The morning hours are the best in Myanmar. Clear skies, a pleasant breeze and intriguing house cooking odors. After a full breakfast at the hotel’s roof garden we went to the Kyauk Taw Gyi pagoda with the resident, imposing marble Buddha image, made from a single marble rock. Today, I finally decided to switch to flip-flops as the ritual of getting in and out of my sneakers every time we enter a pagoda or monastery was simply too much.
The Su Taung Pyay Pagoda is situated at the top of the Mandalay hill, with stunning views over the city. It is a bit touristy but not in the way I expected. Many of the tourists are locals from different parts of Myanmar and they seemed quite excited to get their pictures with us, westerners.
The Kuthodaw Pagoda is a stupa that contains what is known as the world’s largest book, an impressive array of 729 small white caves, each housing a marble slab, inscribed on both sides with a page of text from the Tipitaka, the entire Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism.
Our next stop was at the Shwenandaw Kyaung, or Golden Palace Monastery, a historic buddhist monastery made of wood. The building was originally part of the royal palace at Amarapura, before it was moved to Mandalay. It is the only building of the royal Amarapura complex that was saved from the bombings during the second world war. I was lucky to be there at the same time when a russian group of photographers had a workshop and had brought a couple of novice teenage monks for their shooting. Models for free!
The last stop in Mandalay was at the famous Mahamuni Pagoda. According to wikipedia, “the legend, the Buddha visited the Dhanyawadi city of Arakan in 554 BC and King Sanda Thuriya requested that an image was cast of him. After casting the Great Image, the Buddha breathed upon it, and thereafter the image became the exact likeness of the Mahamuni (literal meaning: The Great Sage)”. The image seats in the center of the pagoda where only men are allowed to enter. Every day the pilgrims apply gold leafs that they buy from the official and unofficial outlets in the pagoda. A very profitable enterprise indeed. Religious institutions across the world have found ways to monetize people’s spiritual beliefs. After centuries of applying gold leafs – each 5 micron thick – the image today has triple the size of the original.