For about a hundred years, beginning about the mid 1700’s, several kings, moved the capital of their country around from Amarapura to Inwa, back to Amarapura, and then to Mandalay. Amarapura was founded by King Bodawpaya in 1782, after royal astrologers, were concerned about the king’s past actions. In 1783, the entire population of Ava packed up and shifted to land around the newly built palace.
The move was only temporary because Bodawpaya’s grandson, King Bagyidaw moved the capital back to Inwa in 1821 but his successor King Tharrawaddy again moved the royal capital back to Amarapura in 1842. In 1857, King Mindon again moved the capital, this time to a completely new location, 11 km further north to the foot of Mandalay Hill.
Today Amarapura is a popular tourist half day- trip destination from Mandalay though the town has actually merged with the southern fringes of Mandalay. Little remains of the old Amarapura palace but you can still find two masonry buildings — the treasury building and the old watchtower.
King Bagyidaw and King Bodawpaya were both buried here and their tombs also remain. The corner pagodas still stand at the four corners of the once square city. There are several other places worthy of a trip.
The large, and famous, Mahagandayon Monastery is certainly worth visiting. It is enormous and is home to around 1400 monks. It is a renowned center for Buddhist studies and strict religious discipline. If you arrive at 10 am, you will see the monks queuing for their food and making their way to the lunch hall. They are, so patient, so quiet, so stoic it should make you think about your own life.
All Myanmar boys enter the monastery at some point in their life, some while very young. They may only stay for a few days, or a week or two and then return to normal life, but there are those that stay there or return later and stay. You see examples of all this amongst those here at this monastery.
The silk industry is big here and you can see the weaving of exquisite longyis that are worn by Burmese women. In a few areas, the clickety-clack of looms provides a distinctive sound which makes it easy to find one of these small ‘factories’ and it is both interesting and educational to visit.
The tomb of the Thai King Uthumphon of Ayutthaya is in the well-known Linzin Hill graveyard. Recent excavations at the tomb have discovered the remains of a monastery building buried beneath the historic tomb of the former Siamese king and it could have been the place where Thai abbots were living.
A museum is planned around Linzin Hill that reflects the culture and daily life of the Thai people who lived in Amarapura during the 18th century after being captured in Ayutthaya.
U Bein Bridge
U Bein Bridge is undoubtedly the highlight of Amarapura. It was built around 1850 from teak columns which are thought to have come from Inwa after the capital was moved from there. It is named after Mayor U Bein who wanted to unite the two villages on either side of Taungthaman Lake.
The bridge has over 1000 wooden posts and is 1.2 km long, and it is claimed to be the oldest and longest teak wood bridge in the world. At nine points along the bridge, drawbridges were built to allow the royal barges and war boats to go under the bridge and out to the AyeyarwaddvRiver.
Of course, we walked from one end to the other and back again. Despite its increasing status as a tourist location, the bridge is an important and practical part of the daily movements for people who live in this area.
Apart from the actual structure, it was fascinating to see local life happening around us. There was a large group of people fishing from the shore under the bridge. They had several huge baskets filled with crushed ice and were bringing in hundreds of fish in the nets and sorting them as they sat on the ground. Baskets of fish were then loaded onto the back of motorbikes and taken away.
There were hundreds of ducks that were farmed but were free to swim around as they pleased. There were people crossing the lake by boat and others using the bridge, women selling caged birds, and people living in temporary thatch dwellings growing crops on land that would be underwater during the rainy season.
This offers blissful respite from the bustle of the city and is a great place to watch the sun make its slow descent at the end of the day. There are several tiny bars that help the mood with a local beer.
The Kvauktawgyi Pagoda was built by King Bagan in 1847 using the Ananda Temple at Bagan as a model. It closely resembles the Ananda in exterior form but it falls short in construction and interior decoration. Inside there is one main image carved from marble. The walls in the east and south porches are adorned with paintings depicting many religious buildings and scenes from contemporary Burmese life.
In the southern part of Amarapura, the Pahtodawgyi Pagoda is modeled on the Mahazedi in Sri Lanka. The foundation of this pagoda was laid by King Bagyidaw and his Queen in 1820. The lower terraces have marble slabs illustrating scenes from the Jataka and there is a fine view over the surrounding countryside from the upper terrace.
Kyauksein (Jade) Pagoda
The Kyauksein (Jade) Pagoda which is nearing completion includes more than 10,000 tonnes of the precious gemstone and is being built at an estimated cost of $10.3 million. A jewelry trader stockpiled jade for 25 years to build the pagoda. Work began in 2012 and is about 90 percent finished (November 2015).
The pagoda is made only of jade, the first in the world to be made in this material. The pagoda features jade pieces carved to depict the jataka, or stories of the Buddha’s previous lives, as well as the chronicles of Myanmar’s kings. It is hoped that when completed it will become a tourist attraction.