The British war cemetery of Htaukkyan.
We get up at six and after an elaborate breakfast buffet with Birmese, Indian and European dishes, we have to be on the bus at eight, because today we move to the next city: Bago.
It’s not even eight thirty when Trudy starts getting sick, luckily she can keep her breakfast down, but the first stop at nine o’clock doesn’t come a minute too early. We stop at a tiny temple on the roadside next to a large waringin tree, which is the home of the nats of the highway.
The tree is called Shweyaungbin or Golden Fig Tree. By making small sacrifices the drivers try to get in the favour of the nats. Nats can be compared with the saints of Christianity, they are human figures (with one or two exceptions I believe) that can be good or bad (like our demons). There used to be no such thing as nats in Buddhism, but because most people were animists (they believed that every tree, rock, animal etc. had a spirit of its own) in the old days, when they were converted to Buddhism they secretly kept on worshipping some of the spirits they had always believed in. This didn’t remain a secret for long of course, but since it was almost impossible to root out all the old beliefs, the Buddhist authorities decided to point out 37 nats that would be recognised in Buddhism. So much about the nats, back to Trudy being sick. The temple isn’t very interesting, the people atract my attention more than the tiny altar does, and after only a few minutes we get back on the bus again.
Craftsmen building a hti in the monastery.
This stop wasn’t long enough to rid Trudy of her travel sickness and she still looks rather pale when we drive on. I’m glad the ride takes only a few minutes, then we stop again. Our bus pulls over near the British war cemetery of Htaukkyan. On this field of honour lie 27.000 soldiers who fell in this area in the Second World War. It’s well taken care of, even now someone is watering the grass and between every single grave there’s a healthy plant. During our walk between the graves and to the monument Trudy starts feeling better and her face starts getting its pinkish colour back again. It’s starting to get pretty hot already and the huge monument provides some atracting shade.
In the kitchen of the monastery.
The ride from here takes a little over an hour. We are going to visit a monastery where at 11 am all the monks will line up to receive their lunch, the last meal of the day.
We arrive a bit early and we’ve got some time to wander through the monastery and be bothered by souvenir sellers, so we’re probably not the first tourists that come here. The sellers are very persistent, but I don’t budge, I don’t feel like dragging all this stuff along for the next four weeks. At this moment the monks are not lining up for lunch yet, some are watering the plants, others are shaving their heads, all in a slow well poised manner as if they think out every move they make. In a different part of the monastery people are building a hti, a crown that goes on top of one of the many pagodas in the region, the noise the hammers make on the metal can be heard throughout the complex. In the kitchen the food is prepared in huge pots with pillars of steam rising up from them. When the food is ready the broth is scooped into buckets with a saucepan before it is taken to the dining hall. Suddenly a bell sounds, indicating that it is time for lunch and the monks start lining up, holding one of the few posessions they have, the bowl with which they go out to beg every morning at five.
Dinner is served!!
Two monks take their places next to a large pot that contains boiled white rice, ready to give every waiting individual his daily portion before he enters the dining hall. Inside the rest of the food is waiting on the knee-high tables. The monks eat in silence and the sounds we hear are made by ourselves (our party is the only group of tourists today). We leave the monks to eat in peace and walk back to the bus, followed by souvenir sellers that won’t stop trying untill our bus is already moving.
In reverence at Shwemawdaw pagoda.
It’s noon when we take a seat in a nice restaurant in Bago where we are going to have lunch. Both the sweet and sour squid and the fried squid are very good and the view at Shwemawdaw pagoda from the top floor isn’t bad either. After lunch we visit this pagoda, but there’s only 30 minutes before we move on.
The Great Golden God Pagoda (the meaning of Shwemawdaw in English) isn’t as impressive as Shwedagon, but certainly worth a visit. There are less people here, and together with its location this gives a rural feel to this pagoda. The exits all look alike and when it’s time to go back to the bus, we find ourselves at the wrong exit unable to locate the bus. The next exit we try is the right one, but we are a little late. The oldest member of our party, 79 year old Dolores, has gone missing completely. After a ten minute search she reappears, telling proudly how well she haggled before buying a radiant green umbrella.
Shwemawdaw pagoda as seen from the Bee Throne Hall.
All members aboard we drive to the Golden Palace, from which the foundation has been only recently unearthed (1991) with the help of UNESCO.
Soon after the excavation plans were made to rebuild the palace and now it is open to visitors again. We start in the quarters of the queen, the Bee Throne Hall. No bees in here, in fact, there’s nothing much to see in here at all. Furniture is scarce, so is information on the history of the building. We here a cacophony of shrieking noises that get louder when we enter the centre room, in here we smell the distinct odor of bat droppings. When we look up we discover a huge colony of bats in a corner of the ceiling. We walk to the palace of king Bayinnaung, which is empty as well. The pillars that were dug up in 1991, that supported the original palace, are stored in a shed next to the palace. In front of the palace a gardener is mowing the lawn with a machine that lacks all safety precautions, making it a deadly device. We leave the Kambaw Zathardi Golden Palace (as it is officially called) and make our way to the Shwetalyaung pagoda, where a 55 metre long, 16 metre high reclining Buddha can be seen.
My lovely wife in front of the Golden Palace.
Although smaller than his cousin in Yangon, this one with an ear of 4,57 metres, an eye lid of 2,29 metres and a large toe of 1,83 metres, is still quite impressive. The statue is much older than the one in Yangon and was discovered in 1881 by a building contractor who was building the railway-line from Yangon to Bago. The base of the statue is more interesting as well, because on its back the entire history of how and why the statue was built is depicted. It’s a pity that it is impossible to take a good picture of the Buddha because of all the iron supports in front of it that hold up the roof. The entire day we are followed by the same people selling postcards and other stuff I don’t want and when we get back to the bus they show their dreaded faces again, but this is the last we will see of them, because by the time we get to the Mahazedi Pagoda they have finally given up.
The Bee Throne Hall and the gardener in front of the Golden Palace.
The interesting base of the reclining Buddha at Shwetalyaung pagoda.
Mahazedi means Great Stupa, it was built in 1560 and originally was the place where a tooth of the Buddha was kept, untill king Thalun made Ava capital of the country in 1635 and took the tooth with him. It used to be possible to climb this stupa, but nowadays the flights of stairs are closed. On the premises lots of smaller buildings surround the stupa, some look really old, others have bright colours and look like they have been recently built.
Our last stop today is the Kyaikpun Pagoda, which consists of four 30 metre high Buddha images, facing the four wind directions.
The images represent the Buddha of the present and his three predecessors. Four sisters were involved in the construction in 1476 which was ordered by king Dhammazedi, and it was said that if the sisters would ever get married the images would collapse. In 1930 the prophecy appeared to come true when an earthquake destroyed one of the statues, but the damage was repaired. I like this pagoda, because it is totally different than the ones we have seen so far, although I’m starting to get tired of taking my shoes of at the entrance of every holy building we get to. I’ll have to get used to it I’m afraid, because unlike in our churches, “footwears” are prohibited on every premises with a religious meaning.
One of the ancient looking buildings near Mahazedi.
It’s four thirty when we head back to our hotel in Bago, which is notorious for its noisy nights, because traffic never stops in the city and the hotel is located in the main street.
It isn’t a long ride, because everything we’ve seen today lies just outside the city.
Three of four giant Buddha statues at Kyaikpun pagoda.
Back in our room we fall right asleep (with our window wide open) and don’t wake up untill it is completely dark outside. We go out for dinner and end up in a restaurant called Kyang Swa. It looks rather dark from the outside, but there are some people present. They’re not guests, but staff watching their favourite tv show. We order anyway and get a very good meal indeed. Dolores joins us a little later and time flies as we chat and eat.
After dinner we take a shower in the hotel, the “mandi way”, because the water from the shower is cold as well and the quantity of water
that squirts out is negligible.
Refreshed we go to bed and no sound will bother us this night.
The monks eat in silence.