The holiest and the most

Monywa Travel Blog

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The production of gold leaf is a painstaking job.

When we wake up the sky is grey, an odd perception when you’re used to bright blue skies, but it started getting cloudier yesterday already, when we approached Mandalay. It has been raining this night, and how...

We leave by bus at eight a.m. and we will spend the night in Monywa, to return to Mandalay tomorrow. We have been told to take a minimum of luggage, we won’t be needing much since it is only for one night.

Still in the city we stop near a workshop where gold leaf is produced, the process is simple, but it is very hard work.

This statue is deformed by the huge amount of gold leaf, that has been stuck on it during many years.
A small piece of gold is being hammered, manually of course, until it is thin as foil and about 10 centimetres long and wide. Then it is divided in six pieces and each of them takes another beating of five or six hours. When the gold is so thin that it can hardly be handled at all, a woman puzzles together squares, about the size of a postage stamp, and puts them on bamboo paper. The product can now be sold to tourists in the little shop in the same building. Ten golden stamps cost $3, not much considering the labour it takes to make them. In spite of the huge gold production in Myanmar, none of the precious material is exported, everything stays in the country. Either used in the construction of temples or being stuck on Buddha images by the people. To give a small example; The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (the central stupa) has a layer of gold leaf weighing 60 tonnes!! This must be the reason why Myanmar is also called The Golden Land.
Touch these statues where your pain is and it will heal swiftly...

When we are back on the bus we see a shop were leather goods are sold, just opposite of the gold leaf workshop, and an array of snakeskins are dried outside to make sure everybody knows what can be bought here.

We stay in the wet Mandalay for a little while longer to visit the Mahamuni Paya, the most sacred and largest temple of the city. The temple has four entrances, the eastern one being the main entrance. On the sides of the covered lanes to the sanctum are stalls selling almost everything and it should be possible to buy good souvenirs here, if that had been our goal. The four metre high bronze Buddha image that sits in the sanctum was supposedly cast during the lifetime of the Buddha and the Buddha himself touched it seven times to give it “life”.

These huge statues hardly fit in the building.
Up till now, a monk gets up very early every day to wash the statues face and brush its teeth. Women aren’t allowed near the statue, but men (also tourists like me who are laymen when it comes to Buddhism) are invited to climb the stairs to the image and stick a piece of gold leaf somewhere on the Buddha’s body. Over the centuries so many layers of gold leaf have been applied to the statue that it appears to be covered in gold warts, only the face retains its original shape.

North of the central square of the temple stands a little building that houses six bronze statues from the 11th century; two warriors, three lions and the three-headed elephant Erawan, that is the riding-animal of the Hindu god Indra. These images come from the Cambodian temple complex Ankor Wat and, after being in numerous different places, ended up here in Mandalay.

The little ones in white are young novices.
It is a popular belief that the statues have got the ability to cure illnesses, all you have to do is touch the image on the spot where your problem is, therefor there are shiny patches all over them.

In another building stand two huge figures carrying a beam with a traditional Burmese gong. It looks like the structure has been built around them, because the images hardly fit.

During the bus ride to another weaving mill (that we visit to bridge a time gap, but that isn’t really interresting) our guide tells us that every offering in a temple has a purpose; offering flowers gives beauty in the next life, offering gold brings wealth, and so on.

This was the kind of transport we used on Ava.

A little before ten a.m. we get to the Maha Ganayon Kyaung (Kyaung means monastery) and here we can once again witness how the monks line up to receive and eat their last meal of the day. Although this monastery houses far more monks than the monasteries we have visited before, and it is a training centre for monks as well, it is also far more touristic and therefor lacking the authentic, intimate atmosphere we have experienced before. As soon as we get off the bus women and girls meet us with tiny children in their arms, all of them with beautifully painted faces, ready to be photographed. I can guess what will happen next and within two minutes I am proven right. Someone takes a picture and immediately the woman asks for money. Not surprising, but also not adding to the authenticity of the monastery, giving it a commercial feel.

This teak monastery is beautifully carved and is still in use today.
What doesn’t help either is the large amount of tour buses dropping their load here, as opposed to the smaller monastery on the way to Bago where we were the only group with only a couple of tourists traveling solo. We wait until the monks have eaten their fill and then we slowly go back to the bus.

Our bus stops when it can go no further, a small ferry has to take us to the other side of the water, where Ava, the old city of kings lies. On the boat, girls with lovely flowers in their pitch black hair try to sell us sun hats and they are very persistent, even though the sun hasn’t showed its face for a second today. Along with the local pedestrians and cyclists we are dropped on the shore near Ava (a.k.a. Inwe) where we continue in horse carts.

A curious squirrel draws our attention away from the wood carvings.
The horses take us in their slow pace to Maha Aungmye Bonzan, a unique brick monastery built in 1822. Near the entrance, in a reflex Trudy slaps a begging boy on the fingers when he puts his hand in her purse. Trudy herself is startled by this more than the boy is, because all she wanted to do was to make clear that the boy was behaving improperly. The boy doesn’t hesitate long and starts looking for someone else to practice his begging techniques on. Once inside the monastery time flies by and before we know it we have to start heading back to the horsies again.

As we go further the track gets narrower and muddier. We are litteraly going through the fields,heading for a patch of jungle with only a pagoda rising above it. After a while we reach the Bagaya Kyaung, built in 1834, consisting completely of teak wood.

The captain of the ferry takes his job very serious and stays in his hut all the way.
The building has a seven story roof and is supported by 267 teak pillars, the tallest one being 18 metres long. The structure is adorned with beautiful wood carvings portraying mythical lions and peacocks. On the balustrade sits a very curious squirl that draws the attention away from the carvings for a while. It is used to people, but still quite jumpy and I can’t get too close. Inside the building it is dark as night and taking pictures would’ve been impossible if it weren’t for my tripod. The children that are being taught here by one of the monks are seated near one of the doors to be able to see what they are doing. When we leave the monastery and are putting our shoes back on, I realize that we could have hurt ourselves severely here, stepping on one of the many nail heads sticking out of the weathered wooden floor could’ve seriously spoiled our day.

After we had a nice crab soup and sweet-and-sour crab shears lunch in the Small River Restaurant, we are waiting for the ferry again at two o’clock sharp.

The Thamboddhay temple houses more than half a million images of the Buddha.
The rackety boat takes us to the other side in its slow but steady pace, while the captain is taking his job very seriously in his tiny hut.

The minute we set foot in our faithful bus, the heavens open their flood gates, sending down rains that will not stop before we go to bed tonight. Further on the way to Monywa we visit the Tamboddhay Temple. Nobody can believe what this looks like, unless they have seen it themselves. The complex houses 582,363 smaller and larger statues of the Buddha and everything is painted in bright colours that, should the sun shine, must be blinding to the eye. On our bare feet we wade through extensive pools of water, while hiding under umbrellas. The moment we find shelter inside the temple electricity fails, but there’s still enough light to have a look around. Every wall and pillar is covered by Buddhas, inside as well as on the exterior.

The Thamboddhay temple seen from the tower on the premises. The white sparkles are raindrops reflecting the flash of my camera.
The rain doesn’t keep us from taking a look outside and there we find a scene that depicts one of the certainties of life: “You will be old, you will be sick, you will be dead.” And how true it is. To have a good overview of the complex we climb a tower on the premises that has a very steep and narrow staircase.

From here it is a relatively short drive to Monywa. The hotel is far from fantastic, but it is only for one night. The restaurant in the hotel is pretty good (they serve nice Sweet Shrimp and Hot-and-Sour Squid dishes), and should the weather have been better we surely would have stayed up longer. But now we are the first ones to go to our room.

Our shower is nice and hot (it takes a long time for the warm water to get from the main building to our room, but eventually it does), but the bathroom floor is dirty and both our bathroom and bedroom are crawling with mosquitos, but the airconditioning will keep the little bloodsuckers at a distance.

It was pooring when we visited the Thamboddhay temple.
After one last hike to the reception to get an extra blanket for the misses I go to sleep at ten o’clock.

glennisnz says:
I have never seen gold being beaten, didn't know it was all done by hand!
Another interesting story.
Posted on: Oct 19, 2008
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The production of gold leaf is a p…
The production of gold leaf is a …
This statue is deformed by the hug…
This statue is deformed by the hu…
Touch these statues where your pai…
Touch these statues where your pa…
These huge statues hardly fit in t…
These huge statues hardly fit in …
The little ones in white are young…
The little ones in white are youn…
This was the kind of transport we …
This was the kind of transport we…
This teak monastery is beautifully…
This teak monastery is beautifull…
A curious squirrel draws our atten…
A curious squirrel draws our atte…
The captain of the ferry takes his…
The captain of the ferry takes hi…
The Thamboddhay temple houses more…
The Thamboddhay temple houses mor…
The Thamboddhay temple seen from t…
The Thamboddhay temple seen from …
It was pooring when we visited the…
It was pooring when we visited th…
This depicts one of the inevitable…
This depicts one of the inevitabl…
Every square inch of the Thamboddh…
Every square inch of the Thambodd…
Monywa
photo by: TrudyNRonnie