Day three sees the return of the Nun’s amplified chanting and Nev suggests taking a pot shot at the loud speakers set on the roof. John thinks that might kill someone if they fall to the ground. I suggest a sniper to take out the cables. Everyone has a suggestion and our meal times are settling into laughter and serious issues as the world waits anxiously for the Brexit vote. After breakfast we take the boat across the Ayeyerwady. The muddy water seems to flow sluggishly making it difficult to guess the direction down-stream.
Ubiquitous tee shirt and post-card sellers are on hand to escort us down the shore to our boat for a leisurely and peaceful ride. The same characters are ready to meet us on the other side.
This is the site of what was planned around 1790, to be the biggest stupa in the world when finished. The commissioning King died when only a third of it was complete, but it’s still the largest and looms large as we approach on the river.
It’s also described as the world’s largest pile of bricks. Earthquakes in 1819 and 2012 have taken their toll and huge cracks race through the brick work and vast canyons open up through out.
There’re red brick steps up one side but in the blistering heat they burn our bare feet. Local boys have spotted an opportunity and gather foliage growing out of the bricks for us to stand on for relief. I refuse this but occasionally accept help negotiating chasms in the quake tilted pathways at the top. The boys all claim to be learning English to become tour guides – seemingly the main aspiration of young poor people.
They are perhaps over attentive with little real information to give out and of course they want to be paid, a contribution to their studies … maybe. It all contributes to the local economy I guess, and they’ve been able to practice their language skills.
Down the road is the Mingun Bell, furthering the King’s ‘big’ ambitions. Unfortunately it is now only second in the world; the Chinese have cast a larger one.
Of course we have to stand under it and get someone to beat it with a wooden stick. Fortunately the ring is not that loud. By now John and I are getting into doing photographs of each other on our cameras. We wander further down the road and are exhorted by a café owner to come in and have a beer. ‘Maybe later,’ is our reply? We’re looking for a pretty white-washed temple seen from the top of the Mingon stupa.
The Hsinbyume Pays has seven layers of waves representing the sea and the stupa is Mount Sumeru – centre of the Buddhist cosmos. One of the tee shirt women has been following me on and off for ages so I decide that if I can get the right price I will buy the sky blue one with the Myanmar alphabet that she’s been waving at me. I look at the white one she has in a plastic bag which she wants for 5,000 Kt = US5$. I offer 2,000 then 3,000. As I walk away she agrees and then I choose the blue one.
She hesitates because it’s the one she holds out for display.
The deal is done and I’ve got a bargain. On the walk back ‘Maybe later’ calls out to us again. John and I meet up with some of the others to find lunch and suggest ‘Maybe later’ might be good. Some of the guys go into the café next door and outright war is narrowly averted by splitting our party between the two. It’s only fair and both owners are happy.
Back on the other side of the Ayeyerwady, the flower and vegetable market is just closing down. Bundles of flowers are being wrapped in banana leaves and packed away.
Our sunset destination today is Mandaly Hill and there’s a temple at the top and another bare-footed climb up steps.
We are keeping fit and hardening our soles. There’s yet another stunning panoramic view which defies photography. John is usually an enthusiast with his little digital camera but on this occasion he’s deep in conversation with a young monk. They come to tourist places in groups partly to practice their English and will often make an approach.
John takes the opportunity to ask about the monk’s robes and how they work. He’s rewarded with a discreet demonstration of how it all works. You’ll have to ask him. I’m engaged by a very handsome monk on the way up the steps and we chat about the usual topic.
‘Where are you from?’
At the top while we wait for the sunset, a young photographer is trying to recreate a famous shot with three monks walking across a corridor. It’s not quite working for him but I manage to get my shot.
Clouds cover the descending sun and we go down the hill by taxi bus (Utility truck with seats on the back) to find the Emerald Buddha temple all lit up like La Vegas. It’s said that no one does Buddha bling like the Burmese and this temple must be one of the tops.