The tranquil face of a gigantic Buddha filled my vision as I enter a large open shed with metal roof. He seemed contented there, reclining on the floor with his crown adorned with diamonds and precious stones glittering for everyone to see. This is Chaukhtatgyi Paya, home of this gigantic Buddha, uncommonly known but is considered one of the most beautiful reclining Buddha in Myanmar.
My bus to Bagan wouldn’t leave until 6pm and finding out that Aung Mingalar Bus Station is long way out of the city, I decided a side trip would be good on the way to the station for the afternoon. I hired a taxi from the Inn. Taxi fare to Aung Mingalar Bus Station would usually cost around 5000-7000k but since I have a stop at Chaukhtatgyi Paya and waiting time, then a lunch stop, we agreed on 10,000 kyat.
Chaukhtatgyi Paya with its reclining Giant Buddha is near and north of Shwedagon Paya but sees little tourist. As usual, sandals are not allowed and there is no entrance fee in this paya. It was easier to move around and see the Reclining Buddha on all corners. Near the foot of the Buddha, there’s even a platform to see from a higher vantage point. Speaking of the feet, the huge Buddha has very interesting distinguishing marks on its soles. There are 108 different marks said to be incarnations of Buddha in the three world levels until he reached the Buddha state at the centre of the markings.
An old slender man about his 50s wearing a crimson longyi and presentable long sleeve white polo struck a conversation with me asking first where I was from and then started giving trivia about the Giant Buddha and the place. At first I didn’t show interest but was being polite as I know he would ask donations from me later. But when he offered to show me around the monk’s quarters and also the meditation area at the complex, he certainly captured my interest. Still on my bare feet I followed Momo, as he called himself, down the cold concrete stairway behind the Buddha. I asked him how much he would charge and told me it would be minimal. Dubious but I followed.
There are several monasteries in the area and we entered a large typical double story building through its kitchen doors. Inside is almost bare with a few monks enjoying their siesta. Several of their robes hanging while their possessions of books, study scriptures, alms bowls are against the walls. Seeing this made me think how lucky they are to simply have the luxury to sleep whenever they want but then again, I know each of them have responsibilities. This particular Monk’s Quarters was the home of the hundreds of monks who protested in 2007. It had a violent and unfortunate end that sent a lot of monks back to their civilian lives and reduced their numbers here.
We then walked a bit to Shweminwon Sasana Yiektha Meditation Centre where a group of people were deep in meditation. The air inside the hall was quiet and still and my presence there was simple a leaf silently fleeting unnoticed. Most of the people inside were women and nuns. Some were sitting still while a few were doing a walking meditation where they focused on each step, the movement of their legs, the feeling when their soles touch the floor and being one with the movement. It was interesting how each of them turn into the deeper world of their own being.
As we were heading back, I asked Momo again how much that tour would cost and he said he regularly charge 10,000 kyat. Ridiculous! I thought, since the guides at Shwedagon only charge half that. I said I won’t pay that much and only gave him 4000 kyat. He kept insisting but in the end he accepted it and I walked away. I dropped 400 kyat at the donation boxes at the paya entrance, took and wore my shoes. The tour was interesting but I don’t think it would amount to what he was charging. Momo was the first of the several people I would meet in Myanmar that would furtively try to lure you with their faux kindness but in the end, was out to swindle an ignorant traveller.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.