Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Teak Monastery. Shwe In Bin Kyaung.

Shwe In Bin Kyaung

I didn't sleep well last night. Not because the bed was uncomfortable or the room too hot or I was feeling ill. It was because I was too excited to sleep! I've been wanting to come to Myanmar since 1985 and I can't believe I'm finally here. I couldn't wait to get going! I was the first to get up - well before the alarm even went off. The three of us were downstairs for breakfast promptly at 8a. We had to meet up with Zaw at 9a. We were ready for Zaw before he arrived. He wasn't late; we were early!

Checking out our alleyway while waiting for Zaw to arrive.  Bro is walking towards the entrance to our hotel.

Our first sightseeing destination of the day was Shwe In Bin Kyaung which is more commonly known as Teak Monastery.  The monastery, which is constructed entirely of teak, was was built in 1895 by Chinese jade merchants and is acclaimed by many as one of the most attractive monasteries in Mandalay.

It was morning rush hour in Mandalay and although it's nowhere as congested as what we have in the DC Metro area, the street was packed with cars and the ubiquitous motorcycles.


Thankfully, it was a short drive to the monastery.   At the entrance, we had to take off our shoes before walking down a path.


I see these everywhere.  I peeked under the enamel dish. There was water inside.
I'm guessing anyone can use the tin cup to help themselves to a drink.

The end of the path opened up to a tree filled courtyard that was ringed with small buildings.  Shwe In Bin is a living monastery today, housing over 30 monks and the buildings are their accommodations, study rooms, administration buildings etc.


A few monks were out and about on the grounds, some were even doing their laundry.  Otherwise, it was remarkably quiet on the grounds.  Aside from the four of us, there were only three other people - two tourists and a man who appeared to be their guide.  I'm definitely not complaining.  I am not a fan of the tourist horde!


Facing the courtyard was the monastery, a beautiful structure with a tiered roof.  The entire structure, except for the concrete steps that lead up to the main level, is constructed from teak - even the poles that it rests above the ground on are fashioned out of tree trunks.

The roof as well as the exterior facade, interior walls, doors, windows and gates are all intricately engraved.  The detail is incredible!

While Zaw briefed Bro and Ayşe on the monastery, I was busy taking in the beauty of this place.  Overall, I found the structure to have a very elegant feel to it.  I really don't think my photos do it full justice!




The wood is obviously exposed to the elements so over time, it deteriorates here and there.  Although the lines of the carvings are not quite as well defined as they once were, you can still see the elegance in the design.  Sadly, there is no government funding of any sort to support the monastery - it's all on the monks and the public so it appears that restoration work is limited.




I know this is a monastery but I found some of the carvings to be cute and often humorous....like these characters at the base of the carving below.


Although the word *Shwe* means *gold* in Burmese, I found very little of it here.  On the exterior, the only thing good was the roof topper.


There's an delicate feel to the intricately carved wood.




Carved front of a gate.

Carved overhang above a door.

One section was being repainted.  If I remember correctly, Zaw said that the monks have to do this quite frequently - every few years.  I think the monsoon rains that drench this country during rainy season do quite a bit of damage to the wood, if it's not already properly painted or treated.



More whimsical characters.

Detail of a railing.

After spending a few minutes looking at the monastery from the ground up, we ascended the stairs to check out the main level.


Another gate.



A beautifully adorned door.

The old wooden floor creaked under my feet.  The thin planks felt so loosely joined that I was wondering if I would fall through with every step I took.  But, teak is a strong wood and today, I left the monastery with no unbroken planks!

Inside the main room were several Buddha images.  Each one was covered in gold, of course.




Separately, there was a large space for meditation and I believe, storage.





Zaw, on the left, explaining more about the monastery to Bro and Ayşe.


Throughout the monastery, there are engravings of peacocks and rabbits.  The peacock holds a great deal of symbolic meaning for the Burmese.

The dancing peacock (the peacock in courtship or in display of his feathers) was used as the symbol of the Burmese monarchy and was the central feature of the Konbaung Dynasty’s flag and coins (1700-1885), symbolizing the belief that the monarchy descended from the sun.  So, the peacock represents the sun.


In contrast, the humble rabbit represents the moon.


Surprisingly, there just a handful of tourists at Shwe In Bin Kyaung.  I don't know why.  Perhaps it's just far enough off the tourist beaten path that most don't come here.  Having been so fortunate as to have visited here today, all I can say is that any tourist who does not come here is really missing out!