Tuesday, 8th September 2015
Mrauk U - an archaeological gem at the end of the Kaladan River
Despite drawing comparisons with Bagan, Burma's second most impressive archaeological site, Mrauk U, gets markedly fewer visitors. This may be due to the fact that it is located somewhat inaccessibly at the end of a seven-hour boat ride along the Kaladan River. Those who do venture this way are justly rewarded, however, and the lack of visitors only adds to Mrauk U's charm.
The story of Mrauk is one of prosperity and decline, as it was once the capital of the Arakan kingdom and therefore grand buildings were constructed in the region. Throughout the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, it attracted many foreign traders, but this all came to an end with the arrival of the British. After the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1826, the trading centre was relocated down river and Mrauk was no longer a bustling hub.
Temples and pagodas
Throughout the landscape of villages, rice fields and hills that characterise this part of Rakhine state are the temples and pagodas that the few visitors come to see. The majority are open to the public, with a basic name plate complete with date of construction affixed to the exterior. Local villagers still use many of the temples to pray, so remain respectful when stepping inside.
The northern temples
Many of the most impressive temples can be found within the northern group, with the Shittaung Pagoda being the crowning glory. It was originally built in 1535 to mark King Min Bin's victory over the 12 provinces of Benghal. While much of its exterior has been given a bad concrete renovation job, the interior is spellbinding. Stone Buddhas and painted ceilings can be seen throughout.
Be sure to visit the Andaw temple, where the tooth relic of the Buddha is said to reside, and Ratanabon Zedi. Take note of the bell-shape of the latter and its dark brickwork, which is a fine example of a style made common throughout Mrauk U during its history. If you are visiting at sunrise or sunset, position yourself on a hill behind Ratanabon Zedi for stunning views.
Forming the central point of Mrauk U is the former palace building, which is crumbling away and has had its entrances blocked. The best way to see inside is to climb the adjacent hill and look down on the structure. Here you will find the Hridaung pagoda and a humble monastery.
The east to south loop
While the eastern and southern temples have fewer standout structures than the group found to the north of Mrauk U, they provide a stunning sight when viewed together. Explore them by bike or car setting out from the central palace area and following the route round to the Kothaung temple, Mong Khong Shwe pagoda, Phara Ouk and finally the hilltop vantage point of Pizi Phara.
The Buddhist images at the Kothaung temple, which are said to number some 90,000, are something that will linger in the memory long after you return home from Burma. King Mintaikkha constructed Kothaung in 1553 in a bid to outdo his father King Bin Min and viewing it and making a comparison with the Shittaung pagoda will allow you to decide whether he achieved this aim.
Related news stories:
How to indulge a sweet tooth in Burma (25th November 2015)
How to be a vegetarian in Burma (15th October 2015)
Buddhas of Burma (part one) (6th July 2016)
What you should be carrying in your day sack in Burma (22nd January 2016)