Sagaing was the capital of the kingdom for fifty years in the 1300’s, and then again briefly in the 1700’s. Little remains from that time. The town and wider area, however, is a major religious retreat today and there are 500 nunneries and monasteries housing 6000 monks and nuns, mainly in the surrounding hills.
The town is built near the jetty and has limited appeal, but the roads that meander up and down the hills lead to monasteries and nunneries hidden in deep gullies and tucked in behind cliffs and tall trees. All along the hills, you can see dozens of gold stupas and temples.
Soon Oo Ponya Shin Pagoda
This is the highest and most important of the temples and was built in 1312 on Nga-pha Hill, one of the southern hilltops of Sagaing Hill. It was revered by many successive kings because it supposedly enshrines relics of the Buddha. This temple is decorated with glass tiles for an unusual shimmering effect.
It has some interesting paintings and statues, and fantastic views over the Centre for Buddhist Studies, other temples, the wide Ayeyarwaddy River, the Ava Bridge and across to Mandalay.
Many visitors decide to climb to the top without realizing the distance or the slope. The climb is steep, long, and hot. It takes at least 20 minutes, and most people will feel tired from the heat and effort. When we finally arrived at the top, we agreed that the pagoda was big and the gold was impressive but it was only the fact that there was a great view that made the climb worthwhile.
U Min Thonze Pagoda
This literally means “30 caves” but it’s really 30 colonnades. Using some imagination, the windows along the hillside can appear cave-like. Forty-five Buddhas sit cross-legged behind the multi-colored archways.
Tilawkaguru Cave Temple
Mural paintings can be seen in this cave temple which was built around 1672. The temple is in Myanmar style but it has Ayutthaya motifs on the ceiling and so it’s believed that its murals underwent a series of renovations by skilled Thai artists from Ayutthaya at a later date. At the nearby village of Ywahtaung, you can see silver workers producing bowls and other silver items by traditional methods.
This huge pagoda is about 10 km from the town and was built in 1648 in an unusual domed shape. The enormous dome rises 46 m and was apparently inspired by the Mahaceti Pagoda in Ceylon. The pagoda was built to commemorate Inwa’s establishment as the royal capital of Myanmar.
Around the base of the pagoda are over 800 stone pillars while the dome houses a large white marble Buddha at its center and a relic chamber. The road to this pagoda passes several pagoda ruins left from between the 14th and 18th centuries.