Former Glories and Hidden Treasures: the Ancient Kingdom of Inwa, Myanmar

A white burmese Chedi under a white sky, reflected in flooded Rice patties, Inwa Island, Myanmar

Timeless Calm
A modern chedi stands among ancient temple ruins, Inwa Island, Myanmar.

Away from the gilded and jewel-bedecked temples filled with monks in maroon robes and nuns in pale pink, Myanmar hides a quiet, almost idyllic, rural landscape dotted with ancient ruins.

Just 21 km south of Mandalay, nestled in the confluence of the Myitnge and Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwaddy) rivers, across from the busy monasteries and shiny temples of the Sagaing Hills, you will find Inwa Island. A trip to the island is like a trip back in time.

Late last September, my travel companions in Myanmar – a group of photography enthusiasts, photographer Karl Grobl, local guide Mr MM – and I, piled into wooden boats and plugged our ears against the noise of the outboard motors. Looking nonchalant, the driver of the boat I was in alternated between steering the outboard with his foot and by hand, as he landed us safely on the muddy bank that passes for a pier.

Burmese male in a pith hat and check shirt steering a motorboat Irrawaddy River

Like a model in a fashion shoot…

Burmese male in a pith hat and check shirt steering a motorboat Irrawaddy River.

…our boatman stands against the sky

Portrait of an Irrawaddy River Boatman in a pith hat, Inwa Island, Myanmar

Irrawaddy River Boatman

At the Inwa Island “dock”, we were met by the usual assortment of locals with trinkets for sale, and a “fleet” of pony carts and their drivers to transport the day trippers around. The unpaved roads were muddy and wet; it was easy to see why horse carts are the preferred tourist transport on the island.

Tattered wooden two-wheeled pony carts on Inwa Island, Myanmar

Pony Carts

Officially called Ratanapura (City of Gems), the artificial island was created by Prince Thadominphya in 1364 to be home to the imperial court of the ancient Kingdom of Inwa (also known as Innwa, Ava or Awa). It was the capital during five separate periods from the 14th to 19th centuries, before being finally abandoned in 1839 after several major earthquakes. No other city in Myanmar has been the seat of government for so long.

Ruins of an old Buddhist temple on Inwa Island, Myanmar, set behind dirt fields and palm trees, Yadana Hsimi Pagodas

Ruins among the Fields
Our first stop was at the Yadana Hsimi Pagodas.

Landscape: male and female Burmese farmers at the edge of tilled field backed by palm trees, Inwa Island, Myanmar.

Farming Couple
Land around the temple ruins are ready for planting.

Old sitting buddha, Yadana Hsimi Pagodas, Inwa Island, Myanmar


Seated buddha in front of stone burmese chedis - Yadana Hsimi Pagodas, Inwa Island, Myanmar


A young burmese visitor to the ruins at Yadana Hsimi Pagodas, Inwa Island, Myanmar.

A Young Visitor

Close-up of stone a Gargoyle on a Lintel at Yadana Hsimi Pagodas, Inwa Island, Myanmar.

Beautiful stone lintels survive around the ruins, Yadana Hsimi Pagodas.

Old Buddha among ruined columns and green over-growth, Yadana Hsimi Pagodas, Myanamer

Buddha in the Ruins

Two burmese men washing themselves at the well outside the ruins of Yadana Hsimi Pagodas, Inwa Island, Myanmar.

Washing at the Well
There is always life around temples; whether they be new or old ones.

An elderly Burmese man stands at the back of his dainty wooden horse cart, Inwa Island, Myanmar.

Our horse-cart is ready to take us to the next place of interest.

Our second stop was across the island, at the Bagaya Kyaung or ‘Star Flower Monastery’, a beautiful old teak building, ornately carved and supported on 267 massive teak posts. Built in 1834, the monastery is still in use today as a classroom for the village children.

Palm tree trunks reflected in a flooded rice paddy, Inwa Island, Myanmar.

Reflections at the Temple
A tree-lined road approaches Bagaya Kyaung…

A view of the teak balustrades and traditional burmese tiered roof at Bagaya Kyaung, Inwa Island, Myanmar.

‘Star Flower Monastery’
… the wonderful teak temple, originally built in 1834 to educate the royals.

The multi-layered steep teak roof Bagaya Monastery

Monastery Roof
Typical Burmese-style roofline.

Small buddha shrine in a chedi, Bagaya Monastery, Myanmar

Buddha Shrine
A small chedi, with a smaller buddha.

Burmese Theravada monk in a wIndow, Bagaya Monastery

Monk in a WIndow

Three burmese novice monks studying at a low wooden table, Bagaya Monastery, Myanmar.

Little Monks
Novice monks try to stay awake to do their school work inside the dark temple.

Burmese vendors squat outside Bagaya Monastery, waiting for business.

Outside the monastery, vendors chat while waiting for the tourists to come.

Portrait: young smiling Burmese in a straw hat shows off a carved teak bowl.

Mango Bowl
As soon as tourists emerge, vendors are ready with their wares.

A small pony cart on a sandy dirt road, Bagaya Monastery, Inwa Island

Incoming Pony Carts

Too soon it is time to get back in our horse carts, to ride back across the wet bumpy roads and past the peaceful rice paddies, to our waiting motor boats.

Close-up over the back of a cart-pulling horse, Inwa Island, Myanmar

Outgoing Horse Cart

Landscape: Woman in the Rice Fields, Inwa Island, Myanmar

Woman in the Rice Fields

Landscape: The leaning watchtower, Inwa (Ava) Island

The Watchtower
Nanmyin, the masonry watchtower, damaged by the 1838 earthquake, is all that remains of the Bagyidaw palace.

Scene: horse carts at the muddy dock on Inwa Island, Myanmar.

Back at the Dock

Text: Happy TravelsTruly a charming and peaceful place –

a reminder of simpler times.

Happy travels!

Pictures: 14September2012

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