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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The oldest and longest teak bridge

The oldest and longest teak bridge

= Nadi Nain =

One of the past capitals of ancient Myanmar Amarapura sits in the country’s central arid zone just 11 kilometres south of Mandalay. Founded by King Bodawpaya in 1783, the city served as the seat of throne until 1857, when the nation moved its royal administrative power to Mandalay.

What remain of the former royal city today are the ruins of the city gate, parts of the palace, and the tombs of olden day rulers. Additionally, a large number of religious buildings are still standing in the area. And of them Kyauktawgyi Pagoda and Maha Gandayon monastery are popular.

But a visit to Amarapura will not entirely complete without a walk over the world's longest teak bridge spanning an old lake in the area. One of the main tourist hotspots of Myanmar U Bein Bridge is an ancient bridge crossing Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura for many years till now. Historical records say that the 0.74 mile (1.2-kilometre) overpass was built about 170 years ago and is believed to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. When the capital of Inwa monarchy moved to Amarapura, Mayor U Bein collected the teak pillars of the dismantled palace that would be left behind. The mayor and his team of engineers and workers erected the bridge with those teak pillars as the main columns of the facility. So the bridge is named after the mayor who organized the bridge project. He and his men started the erection work in 1849 and finished in 1851. It is said that the Myanmar engineers used traditional methods of scaling and measuring in erecting the bridge; and that they made scale by counting the footsteps.

The crossing and the lake in combination create one of the best sites for local and foreign photographers as the world’s longest teak footbridge gently curves 1300 yards across the shallow water body. During the summer times the dried-up parts of the lake bed are turned into green patches of seasonal vegetable plantations. So the bridge passes high over these vegetable farms and a shrinking lake with lower water level during the dry season. But when the monsoon comes, the lake grows bigger again turning all the lowlands of the area into a large single water body. Its surface level so high that water laps just below the fl oor planks. As the bridge is very old some of the 1086 poles supporting the facility have been replaced with concrete columns. Floods during the rainy season coupled with stagnant waters caused by fish breeding in the lake have gradually damaged these pillars. Gladly, the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library of the Ministry of Culture has renovation and conservation plans for the long-term existence of the bridge which still is largely intact till now.

Apart from its virtue as a visitor paradise, the bridge also serves as the central part of the community as hundreds of local commuters including Buddhist monks are walking to and fro on it daily and on the surface of the lake under it are fishermen doing their routine job. The best view of the bridge comes at sunset, and the best photo shot of the facility can be taken from a boat paddling in the lake. But a great time to visit the world’s longest and oldest teak bridge is just after sunrise when hundreds of villagers and monks commuting back and forth across it.


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