After witnessing the beauty of Bagan, my initial thought was that it would be quite impossible for anything else that I was going to see from then on to match the heights of Bagan. But at this point of penning down this blog, it would be safe to say that I was proven quite wrong.
After Bagan, my next stop was going to be Monywa City, the capital of the Sagaing Division. On the way there, we stopped by a family pottery clay business to witness the traditional process of making clay pots. I soon found out that it was an extremely tedious and difficult process. The first stage would involve converting soil into the clay powder that they require to make the pots. The worker would then have to put in a hard shift by pounding the hard soil and filtering it out into powder. This powder would then be wrapped up in cow skin and placed overnight before it was ready to be used.
The second stage would be the moulding process where the worker would have to tirelessly mould the clay into the shape that he desired. Thereafter, there would be colouring done on the pots. The final stage would then be baking these moulded pots in a unique oven and this oven was unlike any that I had ever seen before. It was an open outdoor type of oven where the pots would be placed in the centre of a hut and hay would subsequently be used to cover up the hut before the heating can take place. We learnt that the entire heating process would take 4 days, and it would help in brightening up the colour and solidifying the shape of the pot. After witnessing the whole process of pot-making, I concluded that it was indeed an arduous task that might not even be rewarding financially as each pot could only sell at a mere 1000 kyats. Still, I was impressed by the commitment of the workers as they went about their duties without any complaints. Maybe it was not the financial incentives that motivated them but the satisfaction that they gained from the completion of each pot.
After visiting this family pottery clay business, the next stop was Pho Win Hill. This was no ordinary hill as it consisted of artistic works closely related with the history of Inwa kingdom founded in 1315 AD. To give some context, Inwa was actually the dominant kingdom that ruled upper Myanmar during that period. Walking around the hill, we could see many old caves that were full of Buddha statues and ancient wall paintings. I soon found out that there was a staggering total of 444,444 images and that the first five Buddha images were carved by the legendary kings, Pyu Min and Pyone Min. Thus, what this showed me was how devoted the Myanmar people were towards their religion of Buddhism and this was something that I truly admired.
We then continued with our journey and finally arrived at the capital city of Sagaing Division, Monywa City. One of the key highlights of this city would be visiting the world’s second tallest Buddha statue – the 31 storeys high Maha Bodhi Tahtaung Standing Buddha. The 31 storeys represented the 31 distinct planes of existence into which human beings can be reborn into. These first eight planes/floors represented the extraordinarily dark, grim and painful hell realms while going further up would mean reaching the most sublime, refined and exquisitely blissful heavenly realms. Armed with this knowledge, I set my sights on climbing all the way to the top in hope that it could somehow have an impact on my next life. Alas, it was not meant to be as I was only able to climb up to the 27th floor, with the top four floors closed for construction. Nevertheless, I would still give myself a grade A for my effort.
We then stopped by the impressive-looking Thanboddhay Pagoda, a well-maintained Buddhist temple that has an architectural style resembling Indonesia’s Borobudur. I could see so many different Buddha images there, and I later found out that there were actually more than 582,000 of them. Overall, it was indeed a very colourful pagoda and I would recommend visitors to Monywa to stop by.
We then headed to Sagaing, and stopped by the Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda. Having been built way back in 1312 by Minister Pon Nya, this pagoda was one of the oldest ones on Sagaing Hill and was linked by a series of covered stairways that ran up this 240 metres hill. Walking 10 minutes south of this pagoda, we then visited another pagoda which was the U Min Thonze (30 Caves) Pagoda. I have come to realise that no two pagodas are the same in Myanmar and this was yet another unique temple complex well-known for its crescent-shaped colonnade of 45 buddha images.
After this, we then headed for our last stop for Sagaing and it turned out to be the one that rewarded us with the best views. It was the Aung Set Kyar Monastery. We climbed up to one of the viewpoints and it was an amazing view of the surroundings of Sagaing Hill. The icing on the cake was that we could also see the magnificent Sagaing bridge that was connected to Mandalay across the Ayeyarwady River. It was indeed a spectacular sight.
After Sagaing, Mandalay City was next. As the second-largest city in Myanmar, this was yet another bustling place with its own story to tell. It was near evening time by the time we arrived, and this meant that there was only going to be one place that we were going to stop by first. The destination was U-Bein Bridge and the reason was to catch the sunset. As the world’s longest teak footbridge that goes across the Taungthaman Lake, it was also well-known as one of Myanmar’s most iconic sunset spots. Many photographers would often travel here just to get a shot of the bridge amidst the setting sun. While waiting for the sun to set, the bridge got increasingly crowded as more and more tourists started to arrive. Despite the crowds, it failed to dampen my spirits as the sublime view of the setting sun soon captured my undivided attention. It was truly a sight to behold.