Day 4 (cont)
After an early morning flight, we arrived in Mandalay. The country’s second largest city is the spiritual and cultural heart of Myanmar.
On Marble Street, Mandalay’s street of stone-sculptors, men attack blocks of white marble with drills and angle-grinders. From the clouds of marble dust emerge Buddha images from all shapes and sizes which are hand-polished by women.
At the Mahamuni Pagoda, we were fortunate to run into a Novitiation or Shinbyu ceremony. Followed by their families in their best attire, the soon-to-be novices are lead in a procession around the pagoda.
A most important events in a Buddhist’s life, the ceremony reflects Buddha’s journey as he renounced his life as a prince (hence the princely attire and makeup) in his quest for enlightenment.
In late afternoon, we visited Taungthaman Lake and photographed at sunset the legendary U Bein Bridge, the longest piece of teak wood in the world.
We were up at dawn to capture the sunrise over the moat of Mandalay Fort. The key to such an image is to wait for the most intense color, which occurs around 15 minutes before actual sunrise.
We had several opportunities to witness monks going for their round of alms. Contrarily to widespread thinking, this is not begging, but an opportunity provided to the devotees to earn merit by giving. To that effect, the monks walk a long way from their monasteries, often barefoot.
We observed life along the Irrawaddy River before taking a one hour cruise to Mingun village.
Mingun Pagoda would have been the world’s biggest pagoda, but construction of this enormous brick building was halted after a fortune-teller predicted that if construction was completed, the King would perish. The remaining Mingun Bell is the largest in the world.
In the afternoon, we admired the extraordinary woodwork at the Swehwe In Bin Kyaung pagoda before going up the Mandalay Hill for a panoramic view.
After sunset, we had the privilege of attending the evening prayer at one of the numerous monasteries that dot the Mandalay Hill. More than half of all Buddhist monks in Myammar reside in the Mandalay area.
Out of respect I did not want to use flash. Instead of trying to make a somewhat sharp picture, I opted to capture motion. Images with motion work best when there are elements which remain sharp enough, so the challenge was to wait for a key moment when some monks would be in motion, and others not. This happened at the end of the prayer, so the window was very short. 1s ISO 1600 f4 did I say it was dark ?
Sutaungpyei Pagoda on top of Mandalay Hill at dawn was a much more serene experience than sunset. As often there is a short window after it is too dark and before the lights are turned off there.
Compared to sunset, sunrise added a low layer of fog, floating well below Mandalay Hill. The image looked just grey but by just moving black point and white points contrast raised to reveal details.
Back to the streets of Mandalay, we ran into this elaborated alms procession, where each monk, instead of carrying his own bowl, is accompanied by an umbrella bearer and a man holding a donation bag.
At the Gold Pounders Workshop we watched sheets of gold being beaten into gossamer-thin pieces and cut into squares. Those are used for a practice seen through the country: the application of gold leaf to Buddha images by devotees and favor-seekers.
At the Mahagandayon Monastery, renowned as a center for monastic study and strict religious discipline, some of the thousand monks line up for lunch.
We visited a silk workshop, a production for which Amarapura is known.
Although today Awa is a small village (in which we had to travel in a traditional horse-drawn carriage), traces of its golden days as Burma’s capital can still be seen throughout its peaceful rural landscape filled with magnificent ruins such as the Daw Gyan Pagoda complex.
Sagaing, an ancient capital, is nowadays an important religious center. Our first stop there was the Zayar Theingi Nunnery.
We next checked the many Buddha images in the crescent-shaped hall of U Min Thonze pagoda.
Our late afternoon and sunset shot was from Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda at the top of Sagaing Hill, home to a more than a thousand monasteries, nunneries, temples and pagodas.
See more photos of Mandalay