ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “stupa

RANKOT VIHARA, LANKATILAKA & GAL VIHARA, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.08

Day 4 (2 of 3).

Parakramabahu I (reigned 1153–1186) is often considered as the greatest ruler of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.  Under his rule, Sri Lanka had entered a prosperous time.  The ambitious king unified the island into one kingdom, expanded and beautified the capital city, constructed extensive irrigation systems, reformed the army and religious customs, and conducted in military campaigns in Burma and South India.  Today, many surviving structures of Polonnaruwa, such as the Royal Palace, the circular Vatadage at the Quadrangle, the Lankatilaka Viharaya and the Buddhist statues of Gal Vihara, all could be traced back to the majestic ruler.  King Nissanka Malla (reigned 1187 – 1196AD) continued the building spree of his predecessor Parakramabahu I, and spent much of the nation’s resources on construction.  One of his most prominent projects was Rankoth Vehera Stupa, the largest stupa in Polonnaruwa and fourth largest in Sri Lanka.  With a base diameter of 550 feet and an original height of about 200 feet, Rankoth Vehera was the skyscraper of ancient Polonnaruwa.

01Our third stop in Polonnaruwa was Rankoth Vehera Stupa, the tallest structure in the ancient city.

02Similar to the stupas in Anuradhapura, small shrines known as vahalkada were constructed at the four cardinal axes of Rankoth Vehera Stupa for offerings of worshipers.

03Completed in 1190AD, the Rankoth Vehera Stupa was constructed in a similar style as Ruwanwelisaya in Anuradhapura, which was built over 1000 years prior.

04An beautiful tree at the base of Rankoth Vehera Stupa provides a great spot for worshiper group to gather and perform Buddhist chanting.

05Around Kiri Vehera, smaller stupas were also constructed as burial place for royalties and high priests.

06On our way to Lankatilaka Monastery, the fourth highlight of Polonnaruwa, we passed by Kiri Vehera, the second tallest stupa in the ancient city.  Kiri Vehera is believed to be built by King Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 A.D.) in memory of his Queen Subhadra.

07Then we arrived at Lankatilaka Image House or Lankatilaka Vihara, the largest image house in Polonnaruwa.  Unlike traditional stupas, the building focused on presenting the religious image, a large standing statue of the Buddha.  Two tall pillars frame the entrance of the building.  The original pillars were thought to be two times the existing height.  The building was part of the Alahana Pirivena Monastery complex erected by King Parakramabahu 1 (1153-1186).

08Two beautiful guard stones mark the entrance of Lankatilaka.

09According to some accounts, the building was originally five storey high, while the statue was 41 feet tall.  The entire structure, including the main Buddha statue, was made from clay bricks.

10Near Lankatilaka, we passed by an impressive pool in the Alahana Pirivena complex.  This pool was part of a larger bathing and water storing network.

11Gal Vihara, the impressive rock temple featuring four Buddha relief statues carved from a single piece of granite rock, was our last stop at Polonnaruwa.  15 feet of rock was carved away to create the surface where the statues were carved.

12The statues at Gal Vihara are considered some of the best ancient Sinhalese sculpting art.

13Some believe that the 22’-9” standing statue was not depicting the Buddha, but instead monk Ananda with a sorrowful look standing adjacent to the reclining Buddha at his deathbed.

14The 46’-4” reclining statue depicting the parinirvana of the Buddha is the largest statue in Gal Vihara.

15The Gal Vihara marked the end of our brief visit of Polonnaruwa by car.  Ideally if we had more time, we would spend more time walking or cycling around the archaeological park to fully appreciate the scale, planning characteristics and other highlights of the ancient capital.


ROYAL PALACE & SACRED QUADRANGLE, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.08

Day 4 (1of 3).

100km southeast of Anuradhapura stands the ruins of Sri Lanka’s second ancient capital, Polonnaruwa. For two hundred years, Polonnaruwa served as the centre of the nation after Anuradhapura was sacked by the invading Chola Kingdom from Southern India in the 10th century.  The Chola Tamils destroyed Buddhist monuments and monasteries, and established a new capital in Polonnaruwa.  In 1070AD, Vijayabahu I of Ruhuna Kingdom (southeast of the island) drove the Chola out, unified the country, and established the second major Sinhalese kingdom and restored Buddhism as the national religion.  Polonnaruwa flourished as the most important medieval city in Sri Lanka until the 13th century when the island was again invaded by the Tamil Pandya Dynasty from India.

Today, the archaeological ground of Polonnaruwa is a popular tourist destination in the Cultural Triangle (marked by Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy), the region on the island dotted with ancient capitals and World Heritage sites.  To save time, we hired a private car from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya, with a detour to Polonnaruwa.  At Polonnaruwa, our driver took us first to the visitor centre for the admission tickets and a brief visit to the museum, before driving us to the five highlights in the archaeological park: Royal Palace, Quadrangle, Rankot Vihara Stupa, Lankatilaka Monastery and the Buddha statues of Gal Vihara.

01Built by Parakramabahu I (reigned 1153-1186 ) in the 12th century,  the Royal Palace was once seven storey tall in its heyday.

02The Royal Palace of King Parakumba was said to contain 1000 rooms.  Now only a few dozens remain.

03Much of the crumbling ruins is covered with lush green moss.

04The Royal Bathing pool (Kumara Pokuna) near the Royal Palace was a delightful treat for visitors.

05Built by Parakramabahu I (reigned 1153-1186 ), water would enter the pool through the two dragon mouths, and could be drained out after use.

06The Audience Hall of the Royal Palace is another feature at the Royal Palace.

07The Audience Hall is famous for the frieze of elephants, each has a unique pose.

08Two stone lions guard the entrance of the Audience Hall.

09The stone pillars of the Audience Hall have some amazing details.

10The second highlight we visited at Polonnaruwa was the Quadrangle.  On a raised platform, Quadrangle encompasses a cluster of religious structures erected by different rulers of Polonnaruwa.  Atadage is the oldest building among them all.  Built by King Vijayabahu the Great (1055 – 1110), Atadage is believed to house the Relic of the Tooth of Buddha.  Adjacent to Atadage, Hatadage built by King Nissanka Malla (1187 – 1196) was also a shrine for the Relic of the Tooth of Buddha.

11Built by King Nissanka Malla (1187-1196), Nissanka Latha Mandapaya is an interesting structure with unique columns and a small stone stupa.  The building was used for the king to listen to Buddhist chanting.

12Built by Parakramabahu I to house the Relic of the Tooth of the Buddha, or by King Nissanka Malla to hold Buddha’s alms bowl, Vatadage was an essential structure at the Quadrangle.

13Because of its circular form and well preserved carving details, Vatadage is also the most famous building in Polonnaruwa.

16Vatadage has two stone platforms and a small stone stupa atop.  Steps and statues were constructed at the four cardinal directions.  Stone pillars suggest that a wooden roof might have once covered the circular structure.

14Monkeys are everywhere in Sri Lanka.

15At all temples or ruins, including Vatadage, tourists would be reminded that taking selfies with their backs toward the statue of the Buddha is prohibited.

17Completely built with bricks, Thuparama is about 84 ft long and 56 ft wide.  Its brick walls are about 7 ft thick.

18Inside Thuparama, the central seating Buddha statue was long gone.  Yet the adjacent limestone statues survive till the present day.


MIRISAWETIYA STUPA, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.07

Day 3 (4 of 4).

Mirisawetiya Stupa was just five minute walk away from our hotel Sanctuary at Tissawewa.  As we left the ruins of Abhayagiri Monastery, it was still a little early for supper, so we decided to check out Mirisawetiya Stupa before sunset.  The road leading to the stupa was decorated with colourful Buddhist banners and flags.  Large group of people, some dressed in traditional costumes, gathered at the entrance parking lot.  Red carpet was laid on the ground leading into the forecourt of the stupa.  We were excited to see the scene, despite we couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on.  We figured that there must be a certain kind of religious ceremony taking place.  And so we followed the red carpet, took off our shoes at the forecourt, and entered the stupa complex.

01It was still too early to call it a day, so we asked the tuk tuk driver to drop us off at Mirisawetiya Stupa.

02A long red carpet led us into the stupa forecourt.  A large TV screen was broadcasting the speech of a monk.

03The vivid Buddhist colours and traditional costumes stand out extremely well from the white wash stupa.

04The costume looks like to be some kind of ceremonial costumes.

05Shrines at the Mirisawetiya Stupa was full of offerings.

06Monks also gathered at the stupa with their offerings.

07Crowds sat down at various locations around the stupa.

08A parade of ceremonial procession walked right by us.

09Followed by a number of people dressed in white.

10Because of the crowds and security control, we could not move freely around the stupa.

11We stayed with a group of worshipers for a while.

12And admired the stunning Mirisawetiya Stupa below the setting sun.

13Unfortunately we didn’t understand the language so we didn’t stay for long at the scene.

14Later at night, we found out that the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka came to Mirisawetiya Stupa for a visit.  What we saw was part of the ceremony associated with his visit.

15Due to the close distance, we could still hear the speakers of Mirisawetiya‘s ceremony from our hotel until late at night.  The event perhaps gave us an insight on how a Buddhist event might have look like in Anuradhapura over a millennia ago.  The next day we would move on to Polonnaruwa and then Sigiriya, two other popular attractions in the Cultural Triangle.


ABHAYAGIRI MONASTERY, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.07

Day 3 (3 of 4).

From 399 to 414AD, Chinese monk Faxian traveled to India and Sri Lanka in search for Buddhist scriptures.  In his travelogue A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms, he documented the places he visited in his journey, including Anuradhapura where he stayed briefly in 412AD.  Faxian gave the following account on Abhayagiri, the largest Buddhist monastery in Anuradhapura: “A monastery, called the Abhayagiri, where there are five thousand monks.  There is in it a hall of Buddha, adorned with carved and inlaid works of gold and silver, and rich in the seven precious substances, in which there is an image (of Buddha) in green jade, more than twenty cubits in height, glittering all over with those substances, and having an appearance of solemn dignity which words cannot express. In the palm of the right hand there is a priceless pearl…”

Founded in the 2nd century BC, Abhayagiri Vihara was once a world renowned Buddhist monastery and learning institution attracting monks from all over Sri Lanka and surrounding countries including Java, Burma and India.  In the 4th century, the Buddha’s tooth relic was brought to Sri Lanka from India.  Abhayagiri was selected as the shrine and designated venue to showcase this precious relic in public veneration.  Supported by different rulers, Abhayagiri continued to serve as the main hub of Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhism until the 12th century, when Anuradhapura was sacked and abandoned, and the national capital was moved to Polonnaruwa.  The magnificent monastery fell into ruins for 800 years until late 19th century and early 20th century when excavation and restoration work began.  Today, Abhayagiri has become one of the largest clusters of ancient ruins in Sri Lanka, where gigantic stupa, stone pools, brick walls, foundations of multi storey buildings, and exquisite stone carvings in the midst of lush green jungle reveal the bygone glory of Anuradhapura two millennia ago.

01After lunch at Sanctuary at Tissawewa, we hopped on a tuk tuk for Abhayagiri Dagoba, the largest monument in the monastery vicinity.

04Although not as crowded as Ruwanwelisaya and Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Abhayagiri Dagoba is popular among local worshipers.

05Believed to reach a height of 115m, Abhayagiri Dagoba was once the fourth tallest monument in the classical period, behind the Egyptian Pyramids in Giza and the Jethawanaramaya Dagoba.

06The shrine in front of the stupa houses a reclining Buddha.

07Abhayagiri Dagoba just went through a 15-year restoration at 2015 as a UNESCO project.

08Devoted worshiper praying at the stupa.

09The majestic stupa was the main focus of the entire Abhayagiri Vihara Monastery.

10A group of Western Buddhists sat down and listen to the teaching of their mentor.

11Another highlight at Abhayagiri Vihara is the ruins of Pancavasa palace hidden in the woods.

12The Pancavasa was famous for its exquisite carvings.

13Interesting carvings of Buddhist guardians at Pancavasa.

14All these exquisite carvings are not the reason why tourists flock into the woods in search for the ruins of Pancavasa.

15All tourists come here for one thing, the moonstone carving on the ground.

16Moonstone is a unique architectural feature in Sri Lanka. It usually appears as a base landing at a set of steps. Moonstones symbolize samsara, the endless cycle of reincarnation and the path to nirvana.  Each ring of animals represents a successive phase of one’s passage through samsara.

17The last thing we checked out in the monastery area was the Samadhi Buddha Statue.  The statues is believed to be part of a sacred Bodhi tree shrine.

18The 7′-3″ Samadhi Buddha Statue was carved out from a dolomite marble.  Sculpted in around the 5th century, the statue is considered one of the nation’s finest.


JETHAWANARAMAYA DAGOBA, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.07

Day 3 (2 of 4).

In ancient times, two Buddhist monasteries dominated the religious scenes in Anuradhapura, the Mahavihara and Abhayagiri.  Both monasteries were home to thousands of monks and represents the two competing sects of Theravāda Buddhism in Sri Lanka.  Their sectarian conflicts led to destruction of the Mahavihara, the main monastery of Theravada Buddhism built by the King Devanampiya Tissa.  Upon destroying the Mahavihara, King Mahasena (reigned 273-301AD) constructed the Jetavanaramaya Dagoba to house the relic of the Buddha’s belt.  Some also believed that the dagoba was built upon the place where Mahinda, the eldest son of Emperor Ashoka who first introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka, lectured Buddhism.  Reaching a height of 400 feet, the original Jetavanaramaya Dagoba was the third tallest structure in the ancient world, behind the two Egyptian pyramids in Giza.  After Anuradhapura was abandoned in the 11th century, the stupa fell into ruins and subsequently renovated to its current height at 233 feet in the 12th century.  The stupa was gradually covered by shrubs until 1909, when conservation and clearing works began.

Towering above the horizon east of Ruwanwelisaya, the Jetavanaramaya Dagoba was the second great stupa that we visited in Anuradhapura.  On Google Map, Jetavanaramaya Dagoba appeared to be less than 1km east of Ruwanwelisaya.  We were too lazy to walk under the scorching sun, so we hopped on a tuk tuk for Jetavanaramaya.  Upon arriving at the famous stupa, we were surprised by the lack of visitors.  Unlike Ruwanwelisaya where the white stupa was surrounded by worshipers, Jetavanaramaya Dagoba appeared quite empty with only a handful of locals and foreign tourists.

01Once again we had to take off our shoes before entering the stupa platform.

02It was hard to imagine the imposing prominence of the original 400 feet tall stupa.

03A handful of local worshipers put down their offerings on the stone pedestals in front of the stupa.

04Beautiful statues of Buddha made of pink stone stood out prominently against the stupa wall.

05Dressed mainly in white, local worshipers circled the stupa in clockwise direction.

06Another Buddha statue is made with translucent white stone.

07Pieces of fine statues and relief carvings were placed in front of the brick stupa walls.

08At one side of the stupa stands a small worship hall.

09The Jetavanaramaya was constructed with special bricks made with 60% fine sand and 35% clay.

10In early 20th century, Jetavanaramaya was covered with dense shrubs.

11We left Jetavanaramaya after walking a full circle around the monument.

14No tuk tuk could be found at the entrance of Jetavanaramaya.  We decided to walk back to Ruwanwelisaya where we might be able to flag down a tuk tuk.

12On our way, we walk by Silachetiya (Kujjatissa) Stupa, another 2000-year-old historical structure built in the era of King Saddhatissa (137 – 119 BC).

13Near Ruwanwelisaya, we bumped into a group of tufted gray langur hanging around in the archaeological park.

15From Ruwanwelisaya, we decided to walk back to The Sanctuary at Tissawewa via Basawakkulama Tank, where locals enjoyed picnic lunch by the water .


RUVANVELISAYA STUPA, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.07

Day 3 (1 of 4).

At 400BC, the great thinker and religious teacher Gautama Buddha passed away.  His body was cremated and the ash was divided into eight portions given to eight different kingdoms as sacred relics.  During the reign of Ashoka the Great (268-232BC), relics of the Buddha was dug up and further subdivided into 84,000 portions.  Stupas were erected across the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia to house the relics.  As time went by, only a small number of relics remain in the original two-thousand-year-old stupas, while most have been transferred to different temples around the world along with the spreading of Buddhism.  Today, Buddhist relics can be found in many Asian countries, and even as far as in Russia and the United States.  As one of the earliest countries where Buddhism was introduced, Sri Lanka has some of the oldest stupas in the world.  Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka where Buddhism first arrived at Ashoka’s time, was home to the oldest and grandest stupas, also called dagobas, in the nation.  While Buddhism in India has long declined, the religion continues to flourish in Sri Lanka until the present.  Today, a number of ancient stupas in Anurādhapura remain as popular pilgrimage sites for worshipers, just as they were 2000 years ago.

Built by King Dutugamunu in 137BC, Ruvanvelisaya is the stupa believed to house the largest amount of the Buddha’s relics anywhere in the world.  With a diameter of 300 feet and a height of about 350 feet, it was once one of the largest monuments in the ancient world.  As the nation’s political and cultural centre shifted away from Anurādhapura, the stupa fell into ruins during the Medieval time.  Restoration work of the great stupa began in early 20th century.  Since then, the stupa has once again become a religious and historical icon for the ancient capital.

01A short walk from our hotel brought us to the archaeological museum, a well established museum housed in the former district secretariat building.  We stayed briefly at the museum to learn a bit more about the history of the city and its famous stupas.  A museum staff was kind enough to show us around at a number of exhibition rooms.  Then we walked over to the ticket office adjacent to the museum to purchase our one-day cultural heritage tickets.

02After obtaining the cultural heritage tickets, we continued to head north to Ruvanvelisaya Stupa.

03Ruvanvelisaya Stupa was the most crowded stupa we visited in Anuradhapura.

04Before reaching the stupa, we arrived at glass building designated for candle and incense offerings.

05It was interesting to see so many worshipers dresses in white and dogs resting on the floor inside the candle offering building.

06Ruvanvelisaya’s famous elephant wall was originally built by King Dutugamunu’s brother Saddhatissa two thousand years ago.  It was said that the original 344 elephants were coated with gold dust.

07The actual stupa is washed in white paint, and wrapped at the base with a multi coloured band resembling the Buddhist flag of Sri Lanka.

08Around the stupa stand offering tables and stone counters.  Beautiful lotus flowers once again are the most popular offerings.

09Some worshipers prefer to leave their offerings at the base of the stupa.

10At each cardinal directions, a splendid shrine with Buddha’s figure known as vahalkada attract worshipers to leave offerings and chant prayers.

11Once again lotus flowers are the most popular offerings.

12Other than the white paint on the stupa and white clothing of worshipers, almost everything else is vivid in colours.

13Other than lotus flowers, rice and sweet good are also used as offerings.

14Somehow each worshipers would know where to place their flowers in order to create the fantastic flower patterns.

15It was hard to imagine how abundant lotus flowers are in the nation to allow so many worshipers to leave their offerings.

16At one end, we reached a small and crowded shrine.

17Inside the shrine there is a mini stupa protected by transparent partitions.

18Ruvanvelisaya was undergoing an extensive restoration.

19Before leaving, we passed by an area full of incense smoke and devoted worshipers.

20We left Ruvanvelisaya from the same path we came, where worshipers dressed in white continued to enter and pay their respect to the magnificent stupa.


ISURUMUNIYA RAJAMAHA VIHARAYA, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.06

Day 2 (5 of 5).

Since most attractions in Anurādhapura are covered by the one-day Cultural Heritage Ticket, we decided to visit the two obvious exceptions on our first day: Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, and the rock temple of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya, and leave the rest covered by the day ticket for the following day.  On the east coast of Tissa Wewa, the reservoir built by King Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC, stands a group of giant granite boulders, where for the past two thousand years had been served as a small Buddhist temple, the Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya.  Constructed under the reign of Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC, the vihara was used as a Buddhist monastery to the house 500 ordained children.  Renovations and additions in later centuries continued to transform the temple into its current form, which is consisted of the old rock shrine, the new shrine, the lily pond, and the rock cliff on which visitors can climb atop to check out the stupa and a rock engraved footprints of the Buddha.  The temple is famous for its stone carvings, but unfortunately much of the complex, including the small museum, was under renovation during our visit.

01From Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, we followed Google Map and walked towards Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya.  On our way, we passed Dakkhina Stupa, a brick stupa constructed in the 2nd century BC.

02Unlike the ancient stupas in town, Sandahiru Seya near Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya is in fact a modern construction commissioned by President Rajapaksa in 2010.  Once completed, the modern stupa will reach a height of 85m.  Slow funding and construction means Sandahiru Seya won’t be completed anytime soon.

03Near the entrance of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya, we passed by the Buddhist monastery Sri Sarananda Maha Pirivena.

04Beyond a bridge over a beautiful lotus pond, we arrived at the entrance of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya.

05Lotus ponds are common all over Sri Lanka.

06It was almost sunset when we reached the magnificent rock temple.  Just like the shrine of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, we had to take off our shoes before entering the compound of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya.

07Set in front the backdrop of granite boulders, the Isurumuniya Temple and the adjacent pond are the most prominent features in the complex.

08Splendid stone carving of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya is one of the main reason why foreign visitors come.

09The shrine of Isurumuniya Temple contains a Buddhist image behind glass.

10Unfortunately the small museum on site was closed for renovation.  We left the temple and walked over to the stair at the back side.

11Behind the Isurumuniya Temple, a series of steps led us to the top of the granite boulders.

12Top top of the boulders is dominated by a stupa and rocks with carvings.

13The white stupa is actually a relatively recent addition to the complex.

14Late afternoon sun cast a peaceful aura onto the stupa.

15At the top, ancient carvings, including a pair of Buddha’s footprints.

16What seems to be a designated area of money offerings at the top.

17Looking down, we could see the pond and more incoming visitors.

18Behind us to the west, the sun sett over the peaceful reservior Tissa Wewa.  It was time for us to head back to the hotel for a Sri Lanka supper to conclude the day.

 


MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠), Sapporo (札幌), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.24

Day 10 (6/6).

To end our Sapporo foodie day, we decided to get up Mount Moiwa (藻岩山, Moiwa-yama) for the famous night view of the city.

IMG_0923From Susukino, we hopped onto Sapporo’s only streetcar towards “Ropeway Iriguchi” station.

IMG_8005Sapporo’s only streetcar line has trains running clockwise and counterclockwise in a loop.

IMG_0925After getting off the streetcar, we didn’t bother to wait for the connection bus, but instead, we took 10 minutes to walk up to the Mount Moiwa Ropeway station.

IMG_0926Nagasaki, Kitayushu and Sapporo are considered the three new greatest urban night views in Japan.

IMG_0928The cable car slowly left the Mount Moiwa Ropeway station.

IMG_0939Our cable car passed by a white Buddhist stupa halfway up.  Built in 1959 to commemorate peace after World War II, the Sapporo Peace Pagoda supposedly housed some ashes of the Buddha, a gift given by India to the Emperor of Japan in 1954.

IMG_0943Another cable car passed by in the opposite direction.

DSC_6554We arrived at the observation deck on Mount Moiwa right at the magic hour just before dusk.

DSC_6574At 531m above sea level, Downtown Sapporo was right below us.

IMG_8021The Koibito Sanctuary (Lover’s Sanctuary) atop Mount Moiwa is a popular photo spot.

IMG_0980After Mount Moiwa, we returned to the vibrant Susukino.

IMG_0982Known as one of the most famous entertainment districts in Japan, we came to search for a late night meal.

IMG_0990In an alleyway, we picked Haruka Ramen (ラーメン悠) for our late night meal.

IMG_0983The owner must be a fan of hard rock and metal music.  The small ramen shop is decorated with t-shirts, badges and album covers of rock bands.

IMG_0987We knew it was unhealthy to have late night meal, but we just couldn’t leave Sapporo without having a bowl of Sapporo ramen.

* * *

Introduction
HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)

Day 1 – from Tokyo to Shiretoko Peninsula
Day 1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
Day 1.2 ARRIVAL IN SHIRETOKO, Utoro (ウトロ)

Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)

Day 3 – Rausu
Day 3.1 RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス)
Day 3.2 JUN NO BANYA (純の番屋)

Day 4 – Rausu
Day 4.1 MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳)
Day 4.2 FANTASTIC ORCAS, Nemuro Strait (根室海峡)

Day 5 – Lake Mashu & Lake Akan
Day 5.1 SUNRISE AT LAKE MASHU (摩周湖)
Day 5.2 MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈)
Day 5.3 SILENT NIGHT AT LAKE AKAN (阿寒湖)

Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)

Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)

Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)

Day 9 – Yochi & Sapporo
Day 9.1 NIKKA YOICHI DISTILLERY (余市蒸溜所), Yoichi (余市)
Day 9.2 SOUP CURRY NIGHT

Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)

Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)


DAY 3 (1/8): MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan, Myanmar, 2017.12.25

The most remarkable and photogenic experience of our trip to Myanmar was undoubtedly watching the sunrise in Old Bagan.  The romantic spectacle of hot air balloons floating over the plains of ancient pagodas has drawn every Bagan visitors to get up before dawn.  We had high hopes for the experience long before we came to Bagan.  Our driver came at 6:45 to pick us up at Oasis Hotel.  He drove us to a pagoda in Old Bagan, and told us to walk up a staircase to the pagoda terrace.  We turned on our head lamps and climbed up the narrow stair to reach the upper terrace.  We were surprised to find that two out of four sides of the terrace were already packed with visitors.  Without guessing which way to look, we stationed ourselves at a corner in the crowd and patiently waited for the sky to light up.

DSC_3993We stationed ourselves at a corner in the crowds and set up our tripod.  Stars were still visible in the sky, and so as the flooded lights at some pagodas.

DSC_4000At a distance, what appeared to be Ananda Pahto looked gorgeous with the golden flood lights and the purple horizon beyond.

DSC_4015Ten minutes later, the foggy plain looked mysterious.

DSC_4020In every directions, silhouette of ancient pagodas and distant mountains formed an one-of-a-kind mystic landscape unique to Bagan.

DSC_4058A few minutes later, a cluster of hot air balloons appeared from the horizon.

DSC_4064At the same time, we had the first peek of the Christmas sunrise.

DSC_4085The hot air balloons went up just in time to catch the first glimpse of sunrise over Old Bagan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sunrise over Old Bagan was absolutely a stunning sight.

DSC_4121Watching sunrise of Old Bagan from the basket of a hot air balloon should be a remarkable experience.  That would require us to book well in advance and cost each of us about US$500.

DSC_4122From the pagoda terrace, the hot air balloons provided the extra magic to the already otherworldly scenery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome balloons got pretty close to the spires of pagodas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA hot air balloon seemed reaching the rising sun.

DSC_4136For several minutes, the entire Old Bagan appeared in layers of silhouettes.

DSC_4148The balloons gradually floated across the horizon while the sun rose up quickly.

DSC_4164On the other side, the scenery was dominated by ancient pagodas under the orange glow of the rising sun.

DSC_4173At 8:45am, about an hour and fifteen minutes since we first arrived at the pagoda terrace, dramatic low angle sunlight covered much of Bagan with a mystical ambience.

DSC_4179A group of locals walked towards a nearby pagoda under the early morning sun.

DSC_4198Silhouette of the distant Ananda Pahto was astonishingly beautiful.

DSC_4209At 9am, smoke from wood burning began to appear from the fields around us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy 9:10am, most visitors had already left the terrace.

DSC_4245Down at the pagoda entrance, vendors were setting up their souvenir stalls for the day.

DSC_4255We quickly descended the pagoda and returned to the driver.  We couldn’t wait to begin another day of Bagan’s temple hopping with our guide Win Thu.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR

 


DAY 2 (4/5): SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN, Bagan, Myanmar, 2017.12.24

Watching sunset at Bagan Myanmar from the top of a pagoda has been one of the most popular activities for tourists.  However, according to our guide Win Thu due to recent accidental falls of some tourists, the government temporarily banned pagoda climbing during sunset.  Instead, Win Thu took us to one of the designated earth berm where we could still see dipping of the crimson sun over the plain of Buddhist stupas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALeaving Ananda Temple behind, we moved on to a designated lookout in Old Bagan.

DSC_3745Obviously we were the first to arrive at the lookout.  It was nowhere close to as crowded as watching sunset atop the most popular viewing spots in Angkor of Cambodia, but it was not romantic and peaceful as one may wish either.

DSC_3749The view would be much better if we could climb onto one of the pagoda for the sunset.

DSC_3751Yet, it was still enjoyable to watch the colour of the ancient bricks changed from brown to orange as the sun dipped lower.

DSC_3760Behind the lookout there was a wetland, sort of a rare sight in the rather arid plains of Bagan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome tourists arrived in horse-carts.

DSC_3767As sunset approached, the distant pagodas and temples turned into layers of silhouettes.

DSC_3779The horse-carts and ancient pagodas made a perfect picture.

DSC_3797An Ox-cart emerged from nowhere and stole everyone’s attention.

DSC_3809The scenery of pagodas reminded us the spiritual ambience of Bagan during the Bagan period.

DSC_3814Pagodas in partial ruins standing against a rural setting provoked a romantic feel.

DSC_3823Gradually the foreground turned dark just before the sunset.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeyond the pagodas and mountains, the sun dipped rather quickly in front of the crimson sky.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun set rather quickly and just a moment later, it completely disappeared behind the distant mountains.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


DAY 2 (3/5): ANANDA PAHTO, Bagan, Myanmar, 2017.12.24

After a brief rest at our hotel, Win Thu came to pick us up for another temple visit.  We went further down Anawrahta Road from Nyaung-U towards Old Bagan to visit one of the most prominent icon of Bagan, the Ananda Pahto (Temple).   Built between 1090 and 1105 by King Kyanzittha, the wonderfully preserved temple is often considered to be one of the finest structures in Bagan.  The iconic golden spires of Ananda were not always golden.  In fact, they were gilded in 1990 on its 900th anniversary.  The exterior walls of the temple, on the other hand, were whitewashed from time to time.  Four large standing Buddha were housed in the temple, each facing one of the four cardinal directions.  The north and south facing images were said to be the original which were crafted in Bagan style.  The east and west ones were replacements after the original ones were destroyed by fire.  All four Buddha images were made of teak wood and covered with gold leaves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took off our shoes before entering the entrance hallway.  Led by our guide Win Thu, we walked into the courtyard of Ananda Pahto and were immediately amazed by the grandeur of the temple.  The golden spires glowed under the late afternoon sun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore entering the temple, Win Thu took us to see the famous glazed terra-cotta tiles along the lower terraces of the structure.  Hundreds of these well-preserved tiles depicted the Jataka tales (stories of previous births of Gautama Buddha in human and animal forms).

DSC_3685While we examined the glazed tiles, a large group of school students arrived into the temple courtyard.

DSC_3674Before going inside, we walked to the far corner to see the reflection of Ananda Pahto in a pond.

DSC_3692The first thing captured our attention as we entered the west entrance of the temple was the exquisite fresco.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeeking through the pointed archway we could see one of the four magnificent standing Buddha.

DSC_3695Facing west, Gautama Buddha (present Buddha) greets visitors with a hand gesture of fearlessness.  This is one of the later replacements for the original statue, showing carving details in Mandalay style.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe enormous teak wood doors at each of the four main entrances look splendid but should be quite heavy to operate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe core of the temple is a solid cube surrounded by long passageway, connecting the four worship halls where the large Buddha stand.

DSC_3711Natural light lit up the passageway through pointed arch openings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFresco and relief carvings depicting the life of the Buddha are all over the walls of the passageway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuddha statues with different hand gestures, postures, and facial expressions convey a unique meaning and a stage in life of the Buddha.

DSC_3717Facing north, the Kakusandha Buddha is the fourth of the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity and the first of the five Buddhas of the present aeon.  This statue is one of two original statues from the Bagan period.

DSC_3723On the other hand, the east facing Konagamana Buddha (the fifth of the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity and the second of the five Buddhas of the present aeon) is a later replacement of the destroyed original.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe exited the temple after checking out the south facing Kassapa Buddha.  The Kassapa Buddha is the sixth of the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity, and the third of the five Buddhas of the present aeon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore leaving temple, Win Thu explained various forms of reclining Buddha, differentiating between when the Buddha was taking a nap and when he was attaining parinirvana upon his death.

DSC_3731_01The Ananda Pahto under the late afternoon sun was glorious.  Despite we were barefoot, we still enjoyed walking around the temple compound to photograph the beautiful architecture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt a far corner by a back exit, we stopped by a gate with a niche and small statue.

DSC_3737_01Looking back over to the temple, the sun was setting fast.  We decided to move on to another spot to watch the sunset over Old Bagan.

DSC_3740It was still pretty busy at the entrance of the Ananda Pahto when we exited the compound.  Behind us, the splendid golden spires of Ananda glowed under the western sun.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


DAY 2 (2/5): HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN, Bagan, Myanmar, 2017.12.24

Considered as the first empire in Myanmar, the legacy of the ancient Bagan Kingdom is what drawn all visitors coming to the dry plains at the eastern bank of the Ayeyawaddy River today.  With over 2000 ruined pagodas concentrated around a few villages, Bagan is truly one of the most wonderful place to visit in Southeast Asia.  After seeing Shwezigon, probably the most active temple still popular with pilgrims today, we moved on to check out some of the less intact pagodas nearby.

The first was Htilominlo Temple.  Built on the spot where King Htilominlo was chosen as the next king, Htilominlo was eventually named after the king himself.  Topped with a sikhara, an ornamental tower originated from Hindu architecture in Northern India, the 46m pagoda is a majestic brick structure plastered with stucco carvings.

DSC_3546Built in the 13th century, the Htilominlo is about 46m tall.  The temple was damaged by earthquake in 1975.

DSC_3547Among all the tourist souvenirs on display at Htilominlo, local puppets seemed to be the most eye-catching.

DSC_3553Well known for its detailed plaster work, Htilominlo is a popular temple among the 2000+ pagodas in the area.  The sikhara at the top was under scaffolding during our visit.

DSC_3566There is one gilded Buddha figure at each of the four worship halls facing the four directions.

DSC_3578Each of the four Buddha figures is unique in appearance.  Pilgrims usually visit all of them for the worship.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe four main worship halls are connected by vaulted corridors running around the core of the main structure.

DSC_3579The interior of the architecture is full of archways and vaulted corridors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of the fading fresco can still be seen inside Htilominlo.

DSC_3584After an interior loop, we walked around the temple to check out its exterior decorations.  Some of the beautiful plaster work and glazed terracotta plaques were still visible.

DSC_3604Across the road from Htilominlo, we reached a smaller building called Upali Thein.  Built in the 13th century, this building houses some fine frescoes from the 17th century.  The interesting roof battlements attempted to mimic a type of historical Burmese wooden architecture that can no longer be found today.

DSC_3594We were fortunate that the usually locked Upali Thein was open while we were there.

DSC_3621We wandered around a cluster of stupas nearby.  These stupas varied in size and form, and were constructed in different eras.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the past, constructing stupas in Bagan was considered a religious good deed of the donor.  Stupa donors in Bagan ranged from businessmen to officials and even kings.  Names and addresses of the donor were often presented at the entrance gate.

DSC_3631Constructing stupas was a competitive business in the old days among the wealthy class.

DSC_3656Today, most of the 2000+ surviving stupas and pagodas stand in partial ruins, except the most prominent ones that are still serving as places of worship for Buddhist pilgrims.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACenturies of competitive stupa constructions put Bagan at the top of the list of attractions for Myanmar.

DSC_3658Looking back at Htilominlo from afar, we could truly sense that our two-day feast of temple and stupa hopping would be a really special experience.  Unlike Angkor in Cambodia where majestic temples are overtaken by the powerful rainforest, Bagan is a romantic landscape picture consisted of layers of pagodas scattered across the horizon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor lunch, Win Thu took us to a local restaurant nearby.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was no menu as all customers were given the same dozen or so small plates of local dishes and a large plate of rice.

DSC_3669Housed in a simple shed, the restaurant kitchen was filled with the scent of charcoal.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


DAY 2 (1/5): SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U, Bagan, Myanmar, 2017.12.24

After a full day in Yangon, the second part of our trip would take us north to Bagan.  In the 9th to 13th centuries, Bagan was the ancient capital of the Pagan Kingdom, the first kingdom that united Myanmar.  Near the former royal capital Mandalay, Bagan is over 600km north of Yangon.  We chose flying to save time.  There are several local airlines that offer the service.  We picked Air KBZ, one of the guidebook recommended private airlines, and bought our tickets online two months prior to the trip.  To maximize the time in Bagan, we chose the 7:15 flight and left Yangon’s Loft Hotel before dawn.  We arrived at Yangon Airport in no time.  After checking in, we had a noodle breakfast at a cafe in the boarding area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmong several eateries we ended up sitting down at Gloria Jean’s Coffee in the boarding area for breakfast.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlack coffee and Shan noodles represented a set breakfast with a local twist.

DSC_3459Approaching Bagan, we could occasionally see Buddhist stupas in the landscape down below.  We were pretty excited as we approached the ancient capital of the Bagan Kingdom, where thousands of pagodas and stupas once stood on the dry plains near the Irrawaddy River.

DSC_3471After a little over an hour, our plane touched down at Nyaung U, the main town in the Bagan area.  Nyaung U was also where we would base ourselves in the next two days.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Nyaung-U Airport is a small airport that served only domestic flights.  Upon arrival, all passengers gathered at a room to wait for their luggage to be carried in by airport staff.  After picking up our luggage, we walked out to the arrival hall and was greeted by our local guide Win Thu.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWin Thu took us back to our hotel Oasis Hotel to drop off our bags, and immediately began our Bagan tour by visiting Shwezigon Pagoda, the largest Buddhist temple in Nyaung-U.  All visitors of the pagoda are greeted by the chinthes, the traditional leogryph guardians of temples in Southeast Asia.

DSC_3539We took off our shoes and entered one of the two remaining entrance halls.  The entrance hall was crowded with pilgrims, tourists and vendors selling all kinds of religious offerings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe entrance hall is a stone-paved covered walkway leading to the central pagoda compound and the gold gilded central pagoda.

DSC_3492Before approaching the golden stupa, we stopped by a pavilion with statues depicting the Buddhist story of the Four Sights: when the 29-year-old Siddhārtha left his royal palace for the first time and first met an elderly man, sick man, dead man and an ascetic.  The four sights led Siddhartha to realize the real sufferings in life, and inspired his decision to embark on an ascetic journey towards enlightenment.

DSC_3499In Shwezigon, there are shrines dedicated to local deities such as the Nat God.  Like many local deities, Nat predated the arrival of Buddhism in Myanmar and still remained popular today.

DSC_3477Completed in 1102 AD, the golden pagoda of Shwezigon Pagoda is believed to house a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha.  The bell-shaped stupa represents the architectural tradition of the Mon people of ancient Myanmar.

DSC_3514Many visitors gathered around a tiny pool of water to check out the reflection of the golden pagoda.  According to our guide Win Thu, the king also used the pool of water to inspect the construction of the stupa.

DSC_3520The pagoda has a central solid core, with steps at the four cardinal directions rising from the base up the terraces for pilgrim’s worship.

DSC_3516Shwezigon Pagoda is the largest and most popular Buddhist temple in the Bagan area today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWin Thu led us to the back of the pagoda to check out the famous Chayar Tree.  The tree is famed for its year-round blossom, unlike other trees of its kind which would only flower at a certain period of a year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the back of the pagoda, we also found a small building housing local deities that predated Buddhism in Myanmar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore leaving Shwezigon Pagoda, we passed by a number of small prayer halls that surrounded the golden pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found our way back to where we came.  It was time to move on to the next designations in Bagan.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


DAY 1 (8/9): EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

After sunset, the Shwedagon Pagoda transformed into a mysterious world of flickering candles and shimmering golden ornaments.  We stayed at the open space in front of the Photo Gallery for a little while after dusk.  We then wandered around the central stupa, where people were lighting up candles around the stupa base.  We saw a constant flow of people arriving at the main terrace from one of its four main stairways.  It seemed there were actually more visitors at compound after dark.  At the compound, some people were worshipping and chanting, while others were chatting and taking photographs of themselves with the glittering background of the pagoda.  At the end of our visit, we decided to walk down one of the grand covered stairways to descend the Singuttara Hill.

DSC_3202The view of the central stupa from the Photo Gallery was gorgeous no matter what time of the day it was.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the northwest open space in front of the Photo Gallery, worshippers gathered to offer incenses, candles and other religious items in prayers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the nearby prayer hall, the large Buddha in golden robes looked peaceful under the soft lighting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe golden prayer halls and chapels looked even more surreal in the evening.

DSC_3249The locals enjoyed posing for photographs at some of the golden worship halls.

DSC_3231At the base of the central stupa, the continuous ring of candles appeared like a stream of sparking fire flickering in the wind.

DSC_3241Just as daytime, the planetary posts were still one of the popular worshipping spots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe covered stairway, or zaungdans, are often occupied by merchants selling all kinds of religious items from flowers to different kinds of offerings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter sunset, the main terrace around the central stupa is still adequately lit up.

DSC_3257From the north gate, the central pagoda stood perfectly at the terminus of the perspective axis.

DSC_3260Some visitors preferred to stay away from the busy actions surrounding the central stupa.

DSC_3275At the outer perimeter of the worship terrace, the sacred Bodhi tree was highlighted with flood lights.

DSC_3292Colourful electronic lights are commonly used to create the halo ring for each Buddha statue.

DSC_3297Statues of the Buddha were everywhere in the ompound.

DSC_3305After the candles were lighted up, many people came to the ring of candles to pray and worship.

DSC_3315Some monks were meditating inside the small Buddhist shrines.

DSC_3323Same as worshipping in daytime, pilgrims came up to the planetary post and clean the altar with water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the visit, we took the covered stairway at the east gate to walk down the hill.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe east stairway is flanked both sides by shops selling souvenirs and religious items.

DSC_3343Back to the main east gate, we picked up our shoes and looked for a taxi to return to Downtown Yangon.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


DAY 1 (7/9): A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

As the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda is also one of the liveliest venue where the Burmese gather not only to worship but also to participate in all kinds of social and community activities.  For the locals, Shwedagon is the place to chill out, to date, to spend family time, to chat with friends, to seek for advice from monks, and to mingle with foreign tourists.  For us, the compound was the perfect place for people watching: devoted families worshipping their associated planetary post, kids amusing themselves with bronze bells and ritual tools, women reciting Buddhist mantras, monks meditating in front of the Buddhist shrines, children dressed in traditional costumes attending novitiation ceremony, large number of volunteers sweeping the marble floor, pilgrims lighting up candles and incenses surrounding the central stupa under the setting sun.

The terrace of Shwedagon has long been the centre stage for the people of Yangon.  Since 1920, students, workers, civilians, and monks had took up the terrace to protest against all kinds of social injustice from colonial rule to the authoritarian regime.  The most recent incident was the 2007 nationwide protest for democracy, when tens of thousands of monks and people marched from Shwedagon to the streets of Yangon demanding for change.  Political figures also chose the Shwedagon as the assembly venue, such as Aung San (Aung San Suu Kyi’s father) addressing the mass in 1946 in pursuit of independence from the British, and Aung San Suu Kyi meeting with 500,000 people in 1988 demanding for democracy from the military regime.  Religiously, this huge Buddhist site holds the sacred hair relics of the Buddha.  Socially, the pagoda terrace is the iconic venue for national independence and democracy.  Historically, the Shwedagon is one of the oldest Buddhist monument in the world.  Culturally, the compound contains some of the Myanmar’s most remarkable architecture and national treasures.  With its layers of meanings, the Shwedagon Pagoda is truly a remarkable venue for the people of Myanmar, and the single most important monument that defines the cultural and social identity of the Burmese.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWearing a Burmese longyi and walking bare-feet on the marble floor of the Shwedagon is an unique Burmese experience for foreigners.

DSC_2896The Shwedagon is a popular place for Shinbyu parades, the traditional novitiation ceremony in Burmese Theravada Buddhism.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout our visit, we saw a few Shinbyu parades at the marble terrace of the Shwedagon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Shinbyu parades offered us some of most remarkable moments of people watching.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt Shwedagon and elsewhere in Myanmar, gold is warmest colour.

DSC_3033Many pilgrims would light up candles and incenses at the altar around the central pagoda.

DSC_3008Local fruits are popular for religious offerings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeditation is a typical practice for Buddhists, and a common sight at Shwedagon.

DSC_2972Young children seemed enjoying themselves at the terrace while their parents were busy worshipping.

DSC_2926A kid trying out the bronze bell.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA devoted family worshipping at one of the planetary post at the base of the central pagoda.

DSC_2976A group of women reciting Buddhist mantras in front of a reclining Buddha.

DSC_2981Visitors and monks resting among figures of sitting Buddha.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVolunteers collectively sweeping the marble floor was a unique scene for us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe volunteers formed a line and walked at the same pace to sweep the floor.  During our visit, we saw the sweeping group several times at different locations in the compound.

DSC_3071Away from the main circulation space, some worship hall were less crowded, allowing visitors to meditate quietly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear sunset, many gathered at the open space in front of the Photo Gallery northwest of the central stupa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGathering people included young visitors carrying flower offerings for evening worship.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also saw a large group of what looked like to be the Wa people.  The Wa is an ethnic minority group living in Northern Myanmar and Southwestern China.

DSC_3148Myanmar is ethnically diverse, with 135 ethnic groups officially recognized by the government.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR

 


DAY 1 (6/9): GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

At 4pm, we left Downtown Yangon and headed for Shwedagon Pagoda, probably the most iconic sight of the city if not the entire Myanmar.  Our taxi stuck in busy traffic and it took us half an hour to arrived at the east gate of Shwedagon Pagoda from Downtown Yangon.  We specifically chose to visit the pagoda in the latter half of the afternoon, as we planned to stay at the pagoda compound till dusk when the golden stupa would glow in the flickering candle lights and flooded lights.  At the east gate, we took off our shoes and left them on a shelf, and squeezed in a lift with the locals to head up the Singuttara Hill where the central pagoda and the main terrace were located.  From the lift tower, we crossed a link bridge over to the main terrace.  The first glance of the golden spires of Buddhist shrines was quite overwhelming.  Beyond the the various ornate shrines, prayer halls, and planetary posts, the majestic 99m central stupa known as the Shwedagon Pagoda stood proudly at the heart of everything.  Fully gilded with gold, this central stupa dwarfed all other stupas, shrines, altars, statues, and prayer halls on Singuttara Hill.

Probably erected by the Mon people between 6th and 10th century AD, the Shwedagon Pagoda has been the centre of Myanmar’s Buddhist universe for centuries.  Legend has it that the original stupa at Singuttara Hill was dated to 2600 years ago, when Taphussa and Bhallika met Gautama Buddha during his lifetime and brought back 8 of his hair as sacred relics.  A stupa at Singuttara Hill was built to house the hair.  The stupa evolved throughout the centuries, as shrines and prayer halls added by different kings and donors, and the height of the stupa increased several times during history until the present 99m.  The pagoda wasn’t always covered in gold in the past.  In the 15th century, Queen Shin Sawbu donated gold plates equaled to her own weight to be riveted onto the stupa surface.  Since then, cladding the stupa in gold had became a tradition for rulers.

We took our time wandering around the 114-acre pagoda site.  After an hour or two meandering through all kinds of Buddhist structures and visiting the interesting photo gallery, we sat down at the open space at the northwest corner near the Friday planetary post to chill out, waiting for the sun to set and candles to lit up.

DSC_2869Our taxi dropped us off at the east gate of Singuttara Hill.  We followed the locals to take an elevator up to the main terrace level.

DSC_2880Once we reached the main terrace, we were immediately overwhelmed by the fine details and golden ornaments of the surrounding shrines and prayer halls.

DSC_2907In the midst of everything stood the majestic 99m Shwedagon Pagoda.

DSC_2946We circled the pagoda and stopped by some of the interesting shrines.  Chinthe, the legendary half-lion, half dragon creatures are commonly found as guardians in Buddhist temples of Southeast Asia.

DSC_3013It was hard to imagine just how many gold plates were being applied onto the surface of the Shwedagon Pagoda over the centuries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 25 ton Singu Min Bell (Maha Gandha Bell) was a donation in 1779 by King Singu.

DSC_2914The big Buddha at the northwest corner of the compound is a fine example of Buddha images found at Shwedagon Pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADisplayed behind glass, the jade Buddha reminds all visitors that Myanmar has the biggest gemstones and jade mining in the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree out of the four main staircases known as zaungdan stairs at the four cardinal directions are filled with vendors of religious merchandise.

DSC_3018The four monumental covered staircases are all splendidly decorated.

DSC_3024Everything on the main terrace of Shwedagon Pagoda seemed to be golden in colour.

DSC_3066Away from the main circulation space around the central pagoda, we walked by a number of prayer halls and shrines.  These structures were built in different periods in history, but many were rebuilt after the 1931 fire that caused damages to the wooden structures in the compound.

DSC_3069The 150-year-old Bodhi Tree at the southeast corner of the compound is said to be descended from the original Bodhi Tree in Northern India where the Buddha meditated underneath.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAViewing the Shwedagon Pagoda from the north gate was one of our favorite.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt 6:30pm, the sun began to set.  More visitors arrived from the staircases at the four cardinal directions.

DSC_3096Only staff and monks are allowed to climb onto the terraces of the Shwedagon Pagoda.

DSC_3139In the Photo Gallery northwest of the central pagoda, we were able to see photographs of the treasures on the pagoda spire, including about 5000 diamonds, 2300 rubies, sapphires, and other gems.

DSC_3143One of the most famous treasures of Shwedagon Pagoda is undoubted the 72 carat diamond at the top of the spire.

DSC_3108After visiting the Photo Gallery, we sat down at the open space in front of the gallery as the sun began to set.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


DAY 1 (3/9): SULE PAGODA, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

After lunch at 999 Shan Noodle House, we walked over to the City Hall.  Across the street from the City Hall stood Sule Pagoda, the iconic octagonal stupa that marked the heart of Yangon.  We decided to pay a quick visit to this wonderful monument before venturing further south.

Built in the 5th century BC, the 2600 year old was said to even predate the famous Shwedagon.  The stupa was built in the style of Mon pagoda architecture, back in the era when the Mon people was a dominant ethnic group in the region.  The Mon people was also responsible for spreading Theravada Buddhism throughout Southeast Asia.  The Mon name of Sule Pagoda is “kyaik athok ceti”, meaning “stupa with a sacred hair enshrined”.  Legend has it that the Sule Pagoda contains one of Buddha’s hairs given to merchant Tapussa and Bhallika.  The rest of the same strand of Buddha’s hairs were said to be kept at the Shwedagon Pagoda.

Before the British set out to develop Yangon and its port area, Sule Pagoda was situated on an island surrounded by a swamp at the banks of Yangon River.  The British drained the area, constructed a prominent roundabout centred at the Pagoda and defined Sule as the heart of Downtown Rangoon (now Yangon).  Today, Sule pagoda remains as an iconic spot of the city, and has served as the centre stage of civilian rallies and demonstrations throughout the years.

DSC_2641We crossed the street from the City Hall to the east entrance of the Sule Pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the entrance, we followed the rules and took off our shoes and socks, left them with one of the staff, purchased admission tickets and then climbed up the stairs to the main worshiping area.  This was our first experience of walking barefoot in Myanmar.

DSC_2653The first thing we saw beyond the stair was a cosy and golden altar with many pilgrims.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOutside of the covered altar was a series of small golden shrine surrounding the base of the octagonal pagoda.  It’s important for the Burmese to know which day of the week they were born in order to find the right shrine to worship.   There are eight planetary shrines around the pagoda, each represents a planet as well as a particular day of the week, with Wednesday split into two (am and pm).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWater and food can be found at the pagoda complex, usually donated by Buddhist worshipers, who believe good deeds are one of the basis for path of enlightenment.

DSC_2678Soon we reached another entrance of the Sule Pagoda.  Entrances of the pagoda are arranged at the four cardinal directions: north, south, east and west.

DSC_2680The corresponded altar of this entrance looked somewhat different than the one we first arrived at.

DSC_2685Like all shrines in Myanmar, gold is the single dominant colour of the octagonal Sule Pagoda.

DSC_2693At the Saturday shrine, another two worshipers were busy performing rituals and cleaning the altar with water.

DSC_2695Under the scorching sun, many worshipers stayed at the shaded area to mediate.  It was interesting to see many young people were among the devoted worshipers.

DSC_2699When looking closely, the fine details and craftsmanship of the golden ornaments were overwhelmingly impressive.

DSC_2700.JPGAt another entrance altar, colourful fresco depicted a number of Buddhist stories high up near the ceiling.

DSC_2706Each of the four altars has a distinct set of ornaments.

DSC_2711Other than the devoted worshippers, some locals were just hanging around in the pagoda area as if the space was a public park.  In fact, Buddhist shrines in Myanmar do serve as community spaces that welcome everyone.

DSC_2712It was relaxing to walk on bare feet around the Sule Pagoda.  Surprising we didn’t feel uncomfortable without our shoes and socks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear the entrance where we arrived, there was a group of people gathered at a pulley wire, waiting for the staff to send their prayer cards up to the pagoda by the golden prayer boat.

DSC_2714Via a wire pulley system, the golden prayer boat sends prayer cards of worshippers up to the pagoda.

DSC_2717A staff at the base worked the pulley to send up the prayer boat while a group of worshipers gathered to witness the process.

DSC_2739After one loop, we repeated the clockwise stroll around the Sule Pagoda for a second time.

DSC_2743After two loops around the pagoda, we walked down the stair where we first arrived, put on our shoes, and moved on to further explore Downtown Yangon.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR

 


DAY 9 (1/3): TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY (བཀྲ་ཤིས་ལྷུན་པོ་ 扎什倫布寺), Shigatse (日喀則), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.24

Before leaving Shigatse for Namtso Lake, we spent the morning at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery (བཀྲ་ཤིས་ལྷུན་པོ་ 扎什倫布寺).  Probably the most influential monastery in the Shigatse area, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery is very popular with local pilgrims.  Founded by the 1st Dalai Lama in 1447, the 70,000 sq.m monastery remains as the largest functioning monastery in Tibet.  In the past five centuries, Tashi Lhunpo has been the traditional seat of Panchen Lama (པན་ཆེན་བླ་མ 班禪喇嘛), the second highest tulku (སྤྲུལ་སྐུ 活佛) in the Gelug school, just after the Dalai Lama.  During the turbulence years of the Cultural Revolution, buildings and relics of the monastery had been damaged.  Fortunately, damages of the Tashi Lhunpo was relatively small compared to most other monasteries in Tibet.

Walking in the labyrinth of cobblestone lanes of the enormous monastery ground, visitors can absorb the spiritual air and wander through prayer halls, chapels, chortens and courtyards, admire beautiful Buddhist artworks including the 26m statue of Jampa (Maitreya) Future Buddha, and pay respect to the tombs of the past Panchen Lamas.  Other than the gold gilded statues and architectural features, what interested us during our visit of Tashi Lhunpo were the pilgrims who came from all over Tibet and China.  From teenagers to elderly, the pilgrims’ gratifying expression and devoted prayers demonstrated to us how Buddhist traditions still remained strong in today’s Tibet.

01All visitors to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery would pass through the  lingkhor (sacred path) along the external enclosure wall.

02The 70,000 sq.m Tashi Lhunpo Monastery sits on the mountain slope west of Shigatse city.

03Inside the monastery ground, a network of flagstone paths led us to a village of chapels, chortens and prayer wheels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first objects captured our eyes as we entered to the core area of the monastery were the three large chortens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt 9:30am the sun of the highland was already scorching hot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPilgrims and monks in the vivid setting of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery provided us the best subject for photos.

08Many lamas we saw at Tashi Lhunpo were actually visitors from other areas of Tibet.

09Jamba Chyenmu or Maitreya Temple (强巴佛殿) is the tallest building in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.  Erected in 1914 by the ninth Panchen Lama, it houses the 26.2m statue of Maitreya Buddha.  The enormous statue contains 279kg of gold and 150,000kg of copper and brass.

10The chorten of the Tenth Panchen Lama is one of the most popular pilgrimage spot in the monastery.  The three-tiered chorten is decorated with large amount of gold, silver and gemstones.

11Semi-precious stones were used to decorated the entrance vestibule of chapels (in this case the Buddhist swastika was created on the floor).  Many pilgrims would knee down and touch the decoration before entering the building.

12Other than statues and chortens, a number of architectural features such as a building column could also become a subject of worship for worshipers.

13Outside of the monastery, we could see the beautiful mountains across the city of Shigatse.

14After visiting a number of the chorten halls (chapels housing the tombs of Panchen Lamas), we arrived at the upper court of the Gyeni Chanting Hall.  The gilded roofs and turrets of the Gyeni Chanting Hall can be seen from far away.

15As we walked down the ramp near the Gyeni Chanting Hall, we could see right behind us the Thangka Wall used for unfolding the gigantic thangka during festivals.

16Below the Gyeni Chanting Hall, we arrived at the Chuajing Duogang, the great courtyard paved with flagstones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Chuajing Duogang was another popular spot for pilgrims.

18.JPGSurrounding the cloister of Chuajing Duogang, we could admire the fresco depicting over 1000 images of Sakyamuni (Buddha).

19The Sakyamuni were drawn with hands gesturing the five symbolic poses (mudras).

20Looking up from the colonnade of Chuajing Duogang, the splendid Gyeni Chanting Hall looked grand and magnificent.

21Beautiful fresco could be seen all over Tashi Lhunpo, including the wall at the lower exit of Chuajing Duogang.

22After a 2.5 hour visit of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, it was time for us to find our way to the exit and departed from Shigatse.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet

 


DAY 5 (3/4): SAMYE MONASTERY (བསམ་ཡས 桑耶寺), Shannan (山南), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.20

After lunch, Sangzhu drove us to Samye village where we would visit the famous Samye Monastery and stay the night.   We took a short break at Samye Monastery Hotel before heading over to the monastery.  We followed its enclosure wall to reach the main entrance of the monastery complex.  Beyond the enclosure, we arrived at a large open space with buildings spread out here and there.  At first glance, we couldn’t comprehend the building arrangement within the enormous monastery ground.  Not until we reached the higher levels of the main building and looked down, then we came to realize the concentric layout of this famous monastery.   First constructed in the 8th century, Samye Monastery is known as the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.

01We walked over to the main building’s forecourt, which was dominated by three tall prayer flag poles and incense burners, and started our monastery tour at the main building.  The monastery is laid out in shape of a giant mandala with buildings positioned according to the Buddhist cosmology.

02Situated at the very centre of the site, the main building is the tallest building in the complex, representing the mythical Mount Meru, the sacred cosmological mountain at the centre of the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain universe.

05Before entering the main building, there was an interesting sign about the risk of fire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe entered the inner courtyard of the main building through a beautifully decorated gateway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the gateway, we bought our admission tickets from an old man.

06The inner courtyard was actually a cloister surrounded by colonnades and prayer wheels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABehind the row of prayer wheels, there were Buddhist murals on the walls.

10Unfortunately many murals were vandalized during the Cultural Revolution.

09At the far corner of the cloister, we found the famous white rooster.  According to legends, once upon a time there was a fire broke out during midnight.  Luckily all monks escaped unharmed because a white rooster woke them up just in time.

11We headed up to the upper level via a steep wooden stair.

12We reached the highest level of the main building after climbing several flights of steps.  On the highest levels, we could admire the scenery at all four directions.

13Many pilgrims left behind offerings at different parts of building, such as leaving money at the joint of wall panels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking out from the top level of the main building, we could see the distant mountains and the spectacular chortens at the four directions.  The scattered buildings in the monastery ground actually symbolize the four continents at the cardinal directions, and also the sun and moon.

15Walking down the main building, we reached the lower roof terrace, which offered us another look at the magnificent main building of Samye Monastery.

16At the monastery ground, there were minor restoration work going on here and there.

17We spent the second half of the visit wandering in the open spaces, and climbed up one of the four chortens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the red chorten, we enjoyed a beautiful view of the main building under the late afternoon sun.

19Before sunset, we walked to the enclosure wall of Samye Monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked part of the kora route, following pilgrims who turned every single prayer wheel in the clockwise direction.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet


FRAGRANT SEA AND PRESTIGIOUS MOUNTAIN (香海名山), Tsing Shan Monastery (青山禪院), Tuen Mun (屯門), Hong Kong

In the middle of the 5th century, Buddhist Master Pui To (杯渡禪師) from India arrived in Tuen Mun, where at that time was a military outpost where foreigners were required to go through immigration customs.  Legend has it that Pui To traveled in a “wooden cup” across the sea, and therefore was named “Pui To”, which literally means “cup sailing”.  Pui To decided to stay in Tuen Mun to host religious ceremonies and teaching sessions for the stationed soldiers.  He settled on the mountain above the military station and practiced meditation regularly in a cave.  His name was widespread across the region, and his residing place (a grotto and hut) soon became a place for pilgrimage.  In the next 1500 years, this pilgrimage site had been considered as the origin of Buddhism in Hong Kong.  In 1829, the To clan built a Taoist institution known as Tsing Wan Kwun (青雲觀) just adjacent to the pilgrim site of Pui To.  In the 1910s, Chan Chun-ting bought the adjacent land to redevelop Tsing Wan Kwun.  His plan made a big twist in 1918 when Chan was converted to Buddhism.  Instead of a Taoist temple, Chan developed the Tsing Shan Monastery (青山禪院), which encompassed Buddhist halls, Pui To’s grotto, as well as the Taoist Tsing Wan Kwun.  The monastery and Taoist temple fell into legal dispute after Chan Chun-ting died in 1932.  In 1998, the case for Tsing Shan Monastery concluded at the High Court.  The court ruled that the Monastery would become a public institution managed by a charity trust.

We arrived in Tuen Mun by bus No. 962 all the way from Causeway Bay.  It was a grey day and it seemed that rain patch might come in any minute.  In the first glance, Tuen Mun New Town appeared like another uninspiring satellite town built in the 1970s by the British government to resolve the housing issue of Hong Kong.  Adjacent to the new town, the lush green Castle Hill (青山) was partly hidden in the mist.  We came to visit what claimed to be the oldest temple in Hong Kong.  From Tsing Shan Village, the winding Tsing Shan Monastery Path was a decent uphill walk to the monastery.

01With relaxed hearts, we slowly climbed the Tsing Shan Monastery Path to the famous Pailou (牌坊).  On the Pailou, the calligraphic inscription 香海名山 or “Fragrant Sea and Prestigious Mountain” was written by Hong Kong Governor Sir Cecil Clementi (金文泰) in 1929.  Clementi was a British administrator who possessed deep knowledge of Chinese culture, fluent in Cantonese and mastered the skills of Chinese calligraphy.

02The front gate (山門) of Tsing Shan Monastery was renewed in 2009 into the current appearance.

03The first thing that caught our attention was a portrait of Maitreya (彌勒佛) displayed on the wall of the Guardian Pavilion (護法殿).

04To the right of the Guardian Pavilion (護法殿) stood the Tsing Wan Kun (青雲觀).  The original heritage building was the oldest structure in the entire Tsing Shan Monastery.  Against advise of conservationists, the old structure was controversially demolished in 2004 by the To family, the owner of the monastery.  A new building in style of the Tang Dynasty was erected in its place.

05
Despite the relatively new building, there were still a number of historical items inside the Tsing Wan Kun, such as the bronze bell in the courtyard.

06Inside the Taoist Tsing Wan Kun, there were quite a variety of deities for worship, such as the 60 Tai Sui deities (太歲), a group of deities created from the orbiting stars directly opposite to the Jupiter in Chinese astrology.  Worshipers would come each year to pay respect to a specific Tai Sui deity according to his or her birth year.  Other than the Tai Sui, the central altar was dedicated to Doumu (斗母), the mother deity of the Big Dipper.

07Other deities could be found in the upper chamber of Tsing Wan Kun.  Like many Taoist temples, Tsing Wan Kun houses a variety of traditional deities.

08The atmospheric inner hall of Tsing Wan Kun was filled with suspended incenses.

09Buddhist figures like the Guanyin was present in the inner hall of Tsing Wan Kun.  Most believe that the Chinese Guanyin originated from Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.

10Back to the entrance courtyard of Tsing Shan Monastery, we followed the path to the back of the Guardian Pavilion and arrived at the Grand Hall (大雄寶殿).  Eight characters were inscribed on the front wall, “Everything on Earth Has Ties and Reaches Nirvana Together” (一切有情、同登覺地).

11The Grand Hall (大雄寶殿) was dominated by the altar of three Buddha statues.

12On the side walls of the Grand Hall (大雄寶殿), there were a series of tiny niches each with a bodhisattva figure lit up from above, many were marked with a donor’s name.

13Outside of the Grand Hall, we could clearly see the interesting roof detail of Guardian Pavilion (護法殿)

14Behind the Grand Hall (大雄寶殿) we walked up the stair to the upper section of Tsing Shan Monastery.  From the upper platform, we could have a closer look at the roof carvings of the Grand Hall (大雄寶殿), which included a pair of dragons on the ridge.

15And a ceramic lion at the side hip of the roof.

16On the upper part of Tsing Shan Monastery we reached a open platform overlooking town centre of Tuen Mun below.

17One of the highlight of the monastery’s upper platform was the shrine at what believed to the the grotto where Master Pui To (杯渡禪師) meditated.

18Near the grotto, there was a offering table and a wall of plaques with donor’s names.

19Near the grotto, a small stair led us up to another platform where a three-tier Buddhist stupa (時輪金剛佛塔) stood.

20Further up the hill stood the ruins of the old Abbot’s Chamber (方丈室).

21As we turned away from the ruined Abbot’s Chamber, we spotted the profile of two people standing at a lookout.  Soon we found out they were actually life size paper cut of passed actors Bruce Lee (李小龍) and Roy Chiao (喬宏).  In 1973, Lee, Chiao and their crew members came to Tsing Shan Monastery to film a scene of “Enter the Dragon” (龍爭虎鬥).

22Back down to the level of the grotto, we passed by a garden and the Gate of Harmony (和合山門).  On both sides of the gate, the inscriptions stated that “No sweeping is needed for pure land.  No closing is needed for empty doors” (淨土何須掃,空門不用關).   At the end of the garden stood a yellow pailou.  It was part of the original Hall of Scriptures (藏經閣).

23After a decent stroll of the monastery ground, it was time for us to head back downhill.  We passed by the Entrance Pailou once again.  Instead of “Fragrant Sea and Prestigious Mountain” ( 香海名山) at the front of the pailou, this time the back of the Pailou read as “Repentance is Salvation” (回頭是岸).

24After the descend, we soon reached a large public square and the historical Hau Kok Tin Hau Temple (后角天后廟 ).  Tin Hau was the deity that former fishermen of Tuen Mun prayed for a peaceful return from the sea.

25In the public square, a large bamboo pavilion was erected, probably as a stage and performance theatre for traditional Chinese operas.

26Adjacent to the Tin Hau Temple, there was a relatively new museum housing three enormous ceremonial backdrops.

27We walked southwards along the Tuen Mun River Channel.

28Since 1970s, Tuen Mun new town has been developed into a city with close to half a million of population.

29Boats by the shore at the mouth of Tuen Mun River reminded us that Tuen Mun was once a fishing village.

30In the evening, we walked to the mouth of Tuen Mun River and reached the Butterfly Beach (蝴蝶灣) in the dark.  The Inner River Dock (內河碼頭) where container ships to and from China’s Pearl River would stop for customs.


DAY 6: SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh, India

We told Tashi to dropped us off at the town centre of Leh where we mailed out a pile of postcards to families and friends. Then we decided to spend the last bit of our last day in Ladakh at a high point.  We took a taxi up to Shanti Stupa, one of the most popular lookout over Leh.  Built by Japanese Buddhists as part of the Peace Pagoda Mission in 1991 and enshrined by the 14th Dalai Lama, Shanti Stupa remains an important monument to promote world peace.  Atop a mountain over Leh, Shanti Stupa is also a great spot to enjoy the nearby scenery, and is particularly popular around the time of sunrise or sunset.

We looped around the monument once.  Then we stopped by the railing, took out our tripod and did a time-lapse video of Leh under the changing afternoon light.  The stupa was popular among local visitors, offering us plenty of people watching while we patiently waited for the camera for over an hour.  Standing under the perfectly blue sky over Leh, we witnessed the shadow of the mountain slowly blanketed over the city, green poplar trees row by row disappeared in the darkness, and distant mountains turned from golden to earth brown and then to blueish grey.  We silently say goodbye to the ancient town of Leh, to the mighty Stok Kangri Mountain at the horizon, to the monastic spirit of Ladakh, and to the boundless arid mountains of Northern India.  An early morning flight the next day would take us back to the bustling Indian capital Delhi, where we would have another day of exploration before flying home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Shanti Stupa under the warm afternoon sun.  Most visitors preferred to stay in the shade.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Stok Mountain Range at a distance.

dsc_6405The view of Leh was dominated by the poplar trees.

dsc_6410The shadow of the mountain gradually expanded over the town.

dsc_6418The back of Leh Palace was fully swamped in the afternoon sun.

dsc_6419The arid landscape around Leh looked drier than ever under the afternoon sun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe steps leading down from Shanti Stupa to Changspa Road into the town centre.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun almost disappeared behind the mountain and Shanti Stupa.

dsc_6431Visitors were still enjoying the late afternoon scenery of the Indus Valley and Stok Mountains despite evening was gradually creeping in.

dsc_6432Locals enjoying the view of Leh, with the white washed walls of Namgyal Tsemo Gompa stood out at the background.

dsc_6441Shanti Stupa was completely in shade by the time we were done with the time-lapse photography.

dsc_6445We circled the stupa for a second time before we left.

dsc_6459By the time we left, much of Leh was blanketed in mountain’s shadow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe slowly walked down the steps to the town below.

dsc_6498At the end of the stepped path, Changspa Road would lead us back to the centre of Leh, where we would have our last meal of Tibetan cuisine for the trip.

* * *

Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi

 

 


DAY 5: PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh, India

Our driver Tashi dropped us off at a bridge at the highest point of Phyang Village.  He suggested us to walk further downhill to first visit the tiny Guru Gompa atop a rocky mount and met us at the Phyang Gompa downhill.  We walked leisurely along the main road into Phyang, the village famous for the Phyang Gompa under the majestic backdrop of Mount Stok Kangri.  The glacial Phyang Nullah carved a narrow river valley into the rocky landscape, extended from the highlands where we just visited down to the village.  Along the nullah were terrace fields of barley, corn, rapeseed flowers, wheat and local vegetables.  Occasionally the lush green fields in the middle of the valley were used as pasture plains for livestock.

We passed by several local homes and reached an open area where several stupas stood.  We climbed the pathway beside the stupas up to a rocky mount where a small Buddhist shrine stood.  We figured it should be the Guru Gompa.  In front of Guru Gompa, there were a few dried goat horns and a colourful prayer flag.  The door was locked locked and no one was around.  From Guru Gompa we had a clear view of Phyang Village, Phyang Gompa and the mountain range beyond.  After a quiet moment on the rocky mount, we headed back down to the main road and continued walking downhill towards Phyang Gompa.  Founded in the 16th century, Phyang Gompa is one of the two monasteries in Ladakh belonged to the School of Drikung Kagyu.  The lamas opened the doors of one of the prayer halls for us.  We spent a short while wandering around the monastery and checked out the colourful stupas in front of the monastery.  By the time we were done visiting Phyang Gompa, Tashi was already at the main parking lot waiting for us.

dsc_5755Water channel led the glacial water of Phyang Nullah downhill to irrigate the farm fields of Phyang.

dsc_5774Terrace fields of rapeseed flowers offered a peaceful utopian setting for Phyang.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking down the main road of Phyang Village.

dsc_5779A village school at Phyang.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHigh up on a rocky mount stood the Guru Gompa.

dsc_5800Dried goat horn by the entrance of Guru Gompa.

dsc_5791From Guru Gompa we had a clear view of the village down below and the river valley upstream.

dsc_5830Further downhill from Guru Gompa stood the famous Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5839Local shepherd and livestock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeveral green fields were used as pasture lands.

dsc_5845Stupas in front of the Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5892Lamas resting after lunch break at Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5900Young lama at a prayer wheel in Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5906The Phyang Gompa viewed from the stupa cluster.

dsc_5907A cluster of colourful stupas outside of Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5917View of the village from Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5921The Stok Mountain Range viewed from Phyang Gompa.

* * *

Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi


DAY 4: LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh, India

Our first monastery of the day along the Srinagar-Leh highway was Lamayuru Gompa.  Lamayuru is one of the largest monasteries in Ladakh.  Apart from Thiksey Gompa, Lamayuru was the monastery in Ladakh that we enjoyed visiting the most.  Affiliated with Drikung Kagyu, Lamayuru Gompa is founded in the 11th century.  We spent half of our time indoor checking out various prayer and assembly halls, and the other half walking around the exterior of the compound along a prayer route lined with prayer wheels and stupas.

Our driver Tachi was kind enough to accompany us at Lamayuru.  In simple English, Tachi told us stories about the monastery and the statues in the prayer halls, and taught us about the six Tibetan Buddhist syllable mantra “om mani padme hum” (ཨོཾ་མ་ཎི་པདྨེ་ཧཱུྃ) while we examined the inscriptions on the prayer wheels.  Each time we turned a prayer wheel one cycle we were actually reading the six syllable mantra once.  The six syllable mantra is often associated with Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.  Under the crisp air of Ladakh highland and the shadows of ancient stupas, Tachi gave us a brief lesson of scattered information on Tibetan Buddhism.  As we chatted and laughed, a few elderly pilgrims passed by, nodded and smiled to us.

dsc_5086Lamayuru Gompa from a distance.

dsc_5085Ticket office at the entrance of Lamayuru.

dsc_4951The first prayer hall that we entered at Lamayuru.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA window lama seat near the front altar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAButter sculpture is a common handcraft for Tibetan lamas.

dsc_4952The prayer hall was vividly decorated with Tibetan textiles and furniture.

dsc_4986Ancient Buddhist statues at the back of the Prayer Hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Cave of Meditation where Naropa, the founder of Lamayuru meditated in the 11th century.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAncient stupas of jewels, gold and silver at the altar of a prayer hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPrayer oil lamps in a glass chamber is a common sight at a Tibetan lamasery.

dsc_4996One of the 150 monks residing at Lamayuru.

dsc_5001A cluster of vernacular dwellings below the Lamayuru Gompa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARoute of prayer wheels, stupas and a pilgrim.

dsc_5024Route of prayer wheels, stupas and a pilgrim.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the main buildings of Lamayuru Gompa.

dsc_5031 Stupas of various sizes mushroomed around the lamasery compound.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPilgrim and the old prayer wheels.

dsc_5041The Snow Lion is the emblem of Tibet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany mani stones were placed around the ancient stupas.

dsc_5043River valley and arid mountains dominate the surrounding landscape at Lamayuru.

* * *

Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi


DAY 3: THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh, India

We left Hotel Ladakh Greens at around 5:45am to embark on our day-long exploration of Tibetan monasteries in the Indus River Valley southeast of Leh.  Our first stop was Thiksey Gompa, the only lamasery in the area allowing visitors to attend their morning prayers.  We arrived at Thiksey slightly after 7am, and hastily walked up the exterior terraces to look for the main prayer hall.  The session had already started as we could hear Buddhist chanting and the sounds of drum.  We followed the sound of prayers up various stairs until finally reaching the entry of the main prayer hall at a covered terrace overlooking Thiksey village.

Inside the hall, about two dozens of lamas sat in several rows of carpeted platforms.  An European couple with their guide arrived before us were sitting in the back row against the wall of Buddhist murals.  We entered the hall and followed suit.  The rhythmical chanting of the lamas sounded like a soothing song reverberating under the old timber structure and suspended thangka banners.  The stress of our hasty arrival was soon calmed down.  A few more tourists soon arrived and joined us at the back row.  We sat quietly and witnessed the lamas chanted, drank butter tea, and had their breakfast porridge.  Lamas of different age groups seemed playing different roles.  Some younger lamas were drummers while others helped serving butter tea.  We were also offered butter tea during the session.

The prayer session lasted till about 8am.  By the time the last chant stopped, we were the only tourists left in the hall.  One by one the lama exited the prayer hall except one lama.  He was kind enough to show us around the hall, and led us to the back chamber where a number of Buddhist statues stood behind offering tables.  Outside the prayer hall, the land was warming up as the sun was already quite high up in the sky.  We walked back down to the main assembly courtyard where workers were repainting the colourful external walls.  At one end of the courtyard there was a building with its doors opened.  Peeking through the door we could see the side profile of Maitreya Buddha statue.  The 2-storey tall golden Maitreya Buddha was a well known feature of Thiksey.  The Maitreya Temple and its statue were erected in 1970 to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama.

The visit of this famous Gelug sect (Yellow Hat sect) lamasery was a delightful start for our long day of monasteries hopping in the Indus River Valley.  The morning prayers was definitely one of the most memorable moments of our Ladakh trip.  Before leaving Thiksey, we stopped by a decent eatery at the monastery entrance for breakfast.

DSC_3914Approaching Thiksey Gompa from the main road.  Thiksey Gompa was sometimes referred to as the Little Potala Palace.

DSC_3918Thiksey Gompa against a beautiful backdrop in early morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe didn’t know how we could find our way to the main prayer hall. We followed the chanting and climbed up numerous stairs and terraces. Half way through, we met three senior monks who were also making their way up.  They took their time and walked leisurely.  At one point, they stopped at a terrace to admire the amazing view.

DSC_3946They chanted, stopped, then chanted, then stopped again for a break of butter tea, or a bowl of simple breakfast.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe younger monks served butter tea at regular intervals to everyone, including us, between chanting sessions.

DSC_3961Lamas of various age groups were present at the morning prayers.

DSC_3975After morning prayers, almost everyone left the hall except a caretaker lama and us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were the only tourists who stayed till the end.  We stayed behind and the kind caretaker lama let us wander around the prayer hall before locking up the doors.

DSC_3978Buddhist murals at the prayer hall.

DSC_3982Some of the murals were in need of restoration.

DSC_3986The statues in the inner chamber of the prayer hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was quite high up after the morning prayers.  We walked up to the roof terraces for great views of surrounding landscape.

DSC_4005Looking down towards the main road and the group of stupas downhill.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALama at the main assembly courtyard.

DSC_4044Causal chat between two lamas.

DSC_4045The assembly courtyard and assembly hall of Thiksey.

DSC_4065We entered the temple which housed a giant statue of Maitreya (future Buddha).

DSC_4072Every room we visited at Thiksey was very well maintained.

DSC_4081Worker painting the exterior wall of the monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe prayer wheel along the entry stair.

DSC_4103The dramatic view of Thiksey Gompa has become an iconic image of Ladakh, appearing on various marketing mediums for tourism in the region.

* * *

Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi