Mingun - Mandalay
Just an hour's boat ride away from Mandalay, along the Ayeyarwady River, is the little town of Mingun. The public service boats, specially laid on for tourists, leave the Mayanchan jetty every morning. Early in the morning, in loud and strident tones, staccato prayers come rasping through loudspeakers, creating a strange though quite impressive scenario for the visitor who is keen to look behind the scenes of the tourist attractions. Even from a distance, one can see from the boat the massive ruins of the Mantara Gyi Pagoda (commonly known as Mingun Pahto), which was built by King Bodawpaya to be the biggest padoda in the world and was originally intended to reach a height of 152 meters. For precisely this purpose, between 1790 and his death in 1819, Bodawpaya had thousands of prisoners of war and slaves working on the construction of the stupa. It is said that there were too much dissatisfaction over the heavy burden of building this massive pagoda among the people and the ruling class alike and there came a tabaung (a prophesy); "as soon as the building of the pagoda was over, the country would also be gone". Thus the construction came to a halt, much relieved to the people. Only a third of Bodawpaya's dream was completed. Twenty years later, the mighty brick edifice was badly damaged in an earthquake. Nevertheless, the remains of the pagoda, 50 meters high and 72 meters wide, are still spectacular. It is possible to climb up it barefoot and from the top there is a magnificent view of the Ayeyarwady as fas as Mandalay.
Another relic of Bodaypaya's megamania is the Mingun Bell. With a height of 3.7 meters, it is said to be the largest working bell in the world. The Kremlin bell in Moscow is actually bigger but it is cracked and therefore not in use. Weighing 90 metric tons, the Mingun Bell was cast in bronze in 1808, and once it was completed Bodaypaya had the master craftsman executed in order to stop him making anything similar.
On the northern edge of Mingun stands the impressive Hsinbyume Pagoda (Myatheindan Pagoda), built by King Bagyidaw - a grandson of Bodaypaya - in 1816, in memory of his favorite wife. Its unusual architecture is quite striking. It is based on the Sulamani Pagoda on the peak of the mythical golden mountain of Meru, which is the center of the universe in Buddhist-Hindu cosmology. Seven terraces with with undulating rails - representing the seven mountain ranges around Mount Meru - lead up the stupa, and all the way along are niches in which mythical monsters such as Nats, orgres and Nagas (mythical serpents) stand guard.