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Published: November 10th 2017
Day one in Mandalay. We head to the jetty to get a boat across the Irrawaddy to Mingun. The guide book had led us to believe we had to wait for a ferry, but in fact each group of tourists get their own boat. We had a fairly basic boat, but who needs more than a chair and some shade on deck, and no other passengers? The only tricky bit was getting on board. We watched with some trepidation as a narrow wooden plank was laid from boat to shore, and were relieved when the boat crew held a pole to act as a handrail. And in the muddy water below, submerged up to her waist, is a washerwoman who seems to be washing clothes for some guesthouse. She sploshes them in the muddy water, diesel oil making coloured patterns on the surface, a quick beat with a paddle on a rock, and then another rinse. Nice and clean then!
We set off, a cooling breeze coming off the water, and we watch life go by as we sail the Irrawaddy for an hour upriver to Mingun, past the sandbanks and little islands in the river.
We descend on
to the sand and walk along the beach and up through the gauntlet of vendors – though one must say that Burmese vendors are a pretty languid lot – and past the remains of two massive stone chinthe, half lion and half dragon creatures that were broken into many pieces by an earthquake at some point in the past. They were placed there to guard the approach to the never completed Mingun Pagoda. This was designed by King Bodawpaya to be 150m high and started in 1790. In fact only the bottom third was completed and this is what stands today, a massive brick plinth, rent in several places by cracks caused by earthquakes, most latterly in 1790.
We walk past more vendors to the Mingun Bell, one of the world's biggest, that sits there and stares at you. Then there is the tomb/memorial to some important monk chappie, who was a statue of himself on his tomb. To me he is a dead ringer for Eric Morecambe, even down to the specs he is wearing, but maybe that is down to my age.
Back to the boat, clamber back up the gangplank, it is now really hot
and the breeze on the river is most welcome.
It is now approaching midday, getting well over 33C, so clearly time to keep sightseeing. We visit Shwe In Bin Kaung monastery, an extraordinary teakwood construction, of indeterminate age, and with lots of insecure planking you have to tread carefully over. And virtually empty, the French tourist hordes not having descended here (why are 80% of the tourists French??). Then follows the Golden Monastery, another teak construction but this one with lots of gold leaf on the walls.
The last stop before Mandalay Hill is the Kuthodaw Pagoda, an extraordinary amalgam of hundreds of ornate whitewashed structures containing stone tablets on which are inscribed thousands of pages of Buddhist scripture written in the Pali script. These all surround the massive gold covered stupa at the centre of the complex.
Finally, Mandalay Hill at sunset. We drive to the top, and take the elevator to the very top. In fact the plain around Mandalay is very flat, the pollution and haze is down, and the sunset is pretty underwhelming. Not every sunset in the tropics can be spectacular I guess.
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