Stuck in a bell

Added 04 Jan 2015

After a delightful buffet breakfast on board we join our morning outing to Mingun. We have a unique mode of transport to get up a hill … 20 farmers’ carts, each pulled by two oxen. Great fun but little suspension.

King Bodawpaya cast a gigantic bell to go with his huge stupa at Mingun so we have to go and see. The Mingun Bell weighs 90 tons and is apparently the largest ringing bell in the world. We are encouraged by the locals to go INSIDE the bell which requires shuffling on your hands and knees to get underneath. Once inside you can stand up. Local visitors join us inside and are very keen to have their photo taken with westerners, especially Ray. The locals all seem to have modern mobile phones.

We then walked up the hill to the Mingun temple, a huge stupa begun by King Bodawpaya in 1790. It was not completed due to an astrologer claiming that, once the temple was finished, the king would die. The completed stupa would have been the largest in the world at 150 metres (490 ft). Huge cracks are visible on the structure from the earthquake of 1839.

On the way to the Mingun Temple we walked passed the “Mingun Home for the Aged”. It was founded by Daw Oo Zun when she herself reached senior age in 1915 with a view to look after the homeless and those in need of care and comfort. It is the first home for the aged established in Myanmar. We offered to drop everyone off here but it didn’t go down well. Oh well, back on the ox carts for the journey home.

Today we also visited the village of Sinjun which has around 1200 inhabitants. Our ship owners, Sanctuary Retreats support the village by donating funds to improve the quality of life of the villagers. Previous donations have funded a library and school house. Dawn & Richard have suggested that we make a collection in the coming days to give to the village. On arrival at Sinjun we are greeted by villagers and some of the children follow us as we enjoy a walk with our guides. The kids are very happy to pose for photos!

Richard and Dawn are asked to meet the village Chief and are taken to his house. On arrival it is clear there is some sort of gathering taking place. There are about 100 people in the garden area preparing and consuming food. We are encouraged to a living area on the first floor of the house and we meet the Chief and about 30 of his relatives, mainly elders sitting on the floor, enjoying their food. It turns out the family is celebrating the engagement of the Chief’s granddaughter. We’re given fermented green tea with beans and seeds, and home-made ice cream – both of which are delicious. We chat through our interpreter and explain where we are from and what we are doing. We wish the happy couple every happiness and say “cè-zù-bèh” (thank you) for their hospitality before returning to the river bank. With everyone back on board ANANDA it is time for lunch. Phew it’s still only morning.

This afternoon we meet in the lounge to learn how to wear and tie a Longyi (the traditional Burmese dress for men and women). We’ve all been given one to wear and keep. Our gentlemen guides show the men how it is meant to be tied and then it’s the ladies turn. There is a lot of swapping going on amongst the ladies as some colours don’t seem to suit. Eventually, we are all fitted and wearing our new traditional costumes. Time to try Thanakha – the traditional Burmese make-up. Girls and women wear it no matter what age and young boys also wear it. It is prepared from the bark of a Thanakha tree which is ground to a paste on a stone, with a little water added. It is applied to the skin as a sunscreen and make-up and is particularly good for wrinkles! After the fun and excitement, the guides give a talk on Myanmar.

Dawn Furlong

Photo: Oxcarts and drivers at Mingun © Dawn Furlong