On the southwestern fringes of Mandalay, Amarapura (literally “City of Immortality”) succeeded Inwa (Ava) as the Burmese capital in 1783. The move is said to have been recommended by the court astrologers of the megalomaniac King Bodawpaya to expiate the bad karma the ruler had accrued by drowning his grandnephew, King Maung Maung (1763–82), in order to seize the Konbaung throne.
The strip of lush, leafy land between the east bank of the Ayeyarwady and the shores of Taungmyo Lake (also called Taungthaman) provided the perfect setting for the old Inwa palace, which Bodawpaya dis- mantled and rebuilt near the waterside, with four pagodas protecting its corners. Of the latter, the most impressive is the soaring Pahtodawgyi, which the king built in 1820. With a spectacular bellshaped zedi raised on five terraces decorated with beautifully carved Jataka friezes showing episodes from the Buddha’s life, the stupa still dominates the town’s skyline. Male visitors are allowed up the steep steps to its uppermost terrace, from where a fine view extends over the adjacent pagodas to the lake.
A lowrise town of sandy, treelined lanes and wooden houses, Amarapura has a very different feel from the nearby metropolis. Most of its residents earn their living in workshops that specialize in finequality wedding longyis and htameins; the distinctive sound of looms at full tilt is a constant backdrop.
Amarapura’s back roads all seem to converge on the town’s most iconic sight, U Bein Bridge, built by Bodawpaya’s eponymous mayor using timber from Inwa, the old capital. Spanning a neck in the lake 0.7 miles (1.1 km) wide, this impressive teak walkway – the world’s longest – rests on wooden piles which stand at least 20 ft (6 m) proud of the waterline in the dry season, but are almost com pletely sub- merged during the monsoons. Tourists descend in droves to photograph the bridge in the morning and evening light as villagers, market gardeners in traditional kaukyoe straw hats, and redrobed monks stride across it. Boatmen offer trips over the water to the eastern shore, where the Kyauktawgyi Pagoda is the largest of a scattering of mid19thcentury monuments. Built by King Pagan Min in 1847, the five- tiered temple, gilded in high Konbaung style, houses a giant seated Buddha of jadecolored Sangyin marble. Its entrance porches contain wonderful frescoes of traditional Burmese monuments and scenes, including one (in the northeast entranceway) showing the pagoda as it looked in its prime.