Friday, May 10, 2013

#834 U Bein Bridge, near Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

Just outside of Mandalay, one of the relics of the former royal capital of Myanmar, Amarapura, is a 1.2 km wooden footbridge made of teak that is beautiful in its history, its construction, and in its continuing usage. Touted as the longest teak bridge in the world, I think that is irrelevant -- how many other teak bridges do you know of? It is a beautiful thing in itself, regardless whether it is the longest anything. It supposedly was built by the mayor of Amarapura  U Bein, in 1849 who was salvaging the unwanted teak columns from the old Inwa palace during the move to Amarapura (Mandalay wasn't founded until 1857). 1000 teak posts support monks, pedestrians, fishermen, bicycles, dogs, and other small animals (not to mention tourists) when they cross Taungthaman Lake. The lake is named for an ogre who was supposed to have looked for Buddha here. The bridge could also have been named for a Muslim servant of the king who built the bridge.

Although there are some slats missing, the bridge is still going strong after almost 200 years -- a testament to teak's incredible density and strength. Sunrise and sunset are busy crossing times when the monks are seeking alms in monasteries on either side, and villagers cross back and forth, although it is likely that many of the tourists that visit during this time are here for the spectacular reflections of the bridge and the lake with the light behind. Five shaded rest stops break up the journey across, and in the dry season when the lake level falls significantly, a small concrete staircase takes you down to an island teashop.

Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma), 9th Edition

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