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The main attraction at Mingun is Mingun Paya, the huge cracked brick base of an unfinished pagoda that would have been five hundred feet tall and the world’s biggest if the king building it, Bodawpaya, had not died in 1819 before its completion. Now it is the world’s biggest pile of bricks. But crumbling and cracked or not, it was a stupendous sight. In 1838 an earthquake caused a great split in one corner of the stupa and the rubble of bricks that had flowed down from it still sat in a heap at its base. More severe damage occurred last year when a major shock toppled some of the top structure, which also now lies in a mess of rubble at the base. It is said that tourists would have been killed in this fall if the earthquake had not happened early in the morning. The flat top of the stupa used to be a popular spot for viewing the river and surrounding countryside, but now it is forbidden to climb up there. Oh, what a shame, my grateful legs said to me.

I trudged on. Guarding the riverbank are two gigantic stone chinthe, half lion, half dragon mythical animal figures. Ten people are said to have lived at times in the cracks in their mouths that were caused by earthquakes.

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Following the dusty path that led to the other sites for which Mingun is famous, I walked, dogged all the way by a young boy and girl who said they were in high school. Not today apparently, even though this was a school day. They did not let me escape without relieving me of some of my cash. They had cut me off from the herd the way wolves separate a straggler and wear it down. I try never to buy tourist junk, but I was defeated here and left Mingun with two watercolours of monks and nuns, a swag of postcards, a fan, a bundle of incense sticks and a donation to something I have no idea what.

I stood inside the Mingun Bell, a gigantic bronze bell cast in 1808 for King Bodawpaya to put in his ill-fated stupa. Instead the bell now hangs from supports in an open-sided pavilion. It weighs ninety tonnes, is sixteen feet across its lip and is the largest intact bronze bell in the world; Moscow has a larger bell but it is cracked.

Two more obligatory payas later and I was gasping for a drink. I had a cup of tea at the stall of a woman who only bothered me a little to buy something, then I went in search of food. At a restaurant overlooking the river I ate a chicken omelette that was a surprise package. It had everything tomato, onion, eggs, chicken and goodness knows what else, and it cost two dollars.

The boat was supposed to return at one pm but I couldn’t find it. The steps we had arrived at were below sight from the shore and I didn’t recognise the spot. I tried the main boat landing, but was sent elsewhere. Then I saw two foreigners I deduced must be heading for the boat too, and followed them. I am getting cunning in my old age. Not smart, just cunning. At the landing I met a nice couple, a Chilean man and his American wife. We sat together on the boat and arranged to have dinner later.

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