Thursday, March 07, 2013

Royal Mandalay

From Bangkok to Mandalay, the northern city was our first taste of Burma. Getting into town to look for somewhere to stay, and taking in the pollution and traffic, the low-rise buildings and the compact central area, it reminded me instantly of Phnom Penh as it was 10 years ago.

Once we were housed for the next 2 nights at the basic Nylon Hotel, we found a driver to take us to the sights around the city, in a rickety old Corolla stationwagon - surely older than any running car back home.

The first stop was to explore the Royal Palace, through the gates and passed the men in uniform holding guns. Most of the complex is now a military base, but the King Mindon Min's Palace sits to one edge of the walled city, and is open for tourists. Having been burnt down in the battle where the British took over Burma in the 1940s, this area has been restored, reportedly with prison labour.

Walking through the many, many rooms of the many buildings, the complex went on and on. The best view of it all, however, was from atop of the watchtower, and here you got a great perspective of the tiered pavilion, and then Mandalay Hill in the distance.

The restored Palace is no longer made primarily of wood, but you can visit one original piece of the Palace - the Golden Palace Monastery, or Shwenandaw Kyaung. This detailed carved teak building was actually where King Mindon died when it was part of the Palace, but King Thibaw Min had it dismantled and relocated to this site.

Our next stop, as suggested without any English by our driver, was the world's largest book - a pagoda with 729 stupas all around it with a page each, with 80 to 100 lines of Burmese script on both sides, being the complete Tripitaka. This book on the grounds of Kuthodaw Paya would reportedly take one person 450 days to read it in it's entirety, reading 8 hours every day!

Our final tour stop for the day was the same as every other tourist in Mandalay that night - and to be honest, that wasn't an overwhelming number, was to watch the sunset from the glistening, mirror-mosaic-ed Sutaungpyai Pagoda. The terrace of the temple, reached by an elevator, hosts a perfect view of the sun going down, and was indeed pretty impressive in it's own right.

The next day on our way out of town for the day, we stopped in at Mahamuni Pagoda, or the Great Saga Pagoda. Here, after exploring the outer features of the temple, we peeked into the inner sanctum where men constantly layer gold leaf on the buddha here. Women are not allow past a certain point, but the goings on with the leaf placement is broadcast on TVs around the circuit of the temple.

This temple ground also has a room of relics lifted from the Cambodian Angkor region, and are said to have healing properties if you rub an injured body part on the same part of the three-headed elephant, or the oger or the Angkor soilders. Fi had a go at that, with her injured foot!

A great overview of the sights of Mandalay, before venturing out to the ancient cities around Mandalay.

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