The Mantara Gyi pagoda built between 1790 and 1797 under the reign of Bodawpaya, son of the founder of the Konbaung dinasty is said to have played an extremely important role in the Burmese history. According to historical reports Bodawpaya had enhanced his invencibility by carrying off the Mahamuni Buddha statue from Mrauk-U and was at the peak of his power, when a Chinese delegation visited his court carrying a tooth of the Buddha for which he decided to have the pagoda built, whose construction he is said to have supervised.
In order to achieve that he had thousands of slaves be brought from newly conquered territories because of labour unavailability in Central Burma. Having ruled over a period of 38 years he died in 1819 and despite leaving 122 children and 2018 grandchildren none of them continued his work on the great 152 metre high pagoda with the lowest terrace measuring 137 square metre in size and the arch project from each of its sides.
We walked around its structure so as to get an idea of its size though we didn't go upstairs.
We took to the surrounding market area where a lot of street vendors were selling traditional products such as thanaka. We watched the grinding of the bark of the wood of that particular tree being mixed with a small amount of water which is drained into the circular stone slab called kyauk pyi. It is said to be a lot more effective than the cream processed jars available for sale.
We mingled with the locals, which was an interesting experience particularly in regards to communication. I met a foldable straw hat vendor who kept on insisting she would like to look like me in what ended up being a dialogue of beauty praise on both parties. I bought her one of those hats and we were both soon wearing sun protecting thanaka and hats and standing side by side as sisters would.
I distributed a few of the things I had brought along and made quite a few children and their mothers happy and so did one of my trip companions, Paco who couldn't say "no" to the young street vendors and always ended up buying something, mostly to make their day.
We crossed the small village until we reached the famous Mingun Bell, which has been for many years (until 2000) the largest functioning bell in the world. Bodawpaya is said to have had it cast with the intention of dedicating it to the world's largest pagoda to be, which he obviously never did.
One cannot underestimate the difficulty involved in moulding and casting such an enormous clanger using 18th century techniques. Bodawpaya himself is said to have acknowledged that fact and as a "reward" to the creator of the bell had him executed so as to make sure the feat was never repeated elsewhere.
Around the bell enclosure we came across some small boys exchanging picture cards among themselves just like we used to as children (one of the boys had even hidden them inside his pants for fear of losing them). Paco continued with his own gift distribution to some of the children in the area, while I stood in complete fascination before an amazingly beautiful todler sitting at the entrance of one of the village houses.
As we were approaching the Myatheindan pagoda I saw a puppet dressed as a Buddhist monk, which I found to be most adequate.