Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mandalay's Jade Market & Ferry Excursion to Mingun

Myanmar is one of the world's largest Jade producers, but with trade bound by international sanctions, many of the precious gemstones are smuggled out of the country. The stalls in the large Jade Market sell mostly to dealers, and it probably isn’t a good idea to make a purchase unless you know what you’re looking for, but it’s a fascinating place to visit. Jade is big business in Myanmar, although trade with the Chinese has declined somewhat since they imposed tough new import tariffs. The main trading in the market takes place in the morning, but it’s possible to see jade being cut, shaped and polished at any time.

Hundreds of young Burmese men polish baskets of jadeite at wooden tables for a few dollars a day in the back lanes of Mandalay's Jade Market

Barefoot and with the most archaic equipment, many work in overcrowded workshops

The market was certainly a glimpse into another side of Mandalay

Some still manage to chat and smile while working

A lady merchant selling raw cut jade

The Jade Market is a vast and baffling warren, of row after row of traders with their iridescent stones laid out on white cloth set over packing crates

Buyers inspecting stones with eyeglasses in their pockets

Arriving early in the morning, there was a sea of people but always merchants 
selling food in the tightest and most unlikely spots

Just an hour's boat ride away from Mandalay along the Irrawaddy River, is the little town of Mingun, best known for its gigantic, unfinished stupa, the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, which was meant to be the largest in the world but now lies ravaged by earthquakes on the western banks of the river. The structure is an impressive sight, and there are panoramic views from the top, although access is restricted due to the enormous cracks. In front of the pagoda facing the river are the remains of two giant Chinthe lions guarding the temple. Two large earthquakes did considerable damage to the Mingun Pagoda. During the 1838 earthquake the heads of the giant Chinthes broke off and rolled into the Irrawaddy river, so all that remains are vestiges of the lions haunches. Nearby, what is said to be the largest uncracked ringing bell in the world, is the 90-tonne Mingun Bell which was cast to go in the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, and holds pride of place nearby.

The Mayanchan jetty outside Mandalay with hundreds of boats that ferry travellers 
to Mingun along the Irrawaddy

Young girls washing clothes on the shore of the Irrawaddy at the Mayanchan jetty

Fisherman-farmers growing watermelon along the banks of the Irrawaddy

A small seasonal home with goats built on the floodplains of the Irrawaddy, 
that will have to be moved once the monsoons arrive

Life on the waterways: fishing and ferries

Fishing for supper 

Approaching Mingun by water

Young children with big smiles swarm tourists to buy trinkets

The grand entrance to the unfinished Mingun Pahtodawgyi

The Mingun Pahtodawgyi with a discernible crack from an 1838 and more recent earthquakes

Stairs were installed to reach the summit but a red sign warns tourists about the dangers

Tourists make the climb to the summit

Vestiges of the haunches of one of two Chinches, or lions, that were to have guarded the stately Mingun Pahtodawgyi, but during the 1838 earthquake the heads broke off and rolled into the Irrawaddy

The rather theme park-inspired entrance to the Mingun Bell

The Mingun Bell is the largest uncracked ringing bell in the world, which at 90-tons was cast to go in the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, which was meant the largest stupa in the world

Just a couple of hundred yards from the great Mingun Paya and bell lies the beautiful white Hsinbyume Pagoda with a distinctive architectural style modelled after the mythical Mount Meru, a sacred mountain with five peaks in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist cosmology and is considered to be the center of all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes. Seven concentric terraces represent the seven mountain ranges going up to the Mount Meru according to Buddhist mythology, and the highest point or 'finial bud' on the pyatthat, a Burmese-style multi-tiered roof, represents Mount Meru. In the niches of the shrine, there are assayed mythological creatures like Ogres, Nagas and Nats, or the Spirits. Built in 1816 by Bodawpaya's grandson and successor Bagyidaw and dedicated to the memory of his first consort Princess Hsinbyume, granddaughter of Bodawpaya, who died in childbirth. The pagoda, like the Taj Mahal in India, was built to honour lost love.

The beautiful white Hsinbyume Pagoda is modelled after the mythical Mount Meru, considered to be the center of all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes in Bubbliest cosmology 

Undulating rails represent the seven mountain ranges around Mount Meru

Inset in the niches of the shrine are mythological creatures like Ogres, Nagas and Nats

One of the gates leading to the top of Mount Meru

The Hsinbyume Paya with the sun setting ice the hills

A lady walking through Mingun ready to transport fruit on her head 
with the aid of a cloth wrap to stabilize the load

Traditional paper-wrapped Burmese cigars and small local cheroots 

View of the Mingun Paya from Hsinbyume, with people who have climbed on top, 
ignoring signs warning tourists not to do so

Barges moor 'stern to' along the shore allowing for easier access for guests to 'come aboard' 

Our captain and hostess await our arrival on the "green jalopy" as we prepare to depart Mingun

Leaving Mingun with the unfinished pagoda in the distance, 
and a "cocktail table" set for cold beer and peanuts

A fisherman watching us pass as we return upriver to Mandalay

Sunset over the Irrawaddy

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