FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Sagaing, Amarapura and the U Bein Bridge

Posted in Mandalay, Myanmar by folkestonejack on November 10, 2017

The afternoon took us to Sagaing Hill, a spiritual site that is home to thousands of pagodas and monasteries. It was also the royal capital for all of three years in the mid-eighteenth century!

The ridge is a spectacular sight from the moment that you cross the Irrawaddy River and first catch sight of the gilded domes and Buddhas among the greenery. It’s no less spectacular once you reach the top of the hill and look down. In addition to the major monasteries here there are lots of smaller shrines that our guide told us were constructed in thanks for the shelter provided by the hill during the war.

The view from the terraces of Soon U Ponya Shin Paya

On our tour we took in the sights of Soon U Ponya Shin Paya (including the terrific view from the terraces over the Irrawaddy); the U Min Thonze temple, a curved cave temple built into the rockface housing 45 Buddhas; the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy; and the Htu Pa Yon Pagoda. All are splendid in different ways.

I thought the recent history of the Htu Pa Yon Pagoda was fascinating. The startlingly white pagoda is quite striking for its relatively unusual styling, which is mire common in Sri Lanka. However, it used to look rather different.

The original Htu Pa Yon Pagoda was constructed in 1444 by King Narapati but what we see today is a recent creation – the 15th century pagoda was encased in a steel frame and the new pagoda was built over the top. This is not uncommon in Myanmar – indeed, one of the effects of the 2016 earthquake in Bagan was to reveal a beautiful 11th century stupa hidden within a much later brick structure.

After leaving Sagaing behind we headed on to the Kyaw Aung San Dar monastery in Amarapura, which is remarkable in a different way. Upon entering the monastery your eyes are immediately drawn to a gigantic seated Buddha paired with an equally large reclining Buddha, but step inside the main pagoda and you find yourself in an amazing space decorated with over 2000 Buddhas. Quite astonishing!

Kyaw Aung San Dar monastery in Amarapura

We ended the day at Amarapura’s most famous sight and one of the most heavily photographed sights in the entire country – the U Bein Bridge. At just over 1km in length this teak bridge is the longest of its type in the world, sitting a good few metres proud of the Irrawaddy when I visited but often right up to the level of the walkway during the wet season.

The U Bein bridge was built using the teak columns left behind when the royal palace was shifted from Amarapura to Mandalay in the mid-nineteenth century. It’s a pretty impressive sight but recent studies have shown significant levels of decay among the pillars and a three year long restoration programme is set to begin in 2018. It looked as though some surveying of the bridge was taking place during our visit, though it was hard to tell if this was for ad-hoc repairs or preparations for the major renovations.

One of the pleasures of a visit to the U Bein Bridge was a sunset viewing by boat which turned out to be too tempting a photographic prospect to resist. The boats makes a simple loop from the landing point on the western shore, sailing under the bridge twice and then back to their starting point. The spectacle was gorgeous and helped distract us from the mid-journey repairs performed by our boatman and the layer of water that had formed inside our boat!

Sunset at Amarapura

The other more modest delight was a wonderfully improvised bicycle enhancements that I came across on the bridge. I suspect it is not the most comfortable of rides!

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