There are some incredible sights of the ancient wonders of the world like the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt and the Great Wall of China of which I have been blessed to be able to visit these 2 places and look upon their wonder. However, how about those places which never made it to the list of ancient wonders? The wannabes who might have endured to amaze their descendants? Read on, for this is one of those places which might have made it into the annals of historical wonders.
From Mandalay it’s possible to make a half day trip to the village of Mingun across the Irrawaddy River. Here you will find the ruins of what could have been the largest Buddhist pagoda in history.
There are 2 ways to reach Mingun from Mandalay, the first is to drive there and requires a large detour going south of Mandalay and crossing the Irrawaddy River at Sagaing before heading back north to Mingun. This takes roughly 1 hour and involves going through some rough roads (according to my driver/guide). The second and most common way is to take a ferry from Mandalay to Mingun where you get off directly at the pagoda. This takes around 45 minutes.
From what I gather there is a fixed ferry schedule that leaves Mandalay at 9am and returns at 1pm. The cost is 5,000 Kyats (SGD5) per person. However, it’s also possible to hire a boat yourself and at whatever time you choose. We did this through our driver/guide and it cost us 30,000 Kyats (SGD30) to take the whole boat, but we were able to leave at 7.30am thus beating the tourist crowds.
There is a fee of 5,000 Kyats (SGD5) to enter the ruins. This ticket is also used to visit the other sights in Mingun. Unfortunately, the Mandalay archaeological zone ticket can’t be used here.
So who built this? It was the eccentric King Bodawpaya in 1790 who ordered the construction of the world’s largest pagoda. He had acquired a sacred tooth relic of Buddha and wanted to enshrine it in a pagoda. To enshrine such a treasure, the pagoda could not be an ordinary one, but the largest of it’s time. King Bodawpaya was so fixated on building the pagoda that he left matters of state to his son, and built a residence on an island in the Irrawaddy River overlooking the site so that he could personally oversee the construction.
He used thousands of slaves and captured prisoners of war as labour for the construction. The cost of the project was also a burden on his country. In order to stop the project, a prophecy was created to tap on the king’s deep superstition. The prophecy stated that the king will die if the pagoda was completed. Because of this the project was abandoned in 1797 and King Bodawpaya died in 1819. Other reasons that historians have suggested for the abandonment were lack of funds and possible technical difficulties of building such a large structure.
A large earthquake in 1839 resulted in a large crack on the face of the stupa thus ensuring that nobody would want to restore the project. As of now, the uncompleted base stands at 50m. Compare that to the Statue of Liberty (without the pedestal) which is 47m in height. If completed, the Mingun pagoda would have stood at 150m (The Great Pyramid of Cheops is 139m high).
Besides the enormous stupa, you can walk down the road pass souvenir shops to a small building which houses the second largest functioning bell in the world. This was commissioned by King Bodawpaya and was supposed to be installed at the top of the completed pagoda. The bell was also abandoned and laid on the ground for years until it was hoisted to the present location.
Walking further down the road and we came to this white pagoda reflecting the morning Sun’s rays. The design is very different from the other pagodas that we’ve seen in Myanmar so far.
So if you have half a day of time to kill in Mandalay, you can consider coming to Mingun. It’s an interesting way to spend 3 hours or more and learn about the history of the country.
While the Mingun Pahtodawgyi won’t make it into the record books, it does hold the dubious honour of being the world’s largest pile of bricks.
For more about Mandalay you can click on my previous blog post.