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Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

 ‘On the Road to Mandalay, where the flyin’ fishes play’ Mandalay by Rudyard Kipling, 1890.

The poem that made Mandalay famous by Kipling is ironic in the sense that Kipling never made it to Mandalay and only stopped in Rangoon (Yangon) briefly. However the place captured his imaginationand the people of Burma entranced him.

Mandalay was the home to kings and is dominated by the palace. It is a bustling city that spreads from the hills to the Irrawaddy River and has the highest concentration of monasteries in Myanmar.

 

Mandalay6

Story

Mandalay was founded as the capital, of then Burma, in 1857 by King Mindon at the base of Mandalay Hill. The founding of the new city was designed to coincide with the 2400th year of Buddhism. He dismantled the previous palace at Amarapura and moved it by elephant to the new location where it took two years to reconstruct and was finally completed in 1859. This would be the last capital of the Burmese Royal family and the Konbaung Dynasty.

The British annexed the city in 1885 and sent the King Thibaw Min & Queen Supayalat into exile in Ratnagiri, India ending the third Anglo-Burmese War. They looted the palace and many treasures can be found in London rather than Myanmar. Although the commercial centre moved to Yangon, Mandalay has always remained a centre of culture and learning especially of Buddhist studies. However during World War II the city was one of the hardest hit by the bombardment of the Japanese, wiping out much of the city. It was occupied by the Japanese from 1942 – 45, and most of the palace was decimated by allied bombings. Most of the palace today is a replica built in the 1990’s.

Now it is a bustling little city that spans from Mandalay Hill down to the great Irrawaddy River. The Chinese influence can be seen throughout the city, due to a big migration from over the border that can be found in the food and dynamic of modern day Myanmar. There is also a serenity about the city as it is home to the most monasteries in Myanmar.

 

Sleep

Mandalay2The Bagan King Hotel is a new hotel situated in the middle of town that is tastefully decorated in a traditional Burmese townhouse style and is in convenient walking or cycling distance to the palace, all major sightseeing and local restaurants. Rooms are compact and comfortable and very elegantly decorated. There is a slight kitsch quality to some of the uniforms, yet elegant décor and the overall effect is charming, cozy and a lovely little escape from a busy and dusty city.

Traditional décor dominates the rooftop restaurant has a lovely fresco on the ceiling and is all warm gold and reds. Rooms are tasteful and extremely comfortable. There are larger resorts but this small boutique hotel retains the character and intimate hospitality of Myanmar. It is a lovely little enclave in the city to pass a few days and explore the local sites.

www.bagankinghotel.com

 

Savour

The Chinese side heavily influences this part of Myanmar and you can find the famous Shan noodles as well as many hot and sour or sweet and sour elements. Balls of chicken or pork are crispy in a sweet and sour sauce that is a delicious combination. There are many local nameless restaurants when roaming through town that are simple eateries bursting with local flavours. It is well worth stopping in a place that looks full and simply sampling a range of dishes that are on offer.

A lovely little restaurant called Rainforest is above an eclectic and lovely little antique shopped packed with shambolic Burmese treasures. Once you make your way through this trove of trinkets you come out to an atmospheric balcony from which to enjoy your delicious meal of Thai curries and varied fresh, fragrant and fresh dishes.Just wandering around town you can find a variety of local restaurants serving a selection of traditional dishes and the best idea is just to jump in and try the amazing array of food on offer. Sweet and sour meatballs is a particular speciality of Mandalay and is a delicious non spicy option for those who do not eat chilli, naturally there is an array of delicious rich Burmese curries that are aromatic and mild compared to some other areas of South East Asia.

 

Mandalay3

Sanctuary

Mandalay has the most amount of monasteries in Myanmar. It is common to see monks all over the city and visit with them. Unfortunately some elements of this beautiful and serene religious sanctity has been exploited since tourism has opened up the country. At the MahaAungMye Bon Zan Monastery1500 monks line up for lunch and are joined by a wall of tourists intruding on this practice and shoving cameras in their face. Tourists can even help serve them breakfast now. The monks do feel very uncomfortable and even exploited so it is a trip worth avoiding.

However the ShwenandawKyaung or Golden Palace Monastery is an absolutely beautifully carved teak wood exterior. It was actually originally part of the palace complex in Amarapura before being dismantled by King Thibaw and reconstructed to the memory of his father King Mindon in Mandalay. It has some of the finest examples of antique teak carving and also contains a stunning gold room inside that gives an insight into the historical monastic life.

 

Mandalay4

Sunset

Mandalay Hill offers beautiful sunset views across the city and surrounding countryside and is extremely popular for sunset. The stunning stupa at the top glistens gold and rainbow from the multi-coloured mosaics that cover the walls and is full of pilgrims praying to the flamboyant Buddhas. Shimmering shades reflect and change with the sweeping views of the setting sun that casts its light over Mandalay.

It is a strange ascension to the top by towering long rickety escalators that only go up before 6pm and then reverse for the journey down. However this slightly hair raising experience is well worth it as you have a birds eye view of the city and verdant paddy fields. Monks meander through the golden archways and children play in the dappled light. It is a serene and superb place to soak in the scenery.

 

Sacred

Mandalay5Home to the largest book of Buddhist Scriptures is KuthdowPagoda, literally meaning ‘by royal merit’. It is a glistening golden stupa, shaded by the huge boughs pf big starflower trees,at the foot of Mandalay Hill that was constructed by King Mindon. In the grounds of the pagoda are 729 kyauksagu or stone-inscription caves, each containing a marble slab inscribed on both sides with a page of text from the Tipitaka, an entire chapter of Theravada Buddhism.

The king constructed the pagoda as part of the founding of Mandalay but wanted to leave a great work behind in the form of the scripture that was supposed to last for five millennia after the death of Buddha.

With the annexation of Mandalay by the British in 1885 the site was actually closed to the Burmese, until U Aung Ban appealed to Queen Victoria to let them access and worship in their holy sites again, surprisingly it was granted but they found the whole place looted, even down to the Italian tiling on the floor. Thanks to remaining members of the royal family, merchants, monks and a variety of families the pagoda was restored in the 1800’s but with no help from the British.

Today children play amongst the trees and run between the small ‘caves’, whilst the sun accentuates the shimmering pagoda and bright white rounded roofs. It is a serene and beautiful place to meander around and one of the highlights of Mandalay. A truly serene and sacred place of marvel.

 

Mandalay7

Stately

Mandalay Palace was the last royal palace for the Burmese monarchy, it was built by King Mindon in 1857 with the founding of the new capital Mandalay. King Thibaw was the last king to live here before it was annexed by the British in the 3rd Anglo – Burmese War and renamed Fort Dufferin an became a symbol of imperialism. Largely destroyed by air raids in World War II it was rebuilt in the 1990’s around the surviving watchtower and Royal Mint.

It is very beautifully restored and already has a slightly aged regal air about it with its deep reddish hues and gold inlaid details. Sadly it was badly looted by both the population of Myanmar and the British so most of the original antiquities are actually in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The palace was named Fort Dufferin during the British occupation until it was largely destroyed by allied bombings.

Today the palace dominates the centre of Mandalay and is a symbol of the cities majestic past and rich history. Over two hundred deep red timber buildings have been constructed to replicate the original from the 1850’s, giving a rich glow and melding with the russet robes of monks meandering the structures. The wall dominates the old part of the city and foreigners are only allowed to enter via the eastern gate and you must dismount if you are on a bicycle or scooter in line with local protocol. The army garrisons are still inside so they will escort you if you stray off the official route.

Take your time wandering around this breezy and complex reconstruction. Climbing up the original watchtower will give you a sweeping view of this wonderful complex and glimpses into a very different and regal Burmese past.

 

 
 
© 2014 The Eco Gypsy - Ethical Exploration.
   


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