Burmese Beauty ~ Mingun, Myanmar

Portrait: Beautiful young smiling burmese woman in a straw bonnet.

Natural Beauty
A young burmese postcard seller captured me with her simple beauty and natural smile.

“I love the Burman with the blind favouritism born of first impression. When I die I will be a Burman … and I will always walk about with a pretty almond-coloured girl who shall laugh and jest too, as a young maiden ought. She shall not pull a sari over her head when a man looks at her and glare suggestively from behind it, nor shall she tramp behind me when I walk: for these are the customs of India. She shall look all the world between the eyes, in honesty and good fellowship, and I will teach her not to defile her pretty mouth with chopped tobacco in a cabbage leaf, but to inhale good cigarettes of Egypt’s best brand.”

– Rudyard Kipling, 1890

Some things in Myanmar have changed little since Kipling’s time.

The Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy or Ayeyarwady) River, the country’s largest and most important waterway, remains a major transport artery. Numerous wooden boats still ply their trade up and down the “Road to Mandalay” – although the paddle steamers of Kipling’s day have mostly been replaced by noisy diesel and gas motors.

Last September, with photographer Karl Grobl and local guide Mr MM, I travelled the 11 kilometres up the Ayeyarwaddy River from Mandalay to Mingun, a small town in Sagaing.

There was much that Kipling would have found familiar.

Wooden boats under a white-hot sky on the brown Irrawaddy or Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar

Ships in the Heat
Even on the wide Irrawaddy River, the heat shimmers.

Portrait: a young burmese man pushing a boat out to water.

Boatman
Getting our boat away from the shore takes human muscle.

Burmese man at the Helm of an old wooden boat, Irrawaddy Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar

Helmsman
Our boat chugs 45 minutes up river.

Irrawaddy or Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar

Life on the River
Fishing for dinner or collecting grasses for building still means getting pretty wet!

View of the Mingun Pahtodawgyi from the IrrawaddyAyeyarwady River, Myanmar

The Mingun Pahtodawgyi
Soon, the Mingun Temple, a monumental stupa started by King Bodawpaya in 1790 and never finished, comes into view.

Bow of a wooden boat, with coiled ropes and a jar of green leaves, Irrawaddy or Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar

The Prow
Fresh greenery on the bow of our boat protects us from malevolent or unhappy nats or spirits.

Muddy shore of the Irrawaddy or Ayeyarwady River at Mingun, two burmese women and a dog.

On the Mingun Shore
Once we are “docked” on the west bank of the river, vendors in thanakha powder come to greet us.

Street Scene in Mingun: a monk with an umbrella on foot and a man on a motorcycle.

Street Scene
Streets in Mingun are quiet – travelled by foot or the odd motorcycle.

A Bullock Cart on a muddy Mingun street, Myanmar

Bullock Taxi
Alternately, you can hire a bullock cart and driver.

The most famous attraction in Mingun is the beautiful Hsinbyume or Myatheindan Pagoda – built in 1816 and dedicated to the memory of Princess Hsinbyume (Lady of the White Elephant) who died in childbirth – to which I devoted a post to recently. As impressive as Hsinbyume Pagoda is, it is the people on the walk leading to and from it which are the real burmese treasures.

Portrait: Old burmese Bullock Taxi Driver, smiling toothlessly, Mingun, Myanmar

Old Bullock “Taxi” Driver

Portrait: Old burmese woman selling Cigars and Candles, Mingun, Myanmar

Cigar and Candle Seller

Portrait: Young burmese woman in thanaka and a straw hat, Mingun, Myanmar

Selling Silks

Portait: Young smiling burmese woman in thanakha and a straw hat, Mingun, Myanmar

Selling Souvenirs

Small wooden White Elephant marionettes, with red paint and sequins, Mingun, Myanmar

White Elephants
Souvenirs for sale include marionettes – some modelled on elephants in honour of Princess Hsinbyume.

Portrait: young smiling burmese woman, Mingun, Myanmar

Portrait of a Postcard Seller
This beautiful young woman with her open smile could have been the subject of Kipling’s praises.

You can’t visit Mingun without a look at the Mingun Bell. Weighing in at 90 tons, and built between 1808 and 1810 by the same King Bodawpaya who started the giant stupa, it is one of the largest functioning bells in the world.

Three burmese monks entering a temple, Mingun, Myanmar

Entering the Temple

View of the Zayat housing the Mingun bell, with a faint Circumzenithal arc in the sky overhead, Mingun, Myanmar

Zayat or Shelter
The elegant building housing the bell sat under a dramatic sky.

A Circumzenithal arc over the housing for the Mingun Bell, Myanmar

A Smile in the Sky
A circumzenithal (or Bravais’) arc is formed by the refraction of sunlight through ice crystals high up in cirrus clouds. I’ve only ever seen one other.

Mingun Bell, Mingun

The Mingun Bell

Portrait: Burmese Monk at Mingun

Monk Collecting for Local Temples

Wooden boats rafted on the banks of the Irrawaddy or Ayeyarwady River, Mingun, Mayanmar

Back to the Boats

“This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about.”

Text: Keep smiling– Rudyard Kipling, Letters from the East (1898)

It is a beautiful place, with beautiful people… I hope it stays that way!

Pictures: 12 September2012

  • Dietmut - September 29, 2013 - 12:29 pm

    nice report of Myanmar and very beautiful shots Ursula. Nice sunday and warm greetings, DietmutReplyCancel

  • Dietmut - September 29, 2013 - 12:33 pm

    interesting report of Myanmar and nice shot Ursula. Warm greetings and nice day, DietmutReplyCancel

    • Ursula - September 29, 2013 - 1:44 pm

      Hi Dietmut!
      It’s very nice to have your company. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. 🙂ReplyCancel

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