As we stepped onto "land" we were still unaware of the importance the four sacred images of Buddha enshrined with a fifth one in the pagoda have in the religious devotion of worshippers from all over the Shan state.
During the festival celebrated annually to mark the beginning of Buddhist Lent the amaorphous Buddha statues are paraded aboard a recreated royal barge with a huge gilded karaweik bird at its prow (the one we had seen minutes before). Celebrations are said to last around 20 days and are a reminder of the pomp that once attended the Buddhist courts.
Only four of those images are used in the parade though. Legend has it that in 1965 a storm capsized the barg carrying the images with only four having been recovered from the bottom of the lake. The fifth one would later be recovered still covered with weeds but has since then never left the temple. The spot on the lake where the barge capsized is marked by a pole crowned by the sacred mythological hintha bird (which I had photographed on the way there).
The overall atmosphere inside the temple was one of silent veneration with quite a few women kneeling outside the shrine where the Buddha images are kept. Men could be seen inside the shrine, once women were not allowed.
Since the images have been covered with such a huge amount of gold layers they are unrecognisable. There was a picture on one of the temple's walls depicting the original Buddha images, as well as painting depicting the barge that sank with them.
As we were on the temple yard I sighted an old lady, presumably with a grand child, whom I gave a small mechanical toy to. It took her some time to understand how it worked, but the moment she relaised how it was done she greeted me with a huge smile, as the child was still wondering what was going on. I had never seen anyone so happy with such a small gift.
(To be continued)