Yesterday, as you may recall, a river boat brought our intrepid travelers up the Irrawaddy River to Mingun. As we approached the ancient royal capital, we could see one of the reasons we are here looming above the riverside.
Begun in 1790 by King Bodawpaya, the Mingun Pahtodawgyi was intended to become the world’s largest stupa. But when a prophesy foretold that the king would die upon completion of the stupa, construction was slowed down to prevent this unfortunate event. However, nature will have its way, and the king died anyway; and construction on the pagoda was halted. An earthquake in 1839 damaged the foundations. And so here we were visiting what is now archly called the world’s largest pile of bricks.
This pile of bricks, however, comes with the world’s largest ringing (that is, not cracked) bell. And it does actually ring. I know. I rang it.
You see the characters carved into the bell? Just so you know, these are the Burmese characters for “55555,” a very lucky number (hey, five times luckier than just 5) that also happens to be the weight of the bell in Burmese viss (1 viss = 3.5 pounds, so the bell is just shy of 100 tons).
But I have gotten ahead of myself. As we approached Mingun, the first thing we saw, of course, was the unfinished pagoda. The next was groups of people washing clothing. Wednesdays must be Wash Day in Mingun.
We also had a welcoming committee.
One of the children approached me, and I got over the instinctive fear of tourists everywhere that she was hustling something. Or worse yet, begging. (We saw no beggars in Myanmar.) She spoke a little English and asked my name, and I asked hers. And it turned out that what she wanted was to exchange a handful of American coins (quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies) for American bills. The coins are worthless in Myanmar, but the bills, even small ones, have some value. And I can use the coins as well as the bills. It’s a win-win proposition. We did the deal and solemnly thanked one another. And I raced to catch up with Dan and Zaw.
The guy with the oxcart taxicab followed us everywhere, hoping to give us a ride. But everything was close, and we relished the chance to stretch our legs, even in the heat and humidity. Later, I learned that our itinerary had promised us transportation via oxcart in Mingun. Poor guy. I hope they paid him anyway.
After the unfinished pagoda, we proceeded to the shining white Hsinbyume Pagoda, built by King Bagyidaw for his wife. It is modeled on the idea of the mythical but holy Mt. Meru, surrounded by seven mountain ranges (represented by the seven wavy terraces).
We climbed to the top platform, which opened to stunning views all around. And provided a few sheltered surprises.
Inside the temple on the top were two lovely Buddhas, one in front of the other. We heard a story somewhere along the way about a “decoy Buddha,” but I can’t verify whether this is that one or not.