The World’s Largest Pile of Bricks

We love travel. I refer to traveling to new cultures and places as connecting the dots. With each trip I feel a little more connected to the world at large and to the various dots that make up my picture of this planet and we who inhabit it.

While in Burma, we took a boat up the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay to Mingun for the day. Yet another fallen kingdom, Mingun is reknowned for the largest functioning bell in the world. It weighs in at 55,555 viss (90,718 kilograms or 199,999 pounds). The sound is a deep claaangg, rung by thumping the bell hard on the lip with a mallet. Mingun is also famous for the king who bankrupted his people with an attempt to outdo every shrine-builder who’d ever lived: King Bodawpaya wanted to build the huge stupa known as Mingun Pahtodawgyi.

It would be the highest in the world, a magnificent 150 meters tall, dwarfing everything built

How the stupa would have appeared finished
How the stupa would have appeared finished

prior to it.

Work began in 1790.

King Bodawpaya never finished his religious edifice. He ran out of funds; or, halted construction due to a prophesy that his realm would end when the building was completed; or, that completing the stupa would signal his death. An earthquake on March 23, 1839 dislodged the huge bell and damaged the structure beyond saving. The Mingun Pahtodawgyi became the world’s largest pile of bricks…

Mingun Pahtodawgyi. Can you spot the teeny tiny humans in the photograph? (Click on the photograph)

The structure stands, all semi-finished 50 meters (150 feet) of it, roughly a third of the original planned height.

It’s a holy place and the faithful still come to worship. And the curious come to climb it [enter Jadi and Uwe, stage right]. Now, at any sacred Buddhist site, you remove your shoes at the base of the structure.

Going up, sir?
Going up, sir?

And you climb the stairs, barefoot, and then clambor on the ruins, barefoot, for one truly awe-inspiring view of the Irrawaddy River and the surrounding countryside.

View of the Irrawaddy River
View of the Irrawaddy River and several of Mingun’s gorgeous temples

Shan pilgrims in traditional outfits had also climbed the stupa and gave us the gift of their smiles and waves.


Shan pilgrims
Shan pilgrims

It was a magnificent afternoon and yet another highlight of our 4 weeks in Burma.

Picnicking on the Edge
Picnicking on the Edge

It wasn’t until we were safely home again that I got a good look at Uwe’s photographs.

Go on, I dare you
Go on, I dare you
Just a few small jumps and you’re there

There was a photo I had taken, too.

Hope those bricks are stable!
Hope those bricks are stable!

All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. And click on the final image to enlarge it for an even better idea of how damaged the site is.

More pictures from our trip to Burma, and of Uwe’s photography, may be viewed at

12 thoughts on “The World’s Largest Pile of Bricks”

    1. Thanks so much for the comment and the compliment. Uwe and I realized early in our relationship that travel was a must, and it’s where much of our energy (and money) goes. This year we’re doing some badly needed renovations, so travel has to wait… we’re already dreaming about the next trip. 🙂 —Jadi

  1. Right, that’s it. I’m going! Have long been curious about this mythical, enigmatic land, and have heard a few, sparse but wonderful things. (Only sparse because so few westerners have made the journey yet; the reports one does hear are amazing) Love the photos, clicked through on every one, and richly rewarded with the detail. Especially liked the small piles of broken brick and stone, an offering I imagine (?) Rightly or wrongly, they remind me of the cairns you see in Ireland or Scotland, place-markers, or hilltops, or sites of remembrance now, but (I also suspect) also attached to some international neolithic global past. (god, I hope that makes sense) Thank you for your recent visits Jadi. Anyway, enough, thanks for a wonderful post. I shall return & look forward to reading and hearing more. Salutations from Dublin. -Arran.

    1. Hi Arran, the time to go to Burma is now… As the country opens up prices are doubling fast in some places. Loved your comment on the cairns. There is a mystical magical taste to everything we saw (and yes, your comment about the intl neolithic global past made perfect sense!) Burma moved us deeply in unexpected ways. What more can one wish from a new place? —Jadi

      1. Thanks Jadi, I note what you say about Now, & am determined to go as soon as possible. Quite exactly how soon “possible” is we shall see. It is sad what you say about prices, and I am sure much more sadly, some areas will be spoiled and possibly exploited, alas. For example, I note with dismay an article today here, in the Irish Independent Newspaper, about a venture to open the whole country of Burma to modern communications, in a joint a deal between Irish telecoms billionaire Denis O’Brien (not generally considered a model of probity here) and the Hungarian speculator & mega-billionaire Georges Soros. God help the poor ordinary Burmese people. The sharks are already circling.

        1. There’s a razor-thin edge of a chance that the powers-that-be will get it right in Burma. The spiritual will of the people is a huge and powerful force – one hopes that it prevails over greed. We as travelers can help by bearing witness and spending wisely. You should have an incredible time and meet wonderful people. I wish you a great trip!! —Jadi

    1. Thanks! It really was amazing. The entire 4 weeks in Burma we felt as if we had stepped out of a time machine into a beautiful and exotic parallel universe. ‘Magical’ begins, maybe, as a word to describe the experience. —Jadi

    1. Thanks for commenting! It really didn’t hit until we were home and I saw these pictures: that’s when I realized just how high up we were, standing barefoot…. —Jadi

    1. Hi Barb, if you ever get the chance, go! Burma is wonderful and we experienced magic each day there. And thanks for liking the narrative. Uwe’s photos are so good and they challenge me to write well enough to match them. —Jadi

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