For the Temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be —
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay. R Kipling
We did not take “the road to Mandalay” we flew. This time I think it was Asian Wings Airline, another start-up with two planes. Same process as before including the cool little stickers you had to wear in the waiting room.
Mandalay (which avoided the name change fad) is a port city on the Irawaddy River which starts in the Himalaya and runs the length of Burma. Although it is a bustling city, it retains a certain charm, maybe it is the name.
This is a view from atop Mandalay Hill, which of course has another temple. You can see the busy port and part of the city. However, Kipling’s poem is an example of artistic license, you cannot see the sea. In other verses of the poem he says China is on the other side of the river. Well, not yet anyway.
Mandalay has a thriving Jade business. We went to the Jade cutting area of town, which is three big square blocks and busy as a county fair on the 4th of July.
The jade, all mined in Burma, arrives in big blocks that look like normal old rocks to a guy like me.
These stones then get sawed into more manageable sized pieces. Big operations like this were all over the area, not just this one.
Then the pros go to work. They take a long time with high intensity lights and other vision enhancement tools to decide if a stone is worth further work, and if so where to cut it. Jade has relative values according to color and they work hard to get a part of a stone with pure dark green isolated for the best jewels.
Some jade beads in process.
Garbage jade! This where they dispose of the parts of the stones they do not want. I asked the guide if they would mind if I took a piece. He laughed and told me to go ahead, it is garbage. So I rooted through the pile and came up with a nice jade soap holder for the bathroom. I think that when tourism picks up in Myanmar, that will be harder to do!
Another Mandalay must see is the largest monastery in town.
We got there on laundry day. There were monk’s robes hanging out to dry all over the campus. I say campus because this is not just a monastery it is also a school.
It is a place where young novice monk in training go to learn the lessons of the Buddha before they can wear the maroon robes. There is a very big ceremony in a family when they send a son off to become a monk. Family, freinds, neighbors all come and give gifts. But some of the kids just do not make it. I have had at least three guides who lasted as little as two days, or a couple weeks. They could not take the long periods of fasting. In this picture they are standing in line for lunch with their bowls.
It is a very longline. This is a big complex. Women come from other parts of Manadaly and cook the meal in a huge kitchen. All the food comes from money donated by the community This is the place where the military government killed a bunch of monks, which set off the revolt that resulted in a democratic government.
In the last few years of extensive travels in Buddhist Asia, we have seen more Buddha statues than it would be possible to count. In Mandalay we saw something that I never expected to see.
Our guide, wh0 by now had tossed the itinerary away because he knew we wanted the bizarre stuff took us to a BUDDHA FACTORY!
The Buddhas are carved without much detail and without faces, until someone buys them and specifies what they want. Of course I was irreverent enough to ask our guide “If I bought this guy here, could I have MY face carved on it? ” I was not sure what the look on HIS face meant.
Then he pointed at this Buddha as if to say “put your face on this one.”
Gold leaf is a very big thing in the Buddhist world. It is a common offering to Buddha statues to apply gold leaf to them. Now we got to see how it was made.
Of course you start with real gold. This was from a mine in the north of Myanmar.
Then the gold is melted, formed, pounded, stretched, pounded and pounded again until it is thinner than newspaper. It is then cut into squares about 2×2″. That little piece of gold from the last photo makes dozens of these sheets used for offerings. You can see them in this photo. The value added to the gold is probably five fold.
OK, that is it for this post, but we are not done with Mandalay yet. Next post we visit Mignon which is a community across the Irawadddy river which has among other things, the world largest brass bell! Stay tuned, share this with a friend, and thanks for reading.
Tags: Buddha factory, Burma, carving Buddhas, gold leaf, Himalaya, jade, lade production, Mandalay, Mawlamyine, mignon, monk school, Myanmar, Port, Rudyard Kipling, worlds larget bell, Yangon