Excursion to Mingun and Mandalay in Myanmar

9 October 2014 

Mandalay, in central Myanmar, is an excellent base for day trips to the various interesting destinations all around, and Mingun with its unfinished Pahtodawgyi temple, can be a good choice. Once back in Mandalay, I visit the Royal Palace (the residence of the king during the last Burmese monarchy) and the U Bein Bridge, before immersing myself in the arts and crafts of the local population, which include the production of gold leaf used to laminate Buddha statues and temples.

Mandalay, in the heart of Myanmar, offers the opportunity to do several day trips to visit the many attractions all around, so I board a boat bound for Mingun, a village which lies on the opposite bank of the Irrawaddi river.
Irrawaddi river Mingun
Photos of Irrawaddi river. With its 2170 kilometers of lenght, Irrawaddi is the largest river of Myanmar and is also an important way of communication. The navigation between Mingun and Mandalay takes about 45 minutes and shortly before arrival, what looks to be just an hill with steep sides, are instead the ruins of Pahtodawgyi, a temple that was never completed and heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1839.
Lion statues ruins
The ruins of one of the two giant lion statues in front of the temple of Pahtodawgyi almost completely destroyed by an earthquake.
Pahtodawgyi Pahtodawgyi temple

Photos of Mingun. The construction of Pahtodawgyi temple began in 1790, but the work was suspended once the structure reached the impressive height of 50 meters (one-third of the overall target height). Inside the temple there is just a very small shrine displaying an image of Buddha, where pilgrims come to pray.
Damages from an earthquake
Picture showing the serious damages caused to Pahtodawgyi temple after an earthquake happened in 1839.
Mingun Bell
World's largest bell

Where is the biggest bell in the world? The temple of Pahtodawgyi was supposed to host this huge bronze bell, known as Mingun Bell, which, with its outer diameter of 4.95 meters and a weight of over 90 tonnes, is considered to be the world's biggest bell.
Hsinbyume paya Hsinbyume
The tour to Mingun continues visiting Hsinbyume Paya, also known as Myatheindan Pagoda.
Myatheindan pagoda Myatheindan

The architecture of the Myatheindan pagoda is quite different from that of the other temples in Burma: the facade is painted entirely in white, while the structure has a series of concentric terraces from which you can enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding hills.
The sanctuary in the temple of Myatheindan, where the faithful come to pray.
Fortification Cannon
Once back in Mandalay by late morning, I visit the Royal Palace (Mandalay Palace) protected by a massive fortification.
Mandalay Palace Burmense king family
Myanmar Royal Palace
The complex of Mandalay Royal Palace dates back to the 19th century and was the residence of King Mindon and Thibaw during the period of the Burmese monarchy. The whole structure looks like a miniature Forbidden City in Beijing.
The interior rooms of the Royal Palace in Mandalay, decorated with glass and mirrors.
Mandalay Royal Palace

The external façade of the Royal Palace of Mandalay, also decorated with glass and mirrors.
Royal Palace Museum
In the royal palace there is also a small museum housing a copy of handicrafts owned by the king family.
U Bein Bridge Fisherman
The tour in Mandalay continues visiting the picturesque U Bein Bridge which, with its length of 1.2 kilometers, crosses the waters of Taungthaman lake, thus connecting some villages on the outskirts of the city. The bridge was built during the middle of the 19th century and is known as the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world (many of the side pillars are still original).
Taungthaman lake

Crossing the U Bein Bridge tourists can enjoy beautiful views of Taungthaman lake, where locals are busy in fishing or in accompanying visitors and residents in small canoes.
Silk weaving Weaving of silk
Mandalay is a city of traditional handicrafts, where much of the production is still done by hand in small family run business. In these photos, the weaving of silk.
Painting wooden statue Art of inlaid wood
Mandalay and Myanmar in general, are places known for the art of inlaid wood. There are many small companies that produce wooden objects as souvenirs for tourists or manufactured to be exported across the world.
pearls mosaic painting pearls mosaic paint
A common art in Myanmar is pearls mosaic painting. Works of art such as the ones in these photos, may require 2-3 weeks of work and can cost up to US$200.
Buddha statues
Painting a Buddha statue

Instead, along the street where sculptors live, there are many small companies busy in manufacturing stone or marble statues, mostly of Buddha.
Making gold leaf
Golden leaf
But the real "gem" of Mandalay arts & crafts is the production of gold leaf which is done still manually. On the left picture, a worker is hammering on a sandwich of bamboo wood and bamboo leaf, that contains a very small piece of gold. After hundreds of hits by such heavy hammer, the result is a very thin foil of gold (above picture, showing the gold leaf at different stage of work) later used to laminate any type of object.
Gold in Myanmar Piece of art laminated with gold
The golden leaf, once produced, are applied on a robust bamboo paper particularly smooth and resistant, which preserves the their integrity and which allows them to remain separated when stacked (left picture). The gold leaf are then sold for example to the artists, who will use them to decorate the works produced (right picture).
Gold leaf Stiching gold leaf
In other cases, the gold leaf are bought in temples and monasteries, to be sold to faithful who will stick them to statues and other relics while praying.

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