Mandalay

Arriving at Mandalay Airport, we were met by an extraordinarily bad Burmese guide, whose grasp of English was abysmal. We were meant to have him for the next 5 days

En route to our hotel, he took us to Ava, the capital of Burma from 14th to 18th centuries. This necessitated a short ferry ride across the river, and from there via a horse and cart to the old wooden Bagaya Monastery. We were meant to see the remains of the Royal Palace and Fort, but the guide managed to miss that part of the tour, and we only saw the old city walls from afar. The horse and cart ride was a bit of a disaster - the enclosed sides made it impossible to see anything of the scenery, and it was a very uncomfortable ride

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By the time we reached our hotel, the Rupar Mandlar Hotel on TripAdvisor and 8.5 on Booking , I had decided that we had to change the guide - the incumbent would just have wasted 5 days of our holiday. So I told him that regrettably we would need a new guide as we could not understand his English. The replacement the next morning was fine.

The hotel layout is a sort of mini traditional Burmese village, and is located on the edge of the city. Traditional rooms with lots of teak wood. The hotel is in need of refurbishment - it is not actually seedy, but could easily become so if they do not step up maintenance . You get a voucher for a "free" cocktail each night at happy hour - limited choice of 3 drinks, but a nice idea. We had dinner in their restaurant both nights we stayed (it really is not worth the hassle of going out to find another restaurant, there is not much in walking distance). Each night there is a puppet/traditional dancing show with dinner which was entertaining The staff are pleasant but unsupervised, and can be a bit slapdash in dealing with customers. This was evident at the pool where staff and their children were swimming and being quite rowdy on both afternoons that we used the pool. And the pool itself is in need of an update My feeling was that the hotel was overstaffed, but without supervision, nothing much actually got done Having said all that, it was a pleasant place to stay, and its relative isolation was part of its charm

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Mandalay, the very name evokes the splendours of the Burma of old. The Road to Mandalay read by Charles Dance. But Mandalay is not an old city, not even a medieval one, but rather a new city that was created by King Mingdon Min of Burma in 1857 as the new capital of the kingdom of Ava. Only two Burmese kings ruled from there, King Mingdon and King Thibaw, before the British conquest of Upper Burma in 1885. It was a city of splendour between 1858 and 1885 but most of the magnificence is gone, destroyed by the fire that consumed wooden structures and by intensive bombing by the Japanese during the Second World War. The city, neatly planned with its lettered roads and numbered streets, is a British creation.

The once magnificent Royal Palace and the great Atumashi (incomparable) pagoda, King Mingdon Min's finest creations, are modern reconstructions. Today, Mandalay lies at the end of the Lashio Road and it is, by Burmese standards, relatively prosperous as a centre for trade with China and as a centre for the growing trade with India.

 

Mandalay is also known for its skilled craftsmen. We saw the production of Gold Leaf (much used in temples to decorate statues of Buddha) and of metal casting of statues

Casting Bronze Statues by the "lost wax" method. The vast majority of statues are of Buddha, and the only other statues we saw were of General Aung San, the murdered father of the present Burmese leader

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Making gold leaf. Burma uses prodigious quantities of gold leaf, which the faithful apply to statues of Buddha as part of religious devotions. Creating gold leaf requires a lot of time and physical effort before the gold reaches its final wafer thin state.

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Mahagandayon Monastery is at Amarapura, a former capital whose name means ‘City of Immortality’. The monastery is home to over one-thousand monks and it is the country's most prominent monastic college. The monastery is known for its strict adherence to the Vinaya, the Buddhist monastic code. It was first established by Agatithuka Sayadaw, a Thudhamma-affiliated monk, around 1908, as a meditation monastery for forest-dwelling monks. The monastery gained further prominence under the leadership of Ashin Janakābhivaṃsa, who began living there in 1914. During the 1970s, Ne Win, the country's leader, sought advice from Shwegyin monks at the monastery.

We watched the alms parade at 11am in the morning, when all the monks walk to the dining hall for their meal, and receive alms of rice and other food from the waiting crowd. The ages of the monks (and a few nuns) ranged from about 6 years old to old men. In all Burma there are around 500,000 monks and novices and around 50,000 nuns. Monks do no work, and they are entirely reliant on alms. As well as the physical giving of food to monks in processions such as this one, "donors" will give money for say the running of the monastery for a day, which can be 1000 euros, and, for their generosity, will be recognised in print or film as a donor. Donations are very important in Burma and people donate to monks and monasteries with great generosity. It is believed that the donors earn privileges in heaven for their gifts

Between the ages of ten and sixteen, most young Burmese men and some young women become Buddhist novices and go to live in a monastery. While most young men remain at the monastery for only a short time before returning to the secular life, some become fully ordained monks.

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U Bein Bridge is constructed of 984 teak posts that were once part of the deserted Inwa Palace. U Bein Bridge leads the way to the former Burmese capital city of Amarapura. The ageing bridge stretches 1.2 kilometres to the other shore, making it the longest bridge of its kind in the world. Mayor U Bein is credited for the creation of the bridge in the 1850s, using scavenged teak pilings from the discarded palace of Amarapura when King Mindon moved the capital to Mandalay.

During the dry season from February to May,when we were there, the water level drops dramatically, allowing you to meander under the bridge and through small crop fields planted by farmers taking advantage of the rich soil. During wet season, the water level can reach the top of the bridge, and in some years has even covered the walkway. Seeing it, as we did in the Dry Season, it was difficult to imagine water actually covering the bridge. It being a weekend, what we did see was an awful lot of people walking over the bridge.

The government are in the process of slowly restoring the bridge with new teak piles. The bridge is still currently very rickety, and without any safety rails, gives one a frisson of excitement walking along it.

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Mahamuni Pagoda is Myanmar's second holiest pilgrimage site. The revered 4-metre high Buddha statue is made of gold and decorated with precious jewels. The image was brought from Rakhine State, southeast of Mandalay. Only men are allowed to approach the Mahamuni. For 1600 kyat, you can get a small pack of gold leaves to partake in the ceremonial tradition of decorating the buddha statue. Over the past century a layer of gold over 6" deep has been pressed into the body of Mahamuni giving it an almost ‘lumpy’ texture. And, as elsewhere in the country, only men are allowed to apply gold leaf to the statue.

Ancient tradition refers to only five likenesses of the Buddha, made during his lifetime; two were in India, two in paradise, and the fifth is the Mahamuni Buddha image in Myanmar. According to the legend, the Buddha visited the Dhanyawadi city of Arakan in 554 BC. King Sanda Thuriya requested that an image was cast of him. After casting the Great Image, the Buddha breathed upon it, and thereafter the image became the exact likeness of the Mahamuni.

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Golden Palace Restaurant. We were taken here by our guide and had the reasonably priced set meal. The set menu is brought to you on a dozen or more plates, and laid out on the table in front of you. To a certain extent we were overloaded with food, and did not finish all the dishes. But everything was very acceptable and was well cooked and presented. The restaurant is fairly basic in interior decor, but it does cater for locals as well as tourists, In addition, bear in mind that this is cheap eating The staff were very pleasant, and the place came complete with a doorman and sun umbrella to escort my wife back to our car. As in any tour with a guide, one does not have much input on the lunch stop. But I was quite happy with our guide's choice here.

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Shwenandaw Monastery, the only remaining building from the 19th century Royal Palace. This grand teak building is known for its exquisite woodcarving.When the capital city was moved to Mandalay, the building was dismantled, transported to Mandalay and rebuilt there as part of the new all teak Royal Palace in 1857. King Mindon used the building as his personal living quarters. After the King died, his son relocated the building to its current location outside of the Palace grounds, where it was converted into a monastery in 1880. The Golden Palace Monastery gives you an impression of what the Royal Palace once must have looked like. As the Palace was destroyed by fire during the second World War, the Shwenandaw Monastery is the only major original teak wooden building left of the original Mandalay Royal Palace.

Although it looks like a three story building from the outside, it is in fact only one story, and the present building is laid out as the king's living quarters, not as a monastery.

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Kuthodaw Pagoda, whose 729 marble stone slabs of Buddhist scriptures have earned it the title ‘World’s Biggest Book’. Built by King Mingdon in the 1800s, 729 white stupas within the complex contain the complete text of the Tripitaka, Theravada Buddhism's most sacred text.

The stone tablets inscribed with the Tripiṭaka stand upright in the grounds of the Kuthodaw pagoda at the foot of Mandalay Hill. It has 730 leaves and 1460 pages; each page is 107 centimetres wide, 153 centimetres ) tall and 13 centimetres thick. Each stone tablet has its own roof and precious gem on top in a small cave-like structure, and they are arranged around a central golden pagoda.

The marble was quarried from Sagyin Hill 51 km north of Mandalay, and transported by river to the city. Work began on 14 October 1860 in a large shed near Mandalay Palace. The text had been meticulously edited by tiers of senior monks and lay officials consulting the Tipitaka (meaning "three baskets", namely Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka) kept in royal libraries in the form of peisa or palm leaf manuscripts. Scribes carefully copied the text on marble for stonemasons. Each stone has 80 to 100 lines of inscription on each side in round Burmese script, chiseled out and originally filled in with gold ink. It took a scribe three days to copy both the obverse and the reverse sides, and a stonemason could finish up to 16 lines a day. All the stones were completed and opened to the public on 4 May 1868.

The pagoda itself was built as part of the traditional foundations of the new royal city which also included a library for religious scriptures, but King Mindon wanted to leave a great work of merit for posterity meant to last five millennia after the Gautama Buddha who lived around 500 BC.

The pagoda in full splendour, when we were thee it was being restored

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Mandalay Hill is a 230m hill overlooking Mandalay. Along its path are several monasteries and temples. At its top are famous pagodas and temples. Beautiful at sunset, well was beautiful at sunset. Today pollution renders the whole vista opaque.

From Mandalay we drove north to Pwin Ou Lwin, and took the train to Hsi Paw

On to Hsipaw

Burma Holiday