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Visiting Hpaung Daw U Pagoda in Myanmar


By Michael Aquino
Southeast Asia Travel Expert, about.com

Hpaung Daw U Pagoda retains an almost sacramental value to Inle Lake residents in Myanmar. Easily accessible thanks to its central location in Ywama Village, Hpaung Daw U stands in the middle of a large plaza inhabited by souvenir sellers and hundreds of pigeons.

Inside the Pagoda, visitors will find five Buddha images encrusted in gold, each image representing the Buddhas of this age (four in the past and one in the future).

Veneration of the Buddhas reaches a peak around September or October, on the Burmese lunar month of Thadingyut, when the Buddha images leave the temple to tour Inle Lake villages over the course of 18 days.
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Getting to Hpaung Daw U Pagoda

Given its accessibility and local color, Hpaung Daw U is always included in tours of Inle Lake. Ywama Village lies on the middle west side of Inle Lake, putting it close to other attractions like Ywama's floating market and the stupas at Shwe Indein.

From the main lake body, speedboats enter an inlet that goes straight to Ywama Village; boats dock at the crowded jetty in front of Hpaung Daw U, allowing guests to disembark and climb right onto the plaza in front of the pagoda itself.

As you follow the eastern exit of Hpaung Daw U, you'll find a single ATM (read about money in Myanmar) and a row of souvenir sellers hawking fake antique coins, wood carvings, knives, bags and watches.  

[post_ads]Five Buddha Images

Five Buddha images can be found within the interior of the pagoda. Unlike most Myanma pagodas which hold only four, Hpaung Daw U Pagoda has five - the four Buddhas of the past, along with the Buddha yet to come. (Find out more in our article about deciphering Myanmar's temples.)

The Buddha images range in size from nine to eighteen inches in height. None of these are recognizable as Buddha images, as devotees over the years have covered each image with gold leaf, to the point that they look more like misshapen gold fruits.

Inle Lake folklore holds that the images were given to the local lake peoples by the Bagan King Sithu I, who reigned between 1112 and 1167 as King in Bagan. Sithu was an avid traveler, who often sailed around local waters on his royal barge. The pagoda marks a local site where King Sithu is said to have stopped his barge during his travels.

Hpaung Daw U Festival

During the month of Thadingyut (around September or October), four of the five Buddha images make a grand circuit of Inle Lake's villages, taking eighteen days to complete the tour.

Loaded onto a golden barge built especially for the occasion, the four Buddha images make the slow trip, towed by boats rowed by Inle Lake's famous leg-rowers. The barge tours the lake in a clockwise direction, with the four Buddha images spending each night in a different town monastery.

The festival reaches its peak when the barge reaches the town of Nyaungshwe, where pilgrims from all around the Shan state converge to venerate the statues.

But why do the Shan only take four Buddha images? The Inle townsfolk fear a repeat of a previous incident. According to legend, the last time the Inle folk took all five images on board, a storm capsized the barge, sending all the images to the bottom of the lake.

Four were retrieved, but they gave up on the fifth after a long search. Upon returning to the pagoda, they found the fifth image back in its original place - wet but intact!

Hpaung Daw U Festival is a moveable feast relative to the Gregorian Calendar. As per the Burmese lunar calendar, the festival begins on the first Waxing Moon day of Thadingyut and ends 18 days later, a few days past the next full moon. On the Gregorian Calendar, the festival takes place on the following dates:
  • 2015: October 14-31
  • 2016: October 2-19
  • 2017: September 21-October 8
  • 2018: October 10-27
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Tips for Hpaung Daw U Visitors

If you're planning to visit Hpaung Daw U (as is likely, if you're around Inle Lake), please keep the following tips in mind:

  • Try to visit during market day. Each major town in Inle Lake takes turns hosting market day, each turn going around in a five-day cycle. (That means it's market day every five days in any given town.) The market sets up on a field on the southeastern exit of the pagoda - snacks, souvenirs, clothing, and even DVDs are fair game for visitors with the time and inclination to haggle.
  • Wear something decent. Wear modest clothing; no short shorts or spaghetti strap tops for women, no tank tops for men. Remember to take off your footwear as you enter the pagoda area. More information here: Etiquette in Myanmar.
  • Feed the pigeons. Bags of seed can be purchased at the temple gates to feed the hungry pigeons that congregate on the western front plaza of the pagoda.

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