Friday, December 12, 2014

On the road to Mandalay

Monday, September 22, 2014
We flew to Mandalay from Bangkok, arriving in the steaming afternoon heat and began our bus trip, with stops, on our way to the boat. It was barren with fields along the way to Mahamuni Paya (pagoda), the second most sacred Paya in Myanmar. The Paya was built in 1785 to house the  Mahamuni (which means Great Image) Buddha, a bronze image believed to be over 2000 years old, that was captured during an invasion of Mrauk U. The Paya was full of pilgrims, not tourists. They prayed, or rather meditated. 
I was not yet used to finding monks at every turn.
We removed our shoes, a practice that would become common for the Payas and Temples we would visit. Sturdy walking shoes were often irrelevant.

Women were not allowed near the Buddha or the Mahamuni, another common theme. The Mahamuni was originally bronze but has been continually covered in gold leaf, not by artisans but by pilgrims, in the last century. Men are allowed to do this and it is part of their pilgrimage. They cannot put it on the face, which remains clear, but the body had become fat, almost monstrous, with gold leaf, which is over 6 in thick and getting thicker every day.
The Mahamuni Buddha is an example of the issue we would encounter throughout Myanmar. Although the Buddha is perhaps 2000 years old, the site is a living place of worship. About 100 years ago, local people began to change the Buddha, and the site has been constantly changed and "modernized".  We did not find World Heritage sites in Myanmar because no site met the preservation criteria. Frequently we found LED lighting and other enhancements. Reconstruction of sites often included improvements of a questionable type. This theme will follow through the trip.

I rang my first temple bell, always three times, and invoked the sound of Dharma for protection. The sound felt soothing.
Here is a link to a video of: Ringing the Paya Bell
Our bus took us to the Irrawaddy river and the boat that would be our home for our great adventure. The hills by the river were covered in glittering pagodas and stupas.
The banks of the river were full of people bathing or carrying out their daily chores. Mandalay is a large city with little infrastructure. The banks of the river were full of trash.
The boats were tied up for the night.
 A shower, dinner, rest.

Mengala ba. (The Burmese version of Aloha)

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