Postcard from... Rangoon


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The Independent Online

Divers wearing goggles and attached to safety ropes have plunged into waters south of Burma’s old capital as part of renewed efforts to retrieve a bronze bell that has been lying for centuries at the confluence of three rivers.

The 270-tonne bell, believed to be one of the largest ever cast, was made on the order of King Dhammazedi in the 1400s and donated to the revered Shwedagon pagoda. In the early 1600s, it was stolen by the Portuguese mercenary Filipe de Brito, but his vessel sank.

Private and foreign groups have for years been trying to retrieve the historic treasure, which is believed to be buried deep beneath heavy silt. The groups have been deterred in part by murky waters and torrential currents.

More than 70 people, including 10 divers from the country’s Myeik archipelago, famous for their ability to dive deep without external breathing equipment, were taking part in the latest mission, said Win Myint, 52, one of the organisers of the team.

They have made exploratory dives over the last several days, but because of heavy silt and mud on the river bed they have not been able to locate the bell. As divers jumped into the water, Buddhist monks prayed for their safety, Win Myint said, expressing confidence that the mission would end in success. ap