We started the day with a visit to the Mahamuni Pagoda, a Buddhist Temple and pilgrimage site. The Mahamuni Buddha image(literal meaning: The Great Sage) is a massive gold figure that has grown in size due to the constant adding and layering of gold-leaf (by men only).
Off we go to explore the former capitals of Amarapura and Saiging, which are on the other side of the Irrawaddy River. Saiging is quite a sight with 600 pagodas and monasteries dotting the hillside, and because of this it is considered to be the spiritual hub of Myanmar and claims residence to around 3,000 monks. We visited several pagodas of importance – all of them quite beautiful in their own way. Everywhere we went was crowded with local people, as it was a religious holiday, and the activity added a nice liveliness to the places.
I had a personal and strangely poignant experience at one of the pagodas. Upon entering, I noticed a father and his young son who happened to be albino. I also noticed the stares of the local people. I was standing at the parapet overlooking the beautiful view of the Irrawaddy and the other pagodas when the man and his son came up to me. Our guide, Thet, was right there to translate. The man came to me, because he saw my blonde hair, and wanted to know whether the bright sunshine bothered my eyes, as his son couldn’t tolerate the bright sunshine. Whether they should go to the doctor about it? He said the son could read OK, that he was not blind, but had to close his eyes against the bright sunshine. These people came from a remote village (they actually have two children, BOTH of them albino) and they didn’t seem aware of the condition at all. I explained to them that the children should wear hats and sun protection in general and we said they should get UV sunglasses for them, that it was doubtful a doctor could do anything. I couldn’t get their situation out of my head – imagine – in a remote village, two dark haired and skinned parents and they give birth to a white haired and skinned baby. Even at that site, people were staring, in the village they must never have seen blond/white haired people. I think it’s why he came to me – I was probably the first blond person he’d seen and he thought that I would suffer with the same problems as the children. So sad!
We stopped at a local market to browse and learn about some of the herbs, vegetables, etc. and how they are used or prepared. I was particularly intrigued by a finger shield device that a woman was using to thinly slice bamboo shoots. She let me try it and even gave me a new one that she had!!
We visited “pottery village” and a family run pottery that make the clay pots used all over the country for water storage – Thet claims it keeps the water cool.
In Amarapura (which means “City of Immortality” we visited the Mahagandayon monastery, home to more than 1,000 young monks and known as a centre for monastic study and strict religious discipline.
Mid-afternoon (and it was a very hot one – probably close to 100!) we drove down to the legendary U Bein Bridge (this is one of the sites I was dying to see) – building in 1782, it spans 1.2 km across the shallow Taungthaman Lake and is said to be the longest teakwood bridge in the world. We joined the throngs (more than usual, evidently, but because of the holiday) to walk part way across the bridge. After relaxing with a coconut full of delicious coconut water under the shade of some large trees, we waited until close to sunset to embark on our little boat ride out on the lake to view the bridge at sunset. We were not disappointed!!