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Friday, 20 October 2017

Mandalay

Myanmar’s second city, Mandalay is the commercial and transportation hub of the north. With a population exceeding one million, the city is experiencing a mini-boom as trade along the Lashio Road (which starts here) to and from China multiplies. Mandalay is also the pre-eminent river port on the great Ayeyarwady and the centre of tourism in Upper Myanmar.

Mandalay, the ‘Golden City’, was established by King Mindon Min, the penultimate ruler of the Konbaung dynasty in 1857, in accordance with an ancient Buddhist prophecy. The King built on a huge scale, constructing the vast Mandalay Fort and Palace, as well as many impressive Pagodas. Mandalay became the country’s capital until the British conquest of Upper Myanmar in 1885, when the new King, Thibaw Min was exiled to India and the capital was moved to Yangon. Mandalay remains an important cultural and religious centre; some 300,000 monks and nuns live in the Mandalay area.

The city is an important art and craft centre. When visiting the great Mahamuni image in the southwest of the city, stop to look around the stone carving workshops that proliferate in the area. The artisans produce some excellent quality Buddha images as well as Chinese deities for export. Much of today’s wealth is based on the Jade trade. In the same general area, Mandalay’s Jade market is a great place to wander in the early morning, watch gems being cut and polished and have breakfast at one of the many teashops. Popular souvenirs from the Mandalay area include ‘kalaga’ embroidered tapestries and traditional puppets. Items can be picked up from the Zeigyo market, the biggest in Upper Myanmar, or craft shops dotting the city.

Make time during your stay to visit the gold-leaf workshops. This is where all that gold plastered onto the Mahamuni image and other Buddha images came from. The manufacturing process is fascinating and little-changed from centuries past. You can observe the process of making the 0.00005 inch thick pieces of gold, and purchase some in preparation for your next visit to a pagoda. If you do not want to donate your gold, you could always eat it! (It tastes good with banana).

Finally, Mandalay is the base for exploring the ‘ancient cities’ along the course of the Ayeyarwady River – please see the ‘Daytrips from Mandalay’ page of our website. Return to the Golden City in the evening for sunset from Mandalay Hill, a delicious meal, and an atmospheric walk along the Royal city moat.

Highlights.
Mandalay Hill.

This hill, 760 feet high and the only one in Mandalay, gave the City its name. The city was originally called Yadanabon (Mound of Gems) but local people called it by the name of the hill instead. Legend says that the Buddha himself visited Mandalay Hill with his disciple, Ananda. He prophesied that a great city would be established at the foot of the hill in the 2,400th anniversary of his death. That year was 1857, when the devout Buddhist King Mindon moved the capital from Amarapura.

The main entrances to the hill are on the South side, facing the city. The climb must be made barefoot and takes about 30 minutes. Along the way is a shrine containing the Peshawar Relics, three bones of the Buddha discovered in now Muslim Pakistan. Alternatively, your car can drop you near the top of the hill; an escalator goes the rest of the way. There are fantastic views from the top of the palace, the surrounding city, the Shan Hills and the Ayeyarwady River. Mr Myanmar Travel day tours end at the hill for sunset.

Mandalay Palace and Fort.

The immense Mandalay Fort, at the foot of Mandalay Hill was the centrepiece of the new city, a city within a city; the residence of the Royal family. The 12 square kilometre site is protected by 8 metre high walls studded with watchtowers, and is surrounded by a huge square moat, 70 metres wide and 3 metres deep. The walled city and palace within was the home of King Mindon and his unpopular successor, King Thibaw. When the British conquered the city in 1885 the palace was used as Government House. On the 20th March 1945, during fierce fighting between advancing British and Indian troops and the occupying Japanese, the teak-built palace complex caught fire and was completely destroyed. The ‘Glass Palace’ and some other buildings have been reconstructed and house some interesting photographs of the original site, as well as royal regalia and king Thibaw’s glass bed.

Mahamuni Pagoda.

This pagoda was originally built in 1784 by King Bodawpaya and linked to his palace by a royal highway. The pagoda was built to house the most venerated Buddha image in all Upper Myanmar, the Mahamuni image. This seated image, of great age and thought by some to have been created during the lifetime of the Buddha, is 13 feet high and covered by so much gold leaf – 15 centimetres thick, that it has lost proportion. Captured from the Rakhaing at the same time as the Buddha were six bronze Khmer figures, originally enshrined at Angkor Wat. Three are lions, two are images of Shiva and the last an image of Airavata, the Hindu three-headed elephant. They are housed in a small building in the outer courtyard. One of the walkways leading to the pagoda is lined by the descendants of the Brahmin astrologers who served at court. They carry on the profession, telling fortunes and writing astrological readings on elaborately decorated palm-leaf packets for new-born babies.

Kuthodaw Pagoda.

Officially the ‘Mahalawka Marazein Kuthodaw Pagoda’, this shrine is more commonly known as ‘The World’s Biggest Book’. Construction of the pagoda, modelled on the Shwezigon Pagoda of Bagan, began in 1859 on the instruction of King Mindon. The King instructed that the entire Buddhist Tripitaka be inscribed on stone so that the teachings would last until the coming of the next Buddha. Over a period of eight years the texts were recited and corrected as necessary by a committee of monks. The results of their efforts were inscribed upon 729 marble slabs, and each slab was enshrined in its own pavilion.

Sandamuni Pagoda.

Built on the spot of his assassination, Sandamuni was built by King Mindon in remembrance of his brother, Prince Kanaung. The pagoda features an iron image of the Buddha cast in 1802, and placed here in 1874. Built as an extension of the Kuthodaw Pagoda, the pagoda is also home to a collection of 1774 marble slabs inscribed with commentaries on the Tripitaka, accredited to the hermit monk U Khanti.

Atumashi Monastery.

Built close to, and at the same time as Kuthodaw Pagoda, this huge monastery is a reconstruction of the original which was destroyed by fire. The outside of the building features some fine stucco reliefs. Meaning ‘Incomparable Monastery’, Atumashi originally housed a famous Buddha image with a large diamond set on its forehead; the image was stolen after the British takeover of Mandalay.


Shwenandaw Kyaung.

A must-see in Mandalay, this monastery was once the private residence of King Mindon; and his place of death. This was originally part of the palace complex but was dismantled and moved outside the palace moat and became a monastery in 1880. The ‘Golden Palace’ Monastery is a teak pavilion carved all over with motifs and mythical creatures. The carved panels inside the building are in excellent conditions and display scenes of the ‘Jataka’, stories of the past lives of the Buddha. This is the only remaining building from the original palace – all the other buildings were destroyed during World War II.

Kyauktawgyi Pagoda.

Completed in 1878 and located at the base of Mandalay Hill, this pagoda houses a colossal, 900 ton Buddha image, carved from a single piece of marble. The image, ornamented with royal attire was carved for the merit of King Mindon, who consecrated it by painting in the eyes himself. The image was floated to Mandalay from Sagyin mine, a site still in production today.

Shwe In Bin Monastery.

Built in 1895, this elegant monastery was commissioned by two wealthy Chinese Jade merchants. Built strictly according to rules of monastic architecture, the monastery’s balustrades and roof cornices are exquisitely carved. The monastery is located in a monk’s village of small monasteries and is an interesting area to walk around.

Mandalay has a new International airport, located 28 miles south of the city. At the time of writing there is only one international route from the airport – to Kunming, China. The airport is the Northern hub of Myanmar for internal flights. Flights depart to and arrive from Yangon, Bagan, Heho (for Inle Lake and Kalaw) Myitkyina, Putao, Kengtung and Kalaymyo. Mr Myanmar Travel can arrange your flights and will meet you at the airport to transfer you to your hotel.

Mandalay is a hot, flat sprawling city and the many points of interest are scattered over a large area. You can see this for yourself from the magnificent viewpoint of Mandalay Hill. Mr Myanmar Travel arranges car hire with drivers who know the area and how best to see it. We can arrange day, and half-day tours and can supply knowledgeable guides to help you make the most of your visit. We can arrange cars and drivers to tour the ‘ancient cities’ area immediately outside Mandalay – please see the ‘Daytrips from Mandalay’ section of our website for details. Additionally, daytrips and multi-day journeys by car can also be arranged to the caves and attractions around the Chindwin River town of Monywa, to Pyin Oo Lwin and the Lashio Road towns of Hsipaw, Lashio and Muse on the Chinese border, as well as several other destinations.

Mr Myanmar Travel can also organise trips on the mighty Ayeyarwady River. Cruises depart Mandalay for the Upper Ayeyarwady town of Bhamo, and downstream to spectacular Bagan. Mr Myanmar Travel can also charter private riverboats with comfortable cabins for these journeys, plus the off-the-beaten-track destination of the Chindwin River. In season there are ‘fast’ ferries to Bagan which sail during the day so that you can enjoy the scenery. Please be aware that these boasts can have a very unreliable schedule. We can also arrange a private boat for the scenic one hour journey upriver to Mingun. We recommend taking this trip in the morning and spending the afternoon touring some of the sights of Mandalay to make up a full day excursion.

If you have the time we recommend spending at least two full days in Mandalay City including one spent touring Mingun and some of the more far-flung attractions. We suggest a third day for a tour of the ancient cities of Amarapura, Inwa and Sagaing. The city and its environs play host to many festivals throughout the year; we would recommend that you extend your stay at these times to make the most of the opportunity to attend. Mandalay boasts a wide range of good value accommodation choices from comfortable two star, to luxurious boutique and five star options. Please do not hesitate to ask us to recommend a property to meet your needs.

 

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