The City of Bago (formerly Pegu) is situated about 80km northeast of Yangon. Bago is home to the ancient capital of "Hanthawadi" which is said to have been founded in AD 573 by two Mon princes from the former capital of Thaton. In the 13th century, Bago became the center of the "Ramanadesa" Mon kingdom, whose boundaries consisted of all of lower Myanmar. In the 16th century, King Tabinshwehti, who was a Burmese king from Taungoo, sieged the capital and annexed Bago making Taungoo the capital of the Ava dynasty. Even today, it is still surrounded by the ruins of its old wall and its vast royal moat. Although having faced defeat, the glory of the Handthawadi dynasty can still be observed today.
A few kilometres out of Yangon, on the left side of the road lies a brick shrine under an old banyan tree that is traditionally believed to be the abode of ‘Nats’ (angles) or spirits of the road. It is not unusual to witness several cars and bused stopped at Shwe Nayaungbin (translates to golden banyan) while their drivers provide these ‘Nats’ offerings in return for protection against car accidents on the highway. There is a ritual for newly purchased cars, where the vehicle is driven forward towards the shrine and then backward for three times each way. The car bonnet is then sprayed with perfume and spiritual mediums recite prayers of protection for a substantial fee. After the ritual, the new car owner is given a red ribbon to tie on his car to ward off any mishaps that could occur on the road.
The Shwemawdaw Pagoda is known as the tallest pagoda in Myanmar today. When it was constructed by the Mon in the 8th century it was only 23 meters high; however, over the years it has been renovated several times until it reached its pinnacle in 1954, reaching up to a height of 114 meters (15 meters taller than the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon). The pagoda is also said to be extremely sacred as it was constructed to enshrine the hair relic of Gautama Buddha himself. Later on in AD 985 and AD 1385 tooth relics from Gautama Buddha were also added to the pagoda.
Kyaik Pun Paya has four gigantic sitting Buddha images facing the four cardinal points of the compass. This sort of pagoda is very unusual and impressive. It is located a mile south from Bago, just off the Yangon road surrounded by lush rugged countryside strewn with a large number of ancient ruins, many of which are under repair. It was built by King Dhamma Zedi in AD 1476 and was preserved throughout the years until a massive earthquake hit the region in AD 1930. One of the Buddhas was completely destroyed during this earthquake leaving only a brick outline.
One of the largest and most life like images of Buddha in Myanmar; the Shwethalyaung depicts Gaudama Buddha on the eve of his entry into nirvana. Built in 994 AD by King Mingadippa, it measures 55 meters long and 16 meters high. This memorial was originally built with bricks and stucco in AD 994 by the Mon king Migadepa II. Over the years, the Shwethalyaung has deteriorated time and again, but it was frequently restored by King Dhammazedi and maintained by King Bayintnaung until Bago was completely destroyed in 1757. The Buddha was concealed by a dense forest and forgotten for 125 years. However, in 1881 it was unearthed by an Indian railway contractor building the Yangon-Bago railway line for the British colonists. The jungle undergrowth was cleared away and an open steel pavilion was erected over the figure in 1906. There are also painted glass panels showing scenes from Buddha's life on the wall below the image’s head, wrought in enamel and mosaic. Guardian Nats flank the Buddha and the landmark’s immediate vicinity is surrounded by attractive vegetation.
Kanbawza Thadi Palace, home to the King Bayinnaung (1551-1581 AD) is a remarkable building for its exuberant display of Burmese architecture and structural design. King Bayinnaung founded the Second Myanmar Empire which stretched from the borders of India to parts of Thailand and Laos. In AD 1566, he built a new capital city called ‘Hanthawadi’ which is now Bago. After years of being buried under the archaic land, excavations in search of the Kanbawza Thadi Palace began in April 1990. Early excavations revealed the brick foundations, plinths, teak pillars, and inscribed walls. The reconstruction process began right after the palace was uncovered and was completed in 1992. Most of the main chambers including the throne room and the audience hall were reconstructed according to the original architectural plans that were also found while excavating. Today, the Palace is a museum that showcases the grandeur of the Hanthawadi Empire, and a major attraction to both foreigners and locals alike.
Located 175 miles north of Yangon, on the Yangon-Mandalay road, the old Kaytumadi city ( Taungoo today) was founded by King Mingyinyo in the 15th century. Except for parts of the southern wall, the walls on all four sides of the city are still very much intact. Taungoo is the main gateways to Bago Yoma and is encompassed with vast teak forests. Although, its ancient empire has long since crumbled, Taungoo remains an important pilgrimage site for Buddhist devotees who flock regularly to ancient pagodas such as the Shwesandaw.
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