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Last updated : Nov 2009
Central Myanmar
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Bagan (Pagan)

One of the best historical sights in Myanmar is Bagan, formerly known as Pagan, offering the stunning picture of sunrise or sunset. Over 13,000 pagodas once sprawled over this dry land during the golden age of the 11 great kings (approximately 1044-1287); this ended with the threat of attacks by Kublai Khan from China, and this particular region was deserted. Today there are less than 3,000 pagodas.

The existing village of Bagan boasts a museum, market, restaurants and accommodation. The lacquer ware workshops and an impressive temple are within easy access. The Bagan area is approximately 40 sq kilometres or 15 sq miles, housing dozens of open temples. Tourist attractions are the Shwegugyi Temple (constructed in 1311 and known for its intricate stucco carvings), the Gawdawpalin Temple (severely damaged by an earthquake in the 1975, but remains one of the most attractive of the Pagan temples) and the Thatbyinnyu Temple (the highest temple in Bagan).

Mandalay

This ancient royal city is teeming with palaces, temples, pagodas and stupas and is the principal centre of Buddhism and Burmese arts, even though Mandalay has experienced many bad fires which have destroyed several buildings. Visitors can find some gold-leaf industries, stone-carving workshops and various great craft markets in Mandalay.

Taking its name from Mandalay Hill (ascending about 240 metres or 787 feet to the northeast of the palace), the city was established in 1857 by King Mindon. The old wooden palace buildings at Amarapura have been relocated and rebuilt.

Sites of importance include the massive Shweyattaw Buddha (located near the hill, with its finger pointing towards the city), the Eindawya Pagoda (constructed in 1847 and protected in gold leaf), the Shwekyimyint Pagoda (housing the original Buddha image sanctified during the Bagan period by Prince Minshinzaw) and the Mahumuni Pagoda or ‘Great Pagoda’ (containing the renowned and revered Mahumuni image). Cased in gold leaf over the years by devoted Buddhists, this image was delivered from Arakan in 1784, though it is believed to be much older.

The foundation, moat and large walls are entirely all that is left of the once marvellous Mandalay Palace, at one time an enormous walled city (mostly of timber structure) rather than a palace. It was burnt down in 1942. A large-scale model depicts what it must have been like. The Shwenandaw Kyaung Monastery was once part of the palace complex which King Mindon and his chief queen used as an apartment. Similar to the palace, the wooden building was at one time attractively gilded. There are some intricately carved panels inside and also a photograph of the Atumashi Kyaung Monastery, destroyed in 1890 by fire. The remains can be seen in the south of the Kuthodaw Pagoda, called ‘the world’s biggest book’ because of the 729 marble slabs that encircle the central pagoda – they are engraved with the whole Buddhist canon.

Excursions

The precincts of Mandalay houses many older, deserted capital cities. Sagaing is conveniently reached and has attractive pagodas at Aungmyelawka, Kaunghmudaw and Tupayon. Sagaing was once the capital of a self-governing Shan Kingdom. In the 15th century, Ava became the kingdom’s new capital and it was so until well into the 19th century, when the kingdom disappeared; the old city walls can still be traced.

Mingun, a delightful river trip from Mandalay, has the renowned Mingun Bell, believed to be the largest uncracked, hung bell in the world. It was cast in 1790 by King Bodawpaya, meant to be hung in his huge pagoda, which was never completed because of the king’s death in 1819. The foundation of the pagoda alone is approximately 50 metres or 165 feet high. In 1783, Bodawpaya founded Amarapura, south of Mandalay. The city is well-known for its silk weaving and cotton.
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