Sunday, February 28, 2016

Pagodas of Inle Lake. Hpaung Daw U, Aung Mingalar, Shwe Inn Tain & Nyaung Ohak.



Original Publish Date: February 28, 2016.

In between visiting more village workshops, we also managed to squeeze in time to visit three pagodas - Hpaung Daw U, Aung Mingalar, & Shwe Inn Tain. We arrived to all three by boat. It's been a fun day cruising on the water!



The first one we visited was Hpaung Daw U.  Unlike Nga Phe Kyaung aka  the  Jumping Cat Monastery which pretty much was empty of people, Hpaung Daw U was filled with locals coming to pray and pay their respects. 


From the boat dock, a covered walkway led to the entrance of the pagoda.  Souvenir vendors were lined up on both sides.


Just inside the main entrance was an elevated pedestal  that held 5 lumpy looking things with a bunch of men hovering around them.


One would expect to see a gold Buddha image but five lumpy things atop an intricately carved pedestal??  Hpaung Daw U pagoda houses five small gilded images of Buddha and apparently, they have been covered in so much  gold leaf that their original forms can no longer be seen!  So underneath all that gold are five Buddhas.

You can't tell but the five images are of differing sizes, range from about nine to eighteen inches tall. Being essentially solid gold, they are extremely heavy. It is believed that the Buddha images were brought to Inle Lake by King Alaungsithu.



Although the monastery is open to all for veneration, only men are permitted to place gold leaf on the images.  Another part of the ritual for pilgrims is to place a small robe or thingan around the images, and to take the robe back to their houses and place it on their own altar as a token of respect for the Buddha and his teachings.


Annually, during the Burmese month of Thadingyut (from September to October), an 18-day pagoda festival is held, during which four of the Buddha images are placed on a replica of the Karaweik Royal Barge and taken throughout Inle Lake.  One of the Buddha images always remains at the temple.

The elaborately decorated barge is towed, from village to village in a clockwise pattern around Inle Lake, by several boats of leg-rowers rowing in unison, and other accompanying boats.  The four images reside at the main monastery in each village for the night.


The Karaweik barge is designed as a hintha bird and was orginially as created by the Burmese architect U Ngwe Hlaing.


We caught sight of the gilded topped stupas of Aung Mingalar pagoda from the deck of a row of buildings that housed a small weaving workshop where a few Padaung women work.  The Padaung are a relatively small ethnic group in Myanmar that is related to the wider Karen (kah-reen) family.  The Karen women are well known for wearing the brass rings that seemingly stretch their necks out to impossible lengths.  Even though there was no doubt that the women who were working here are used to having tourists take their photos, I somehow found it disrespectful to take their photos.  I don't know why.  In any case, I refrained from snapping the shutter, opting instead to stand out on the front deck and look at the stupas across the water channel.



Where there are tourists, there will be souvenir vendors.  In this part of the lake, they hawk their wares on boats.


Unfortunately, we didn't have time to visit the pagoda itself.  If I were to be so lucky as to be able to come back to Inle Lake, I would definitely allocated two days or else, cut out a few of the workshop visits so I can visit more of the pagodas.

Aung Mingalar Pagoda is the structure on the far right.


Reaching the next pagodas, Shwe Inn Tain and  Nyaung Ohak. took us down a narrow channel to the small village of Indein.  The village is reached only by boat through the Inn Thein creek, a long narrow foliage-cloaked canal that winds through the dense overgrowth. The scenic 8 kilometer boat ride from Inle Lake can be made only in the rainy season and winter, and not in summer as the water becomes too shallow.


In the morning, the lake gives up its fish, shrimp and weeds to the men and boys working it.  By afternoon, the water turns into a bath.


It was interesting to see how villagers have created crude dams to control the flow of the water.



I don't know if we had arrived too early or too late or if we were just that much off the beaten path that we saw no other tourists here.  This is the sort of travel experience that I truly relish as it means I get to experience a site without a sea of people around me. Such a luxury these days as so many people travel.

There are two sets of pagodas around Indein — Nyaung Ohak and Shwe Inn Thein.


As you disembark the boat, the first site of pagodas is immediately behind the village and near the boat landing. It contains the Nyaung Ohak pagodas, which in Burmese means “group of banyan trees”. The crumbling pagodas are decorated with ornate stucco carvings of mythical animals, deva (celestial beings) and chinthe (mythical lions). Some have images of the Buddha.


From Nyaung Ohak, a covered stairway takes you up to Shwe Inn Thein, a complex of literally hundreds of ancient pagodas of many shapes and sizes and in various states of ruin.  Most were constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries and while some of them have been restored,  the majority are in a crumbling state, overgrown with bushes. Shwe Inn Thein is believed to date back to the days of the Indian emperor Ashoka, who sent out monks in the 3rd century BC across Asia to spread Buddhism. Centuries later, two Kings of the Bagan empire, Narapatisithu and Anawrahta built pagodas at the site. At the center of the Shwe Inn Thein group is the shrine housing an image of the Buddha that is believed to have been built by King Ashoka himself, although there is no archaeological evidence to support this theory.

Looking back at the photos I took, I can't tell you which were taken at Nyaung Ohak and which were taken at Shwe Inn Thein.  We just all wandered about the pagodas.  I kept my ears and eyes out for the other three so I wouldn't get lost among all the pagodas.  I loved this place so much that I couldn't stop taking photos.  I could've stayed here for much longer than we had time for today.






Once I realized that some of the pagodas have Buddha images inside, I found myself peeking inside each one.




The crumbling pagodas are decorated with ornate stucco carvings of mythical animals, deva (celestial beings) and chinthe (mythical lions). Some of the the carvings were obviously recently restored ones but with others, it was hard to tell.






The pagodas weren't just overrun by bushes.  Trees were hugging many of them.  My favorite was the tree topped pagoda.





There were a few carved stone elephants.  I can imagine how charming they must have looked in their original state.







They may be amazing pagodas in ruin to a tourist, but for villagers, they are still places for worship and so we must be respectful.





A live *Foo* dog :-)  Every pagoda needs a guardian.










By late afternoon, we had to start making our way  back to the hotel.  It would be quite a long boat ride back and Polo was eager for us to get going so we would arrive back just shortly after dark.  Leaving the pagodas behind, my thought was that I hope that the villagers can do what they can to restore the pagodas so they will not be forever lost to the ravages of time.  Other travelers should experience them as I was able to. But there's a part of me that wants them to leave them in a bit of a crumbling state so the pagodas retain their unique charm, they ought not be in perfect condition.

On the way  back to the boat, I just took a few more photos.










Hard to believe that tomorrow we leave for Yangon. Our time in Myanmar has really flown by.

Goodnight from Inle Lake!