarapura
U Bien’s Bridge at sunset; Lake Taugmyo in Amarapura

This was particularly true late in the day as we headed for Taungmyo Lake in Amarapura, just south of Mandalay City. We came like many visitors and locals for lake-spanning U Bein’s Bridge, said to be the world’s longest teak bridge. Arriving near sunset, we took boat rides on the lake for views of the bridge, and then toasted the beauty with drinks provided by “Jack,” Kindat Pandaw’s barkeeper.

On our ride back to our vessel we past many homes with candles and other lights displayed in observance of the Festival of Light. There were also fireworks aplenty. A long and rather tiring day concluded with a performance of traditional Myanmar dances on the upper deck after dinner. Sleep came quickly.

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