Saturday, February 20, 2016

Shwenandaw Kyaung, Kuthodaw, and Mandalay Hill.

Shwenandaw Kyaung (Golden Palace Monastery)

I tell you, the heat and humidity really saps it out of you. Even though we had a couple of hours to refresh ourselves in our comfortable air conditioned room, I was still feeling a bit tired when we met back up with Zaw at 5pm to resume our sightseeing.  Thankfully, the excitement of seeing more of Mandalay got my adrenaline going and I was raring to go in no time!

Driving down a street in Mandalay.

This afternoon, we saw a couple of really interesting historic landmarks beginning with Shwenandaw Kyaung, the Golden Palace Monastery.  It was another amazing all teak monastery.


The Shwenandaw Monastery was originally part of the Royal Palace in Amarapura. When the capital city was moved to Mandalay, the building was dismantled, transported to Mandalay and rebuilt there as part of the new all teak Royal Palace in 1857. King Mindon Min used the building as his personal living quarters. After the King died, his son, King Thibaw Min, relocated the building to its current location outside of the Palace grounds, where it was converted into a monastery in 1880.  It is said that King Thibaw Min used the building for meditation, and the couch on which he sat can still be seen.

The Golden Palace Monastery is a great place to get an impression of what the Royal Palace once must have looked like. As the Palace was destroyed by fire during the second World War, the Shwenandaw Monastery is the only major original teak wooden building left of the original Mandalay Royal Palace.

Collectively, Shwenandaw Kyaung and several other wooden Burmese monasteries have been  placed on a tentative list awaiting UNESCO World Heritage inscription.



Shwenandaw Kyaung is built in the traditional Burmese architectural style and the first thing that catches your eye as you approach the relatively small building are the numerous intricate teak carvings that adorn the roof.  The woodwork is simply incredible!  In some respects, I am amazed so much of it has survived through this tropical weather which can be really harsh on wood.


Before we followed Zaw up to the first level of the monastery, we took our shoes off.   I had warned Ayşe that she would have to remove her shoes to enter monasteries.  Of course, this is something that she's used to doing as you have to do the same when you enter in mosque.


As I walked along the first floor terrace, I just kept staring at the carvings.  Just stunning!  I am so amazed that this how building is constructed of wood.


The roof lines are decorated with very detailed intricate wood carvings. The roofs bargeboards contain carved depictions of mythical creatures, animals, dancers and flowers.



No surprisingly, some of the exterior carved wooden panels have ravaged by time and weather and have been replace with new panels. 


Despite the ravages of time and weather, the rich details of the carved teak panels are still there.  What a treasure of a building!

Inside, there were several large rooms, all empty of any furniture. Compared to the exterior, the interior spaces were stark. Except for a few small statues, the only decorative items were the magnificently carved wood panels.

The floors were laid with wide teak boards that felt as smooth as silk to my feet;  over the ages, so many feet have trod across these floors before mine.  Occasionally, a board would lightly sink a bit beneath my feet as I walked across it.  At times, I wondered if I would fall through them to the floor below.  That would not make for a good headline, (Overweight) American Tourist Crashes Through Floor at Shwenandaw Kyaung.  No, not a good headline at all! :-)


Large teak pillars inside the building support the roof. There is still some gold plating inside the monastery.   Once upon a time, the structure was completely gilded and decorated with glass mosaics.


Inside the main room in the center of the building is the main Buddha image.  Today, there was no one in the main room other than tourists but apparently, only men can go inside to worship the Buddha image.


While Bro and Ayşe followed Zaw around, I wandered about on my own.  I figured I woud read up on the place later.  I happily admired the gorgeous carved wood panels and took photos.

Before I passed through the threshold, shown in the photo below, I couldn't help but run my fingers gently across the carved wood.  I had to feel the intricate design as much as my eyes wanted to do nothing more than gaze at them in awe.



New door panels stand side by side with ancient ones.




We were at Shwenandaw Kyaung for less than an hour but in that short time, I fell in love with the place.   It's not a big building but it lives up to the adage that good things come in small packages.  In this case, it would be great things come in small packages.  It's not overly ornate.  It's not ostentatious.  It's perfect and I'm grateful to King Thibaw Min for saving it.
 
I could come back to this place time and time again and never tire of it.   You can be sure that on my next trip back to Mandalay, I will be back to Shwenandaw Kyaung.

It was almost 6p by the time we left Shwenandaw Kyaung and we still had a couple more places to go to before we could call it the end of our sightseeing day.



From a very elegantly carved teak monastery, we were off to see a glittering, gold pagoda.

Kuthodaw Pagoda is a large stupa that was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013. King  Mindon Min had the pagoda built as part of the traditional foundations of the new royal city of Mandalay in 1857.  Construction began on the pagoda began in 1860 and 20 years later, the top was crowned.

At the entrance to Kuthodaw.  He's having a good time!
Zaw.  Great guide!

A covered approach or saungdan leads to the main entrance.  The main entrance is from the south through massive but open teak doors ornately carved with floral designs, scrolls, and nats - the spirits that are worshiped in Myanmar in conjunction with Buddhism.



The grounds of Kuthodaw are said to be home to the world's largest book.  As we walked towards the entrance, I kept looking for something that looked like a book but instead Zaw pointed us to the white structures known as kyauksa gu or stone-inscription stupas.  Inside each stupa is a marble slab inscribed with a page of text from the Tipitaka, the entire collection of scriptures of Theravada Buddhism.  The inscriptions were laid open to the public in 1868.




Between several of the rows of stupas grow mature star flower trees (Mimusops elengi).  This is a popular place for families to come and have a picnic.



On the southwest inner terrace is one very old tree believed to be 250 years old, its low spreading boughs propped up by supports.



We paused briefly inside the main shrine.  As I walked by the people, the one that jarred my sight was the halo of neon colored lights around the Buddha image.  Neon?  Really?  Why?  Call me traditional but I like my sacred spots to be neon light free.



Beautiful water lily flowers.


The stupa itself stood just a short distance from the main shrine.  The structure, which is gilded above its terraces stands 57 meters (188 feet), and is modeled after the Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U near Bagan.  It just glowed in the light of the late afternoon!   There's a LOT of gold covering this stupa.  It's no wonder they need factories that do nothing but produce gold leaf!






Still happily posing for a photo.  Wonder how long before they beg to not be in front of my lens. :-)





By the time we left Kuthodaw, it was a mad race to get to our next destination, Mandalay Hill, a popular spot to see the sunset.  Personally, I don't really know how to appreciate the setting sun so I would have been happy to not rush and see this place another time but....we don't have another time so off we went.

We arrived into a veritable jam of vehicles.  Zaw was in such a rush to get us to where we were suppose to be that we ditched the car before our driver, Aung, could find a spot to park it.


We scurried as quickly as we could towards a tower shaped building.  Inside, we threw off our shoes and took the escalators, yes escalators, up to the top level.  From the mass of vehicles on the ground level, we plunged into a small sea of people on the upper level. 


Everyone was here to see the sun set and as we approached the western side of the terrace, you could see all the people lined up that the edge of the railing to watch the sun go down over the horizon.  Of course, Zaw saw that we got spots at the railing as well.  He's a tiny guy but he can be very forceful :-)

It was a hazy sky.  Mandalay was sprawled out below us but it was hard to make out much of anything because of the haze. 

Mandalay at dusk.  You can see the Irrawaddy River in the far distance.

I've been in Myanmar for not even two days and already I've come to the conclusion that golden stupas are so ubiquitous there must be one in every village, town and city!  I was on the look out for Kuthodaw but didn't spot it.  I was probably not facing the correct direction to see it.



While the other three watched the sun set, I roamed around taking photos of Sutaungpyei Pagoda which adjoins the terrace.  The building is richly decorated in colored glass mosaic that shimmered as light passed over them. 


Zaw chatting with a fellow guide.  He's very friendly.

With golden stupas atop the roof and the shimmery glass mosaics, the whole building looked liked a sequined jewel box.


Water jugs, with shared cups, are everywhere you go.  The Burmese equivalent of a water fountain.





As dusk set in, we backtracked to the escalators passing by the stupas that mark the roof of a temple building.


At the bottom, we retrieved our shoes and made our way back to our awaiting driver and van.


We're done for sightseeing!  Time for dinner and a puppet show!