The Itinerary

The Itinerary

Saturday, March 28, 2015

March 22, Mandalay to the RV Paukan 1947

Sunday, March 22, Day 47 - Mandalay to the RV Paukan 1947

After a restful night we are up a little before 7AM and get packed before heading to breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. They offer a nice breakfast buffet of mostly local style foods and will cook eggs to order so we are in good shape. Dick attempts to check out using a Mastercard and finds the sign at the desk is true. "Use of your card is dependent upon the internet connection." Sure enough! After 15 minutes and multiple tries, the c
harge for $56US for the extra drinks and the nice dinner finally goes through. While Dick gets us bailed out, Carolyn takes some pictures of the hotel in the daylight: view from our deck, the pool from the restaurant, our room from the restaurant (one on end), the entrance and street in front of the hotel.   It is really a nice, small inn.

Win is prompt and we are off just before 9AM. Our original plan was to go to the Mahamuni Paya which is Mandalay’s most holy Buddhist site. How this is determined is beyond your poor correspondent’s ability and knowledge. The main interest here is the Buddha figure that has been so covered with gold leaf that its shape has been distorted into a blob and some historically important artifacts in the pagoda’s museum. But, due to our late start and the fact that Dick is balking at taking his shoes off and going barefoot, this is the temple that gets cut.

So now we head to the foot of Mandalay Hill for our first stop. The Kuthadaw Paya or "The Book Temple" was built in 1868 and is sometimes called the world's largest book, so named for the 729 small, white stupas, each containing an inscribed marble slab. Collectively, the slabs contain the entire Tripitaka (these are the Buddhist scriptures.) They are written in the script and language of Myanmar, a derivative of Sanskrit. It is estimated that it would take 450, eight hour days, to read all of the writings on these slabs. Carolyn likes this Paya. It is very interesting to photograph. We have to go barefoot of course, so, with some griping, Dick follows along. There are lots of family groups and we have to stop and have a picture made with several of them.  This has happened to us many places in our Asian travels!  Get a picture with the big round eye!  The people are always nice though. There are also many school groups, some on tours and others working on drawings around the grounds.

The next stop is the Shwenendaw Kyaung Monastery; also called the "Golden Monastery." It was built in 1879 inside the palace compound. It was moved to its present site, East of the Palace, some time later thus saving it from destruction during WWII. It is a beautiful wooden building with carvings of the Buddhist myths and a carved, stylized roof. This stop is worth Dick taking his shoes off and the walking is more comfortable because the floor is wood. At each stop Win has given us towelettes to wipe our feet. All building’s floors are filthy and the towels are black with dirt each time.

The final stop is a gold-leaf shop to witness the process of making the gold-leaf used by Buddhist worshipers. Here, a seed nugget of pure gold is placed in a hardened leather sleeve. The sleeve is placed on an inclined plane and a very muscular young man proceeds to hit it with a 5kg sledgehammer for 30 minutes as measured by a water clock sitting in a bowl in front of his station. These resulting sheets of gold are interleaved between layers of paper or leather and pounded until the desired thinness is achieved; the process repeating multiple times. Women then cut and package the gold for sale. We now own 10 small squares produced by this process for 10,000 kyat or $10US.

Now It is 10:30AM and time to head for the dock. We can board the boat at 11:30AM. Win takes us on a driving tour of some sites around town; China Town, the Catholic Cathedral, the West Gate of the "rebuild" of the original royal palace compound with 8 miles of moats, street vendors and the shop of his friend who repairs refrigerators and air conditioners! A good man to know in this climate. We also see many interesting street scenes along the way. To be as big a city as Mandalay is, the traffic is surprisingly light and it has nice wide streets for the main thoroughfares.

This is a hot, dusty, windy area but so is West Texas. The only real issue we have is the refuse, all kinds of plastic on the ground everywhere. You see people sweeping their yards and groups gathering up piles of the trash, but nothing much happens to the piles. Some people burn their piles, but the burning plastic smells terrible and it leaves a blackened mess of half melted goo. This is where the lack of infrastructure really shows. To us, this trash problem and smell is much worse than anything we saw in India. And, surprisingly, Bali was almost as bad. Yes, that is fish covered in flies you see below!

We drive along the levee beside the river for a ways. It is an open workshop of river commerce.  Life here is lived on the streets and riverbank.  We get to the dock a little after 11AM. Pier 39 in San Francisco it is not! After exiting the car we are standing on top of the dike and there are broken concrete steps down a short distance but then it is just dirt with, maybe, a hand cut step here and there. We are a little early and the female porters, who appear nearer to 11:30 are not in evidence.  But, between Win, two other young men and some landing crewmen carrying the luggage and Carolyn, we board the anchored barge that acts as a dock. This is officially known as Gawein Jetty. We are provided plastic chairs and we wait for 20 minutes or so as the passengers begin to arrive. Soon there are a number of young women acting as luggage porters; scurrying up and down the levy with the gear of each new arrival on their head.

Shortly after 11:30, the assembled passengers are invited to board the RV Paukan 1947 by gangplank (a  2x12 board) suspended over the gap between our craft and the barge. The riverboat is so named because it was built in 1947 in Scotland  in the old rice boat design and floated to Burma. It has been completely restored with all necessary modern conveniences added. There are 16 small, but comfortable cabins with private baths, a lounge, restaurant and sun deck The boat is really nice, but getting on it was interesting to say the least.

Once on board we are greeted with a cool, wet towel, and juice. We are instructed to place our shoes in a basket that corresponds to our cabin #4 and invited to sit in a lounge/bar area. About noon, we are given the standard spiel and the safety instructions: "If we sink or turn over, do not panic, just stand up. The river is very shallow." All the cabins are full.

We cast off at 12:30. A buffet lunch of mostly Burmese style food is served at 1PM. The food is good and plentiful...the best is the thinly cut tempura vegetables, fried while we watch. While we eat, meet our new friends and later explore the boat, we sail up river toward Mingun, arriving about 3:30PM for a guided 90 minute walking tour of the complex that was built in the 1790s.

The crew bundles Carolyn ashore and up the sandy river bank. The gangway is two planks tied together running from the boat to the sand at the water’s edge. One of the crew assists us in hiring a Tuk-Tuk for the trip to the sites and we wind up having a private tour of the complex by the crew member.

We visit Pa Hto Daw Gyi known as the worlds largest unfinished pagoda at 49 meters tall. Next we visit the Great Mingun Bell. It was perfectly cast, weighs 90 tons and is the worlds largest ringing bell. Dick tries his hand at ringing it for good luck. Our last stop is the Mya Thein Dan Pagoda also known as the White Pagoda. The wavy parts represent the seas and the terraces, the seven mountains ranges going up to Mount Mere.

Carolyn finds this pagoda very interesting and pretty. From here we head back to the Paukan. The crew again help Carolyn and this time Dick back to the ship and we are off.

Not long after casting off from Mingun we reach a deserted area of river bank and tie off for the night. The river is too shallow and dangerous here for the boats to sail after dark. Several crew jump off into the mud and rig up moorings for the boat....two bamboo poles pounded into the sand by a huge wooden mallet, rope and a cement bag full of sand and we are tethered for the night. That is a show in its self!

We get cleaned up and dressed for dinner. There is a cocktail hour on the top deck which Dick goes to, but Carolyn stays in the lounge and reads. The stairs to the top are steep and ladder like, too much climbing for tonight. While we were dressing we realized the A/C wasnt working right and told a crew member.

Dinner is served family style tonight. Two types of curry with various condiments, a shrimp dish and a salad and a vegetable soup along with all the steamed rice you can eat. So far the food is good. Dick is really enjoying it and Carolyn has been able to find some things she is enjoying also. Fortunately by the time we get back from dinner the room is cleaned up and almost cold! There is a dance show on the sun deck by a well known Mandalay dance troop, but we are too tired. We choose an early night instead. Boy are we getting old!

1 comment:

  1. Carolyn and Dick, am enjoying hearing all about Myanmar and loving the photos. I know we will have to return and do a trip on the river next year as 9 hours in Yangon won't be enough. Jennie