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There is thought to be a total of over 600 monasteries in and around Sagaing, housing an estimated 5, 000 monks. In addition, there is an estimated 3, 000 nuns in Sagaing. As a teaching centre, walking or driving towards Sagaing Hill you will find yourself carving a passage through a sea of shuffling orange and pink robes.
On the way up the hill, nestled in the dells you will pass many of the monasteries where these young monks and nuns live. On your journey up you will likely see trucks overloaded with the pious that commonly run out of steam and require passengers to hop out, propping the wheels with bricks and giving the truck a shove.
The pagodas at the top of Sagaing Hill are ornate and quirky and you will be offered sweeping views of the Ayeyarwady. Crumbling steps off the terraces lead into the thick of the forest, where solitary monks return to the monastery and young couples wander hand in hand sharing precious time alone together.
Sagaing became the capital of an independent Shan Kingdom after the fall of Bagan around 1315 AD. The capital was later moved across the river to Inwa (Ava), but Sagaing was Burma’s capital once more for a brief period in the early 1760s.
Today, set amongst a breathtaking landscape, Sagaing is Myanmar’s most important meditation centre. A popular site to visit in Sagaing is the Padamya zedi, which dates back to 1300 AD. There is also the Umin Thong-ze (thirty caves) Pagoda which features a crescent-shaped colonnade of Buddha images. There are murals in the Tilawka-guru cave temple and close by in Ywa Htaung village you can watch local artisans creating silverware.
If you are to find yourself in Sagaing for Burma’s robe offering ceremony kathina, which comes in Autumn at the end of the Buddhist Lent (Khao Phunsa), you will be able to witness the people offer robes and cloth to the monks after their three month seclusion in the monastery.