Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Burness Corner: The Bodi Tataung Standing Buddha

After a considerable delay, Burness Corner returns, featuring the views and thoughts on the World Wonders we saw together, from my esteemed travelling companion, Burness. This time: the Bodi Tataung Standing Buddha in Monywa, Burma.

Burness's Blog

The main reason for visiting Monywa was for another one of Nev’s world wonders, the Bodi Tataung Standing Buddha, the second biggest statue in the world. The statue was around 20 miles from Monywa. We arrived in Monywa without any booked accommodation, and the guest house we picked from the Lonely Planet was fully booked. We chose another Hotel at random, and without checking the rooms, which ended up being a big mistake, paid for one night. The room was really grim, opaque gloomy windows cast a dim glow, the bathroom was infested with flies, and the whole room was incredibly dirty. We initially planned to chill for the day and get adjusted to the new town, but because the room was so bad we decided to escape the gloomy hotel and visit the big Buddha.

We jumped into the Burmese equivalent of a tuk tuk, which is basically a motor bike with a passenger carriage welded onto the back.  We chose possibly the worst tuk tuk in town, it was unfathomably slow.  After chugging along at 15mph, frequently having to jump off at the slightest inclination of a hill while the tuk tuk trundled up passengerless, we arrived an hour and a half later. 

The big Buddha is quite an imposing sight. It’s on top of a hill and stands nearly 130m, 35 storeys tall. It can be seen for miles around, and it was cool watching it getting closer and larger the nearer we got to it. On paper and in photos, it doesn’t look that attractive. It was only finished a few years ago, and after visiting other modern temples in Burma I thought it was going to look rather cheap and tacky. I was looking forward to asking Nev, “Why did you put this on your list?” But I was wrong, it looked good. Not only is it massive, with a great location, but it was a high quality statue. It’s been built well, it’s flawless well at least on the outside, and as it’s brand new the paint job looks great, it really dazzles, like a big golden, erm well Buddha, in the sun light. It was built by a celebrated monk, his life’s work was to build giant Buddhas the length and breadth of Burma. Unfortunately he died before his last conception was materialised. He also built a giant reclining Buddha which is situated at the foot of the Big standing one.

The whole area is a very interesting site made up lots of different pagodas, hundreds of Buddhas - big, small, sitting, standing, reclining, and the newest one being built a giant sleeping Buddha, well one lying down anyway. There are also loads of additional features, like the army of monk statues collecting alms in procession all the way up the hill. But the centre point is definitely the biggie standing up.

It was getting dark, and we noticed that there were spot lights facing the big Buddha. We decided to hang around until dusk to watch the statue become illuminated. We found a good spot on the top of a facing Pagoda and stayed until sunset. It took a while for the Buddha to light up, half the spot lights didn’t come on at all, but it was worth it, it stood out even more, illuminated in the darkness.


[The next day] we set off for the big Buddha again. It was nice to visit it a second time, and it looked just as impressive. You can go inside it, we arrived too late the previous day, and we were glad to find the entrance open when we arrived. When it’s finished it will be possible to walk all the way to the top, but at the moment it’s a work in progress, every floor is being painted with stories from the Tripitaka, and wooden flooring is being laid down. It’s only half complete and we could only get half way up. The mid-lower floors have some unusually grim paintings which seemed to portray the Buddhist hell. Giant Ogres pound men and women with clubs in some illustrations, in others witches are eating babies, and people are being mashed by giant rolling spiky killing machines. It was rather weird.

Not many western tourists go, and when we were walking around inside, we were asked by a Burmese man, who spoke excellent English, if we were Buddhists. He must have thought we were on a pilgrimage. We also made some more random photo friends outside the statue, with a few of the locals wanting their photos taken with us. After a couple of hours we’d had enough and decided to head back for Monywa.


Had you heard of the Bodi Tataung Standing Buddha before travelling?


What were your expectations?

Low. I was quite looking forward to asking you, why did you put this in your list? I was expecting it to look cheap and tacky.

What was your first impression?
I think we were coming in to Monywa by bus when we saw it, and it was quite an imposing sight on a hill in the distance, and it looked massive. And quite impressive

What did you like most about the Bodi Tataung Standing Buddha?
It didn’t look cheap and tacky. It was well finished, a well done big Buddha. We’d seen lots of them, and this was probably one of the best.

What didn't you like about the Bodi Tataung Standing Buddha?
It wasn't quite finished yet on the inside, so you couldn’t get all the way to the top - I'd been looking forward to going all the way up to the head. And the whole site was quite surreal, and some of it did look quite cheap and tacky.

Would you regard Bodi Tataung Standing Buddha as a World Wonder?

No. The best big Buddha I’ve ever seen though. But I don’t think a big Buddha could ever do really well on the list. Unless it was ridiculously big. Although it does looking amazing on a big hill and it is pretty breathtaking and stand outs, it just doesn't have the gravitas to be a World Wonder.

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