Around Mandalay Hill
Many people begin a Mandalay stay at the one place that breaks out of Mandalay's pancake-Hat sprawl - 760ft-high Mandalay Hill .Visitors can taxi halfway up along a switchback road (allegedly built with the aid of forced labour), where an escalator leads to the top and a lift goes back down (it's too steep for trishaw drivers). Alternatively, you can make the half-hour barefoot climb that takes in numerous buddha and nat (spirit being) shrines; there are many pleasant places to stop for a rest or a drink.
At the top the reward is a full panoramic view - the hazy blue outline of the Shan hills to the east, the Mandalay Palace (and city sprawl) to the south and the Ayeyarwady to the west.
Sometimes attendants will ask for your $10 combo ticket - if you don't want to pay it, say 'no thanks' and head to the stairs.
Those walking the whole way will likely sweat off some of the previous night's chapat-tis. But the trek's not that hard. You can start at either of two entrances on the south side (which wind their way up and meet halfway to the top), or make a steeper ascent from the west. Two immense carved lions guard the southwest entrance to the hill, and the Bobokyi Nat (Bobokyi spirit) watches over the southeast entrance. For most of the year it makes most sense to climb before l0am or after 4pm to avoid the midday heal.
The llrst shrine you come to, halfway up the hill, contains the so-called Peshawar Relics, three bones of the Buddha. The relics were originally sent to Peshawar, now in Pakistan, by the great Indian king Asoka.
The stupa (Buddhist religious monument) into which they were built was destroyed in the Peshawar Museum discovered the actual relic casket during excavations. Although Peshawar had once been a great Buddhist centre, it had by that time been Muslim for many centuries; therefore, the British gov ernment presented these important relics to the Burmese Buddhist Society.
Close to the top of the hill is a huge standing buddha image that looks out towards the royal palace with its outstretched hand pointing in that direction. It points to where the Buddha prophesised the location of the future capital.
According to legend, the Buddha, accompanied by his disciple Ananda, climbed Mandalay Hill while on one of his visits to Myanmar. There he prophesied that, in the 2400th year of his faith, a great city would be founded below the hill. By our calendar that 2400th year was 1857 - the year King Mindon Min decreed the move from Amarapura to Mandalay.
Those interested in military history can also find a monument to the British regiment that retook the hill from the Japanese in 1945. The monument is in a small building attached to one of the shrines at the top of a wide, steep flight of steps.
Just off the road east of the northeast corner of the Mandalay Palace moat, and near the road up to Mandalay Hill, is the Sandamuni Paya . Built as an 'extension' to nearby Kuthodaw (right), the Sandamuni features a cluster of slender whitewashed stupas built on the site of King Mindon's temporary palace while the new Mandalay Palace was under construction.
King Mindon had come to power after the successful overthrow of King Pagan Min, an operation in which he had been assisted by
OUR CUSTOMER SERVICE AWARD...
...Goes to Mandalay's post office's 'information desk' for posting several inspirational quotes, including this gem from Karl Albrect/Ron Zembke [sic]: 'Understanding the perceptions of the customers is crucial to service success.' Yes! Make that two postcard stamps please! his younger brother Prince Kanaung. Mindon tended to concentrate on religious matters and leave the niceties of secular rule to his brother, but in 1866 Prince Kanaung was assassinated in an unsuccessful revolt inspired by Prince Myingun. The Sandamuni Paya was built as a memorial to Prince Kanaung on the spot where.he was killed.
The paya enshrines an iron image of the Buddha cast in 1802 by Bodawpaya and transported here from Amarapura in 1874. Around the stupa lies a collection of 1 774 marble slabs inscribed with commentaries on the Tripitaka (Buddhist canon). Another project of the venerable LI Khanti, they were erected in 1913.
Frequently dubbed 'the world's biggest book' for its surrounding 729 marble slabs (apparently far fewer than Sandamuni's count, but why fuss over details?), the Kuthodaw Paya (Maha Lawka Marazein Paya) - behind Sandamuni (past the pond) -sees a lot of worship, and tourists. The entire 1 5 boeks of the Tripitaka are inscribed on the slabs, each of which is housed in its own small stupa. Building of the paya commenced in 1857, the same year work began on the royal palace. Kuthodaw was modelled on the Sbwezigon Paya at Nyaung U, Bagan.
It took an editorial committee of over 200 to produce the original slabs. It has been estimated that, reading for eight hours a day, one person would take 450 days to read the complete 'book'. King Mindon convened the 5th Buddhist Synod and used a team of 2400 monks to read the whole book in a nonstop relay lasting nearly six months! In 1900 a paper edition ot the stone original was printed in 38 volumes, each with about 400 pages. A 730th slab in the corner of the inner enclosure tells of the construction.
More impressive for its history than its present convicl built reconstruction, the Atumashi Kyaung stands a couple nf hundred metres south ol Kuthodaw. Originally built by King Mindon in 1857, at the same time as Kuthodaw, this kyaung (Burmese Buddhist monastery) features the traditional
Burmese monastic construction - a masonry base topped by a wooden building - but instead of the usual multi-roofed design it has graduated rectangular terraces.
Atumashi was once home to a famous buddha image clothed in king's silk clothing and with a huge diamond set on its forehead, but the image was stolen following the British takeover of the city in 1885. Five years later, a fire gutted the monastery and destroyed its contents (including four complete sets of the Tripitaka in teak boxes).
lust east of Atumashi Kyaung stands the wooden Shwenandaw Kyaung (Golden Palace Monastery; Map p257; admission $10 combo ticket). T his monastery is of great interest, not only as a fine example of a traditional Burmese wooden monastery, but also as a fragile re-minder of the old Mandalay Palace. It was once part of the palace complex - King Mindon lived here, and in fact died in the building. Afterwards, King Thibaw Min had the building dismantled and reassembled outside the walls; it became a monastery in 1880. It's a good thing he did, as all the other royal buildings were lost to WWII bombs. It's said that Thibaw used the building for meditation.
The building is covered inside and out with carved panels, but unfortunately many of the exterior panels have weathered badly, some have been removed and some replaced.
Al one time the building was gilded and decorated with glass mosaics. The carved panels inside are still in excellent condition, particularly the 10 Jataka (past-life stories of the Buddha).
Directly south of Mandalay Hill (across 66th St from the previous sights) stands the Kyauktawgyi Paya , built over a 25-year period that ended in 1878. The pagoda's nice enough, but its fame comes from its central occupant: an 26ft, 900-tonne buddha, carved from a single block of marble. The marble block (from the mines of nearby Sagyin) was so colossal, it's said, that 10,000 men spent 13 days transporting it from a canal to the current site. Ornamented with royal attire, the image was completed and dedicated in 1865.
Around the shrine are figures of the Buddha's 80 arahats (enlightened disciples). In a building in the southeast of the compound are a giant alms bowl and colourful renderings of King Mindon's visit here in 1865.
Originally this paya, like its namesake in Amarapura, would have been modelled on the famous Ananda Pahto of Bagan, but due to a palace rebellion this grand plan was not carried through.
Mandalay's biggest festival is held at Kyauktawgyi Paya for seven days in early to mid-October to commemorate Thadingyut .
Built in 1989, purposely on top of a site used during the 1988 demonstrations, the leafy Zoological Gardens is better than you'd expect.
The hilarious hoots of the gibbons from their central island serenade the area (including guests of nearby Mandalay Hill Resort), and you can pay K500 to feed Asiatic black bears by hand (you're definitely not in Kansas anymore!). There are many shady areas where locals like to picnic. The zoo can be entered from the south (north of the palace walls) or from the east, near the Mandalay Hill Resort.
Mandalay Palace & Fort
If you get busted for the $10 combo ticket, you might as well see this centrepiece of Mandalay, the palace compound, sprawling south of Mandalay Hill. The original was destroyed in WWII, but you get a sense of the spot where Burma's last two kings (before the current ones anyway) lived. It's a leafy complex with rebuilt crimson-and-gold palace buildings in the heart of immense fort walls that are 2 miles long, 26ft high and guarded by a 230ft-wide moat.
Visitors can enter at the east gate only (by trishaw, taxi, bicycle etc), where a road passes off-road army barracks before arriving at the royal palace site, surrounded by an internal ring road in the centre.
Many choose not to come, as the site was built by forced local labour in the late '90s. It's easy to admire the scale of the palace from moat-side walkways outside the walls, as many locals do in the afternoons.
The original palace was more than just royal living quarters; it was a walled city within Mandalay. It served as the home to two Burmese kings: King Mindon Min (who built the palace in 1857) and King Thibaw (who lived here until British forces seized the city in 1885 and unglamorously sent him into the Mandalay streets, bound for a 'house prison' in India).
Afterwards, the British used the palace as the colony's government house and British Club.
The Japanese held Mandalay for much of WWII. In March 1945, amid tierce fighting from advancing British and Indian troops, the royal palace caught fire and was destroyed. Only the huge walls and moat, the base on which the reconstructed palace buildings stand, and a few masonry buildings and tombs remain of the origi-nal palace. Beyond, in the restricted areas around the palace, Myanmar soldiers live in meagre barracks.
Visitors are allowed to tour the central oval-shaped site, which is surrounded by a ring road, and a couple of sites in the field immediately northeast of the entrance. In the oval area, several crimson and gold pavilions loom ahead. Within the palace compound (to the left of the Mye Nan Pyathat temple, where the $10 combo ticket is asked for, or sold), just west of the 'Hall ot Victor)'', is the so-called Glass Palace (aka Central Palace), where the kings lived.
Just south is the 110ft Nan Myint Saung watchtower, where you can climb the spiral stairs to get views of the city, the compound and the peeling paint atop the temples' corrugated metal roofs.
Do continue past the many buildings west to reach the back side of the Queen's Audience Hall It houses the Culture Museum, which includes some great vintage photos, King Thibaw's glass bed and 13 life-site models of former cabinet members in traditional attire; signs in English tell their tale. One cabinet member, Prince Kanaung, is given props for being 'very clever' as he 'sent young scholars to Western countries to study'.
As you head back to the palace wall gate, look left (north) to see the (restricted to travellers) tomb of King Mindon, just past giant open sheds that contain over 600 stone slabs collected by King Bodawpaya and later moved here.
South of the Centre
While in the area of Mahamuni Paya (opposite), be sure to drop by the Jade Market.
In southwest Mandalay, off the road towards Amarapura, stands the Mahamuni Paya, one ot Myanmar's more famous Buddhist sites (it's also known as I'ayagyi, Big Paya, or the Rakhaing I'aya). The gold and-crimson site was originally built by King Bodawpaya in 1784, when a brick road was constructed from his palate lo the payu's eastern gate. You can still find traces of this royal highway. In 188-1 the shrine was destroyed by fire; the current one is comparatively recent. The paya's fame comes from its shrine centrepiece, the highly venerated Mahamuni buddha image, which was seized from Mrauk U in Rakhaing State in 1784. It was believed to be ot great age at that time and it may even have been cast during the 1st century AT) (though many in Rakhaing believe it to have been made in the likeness of the Buddha during his legendary visit in 554 BC).
The I3ft-high seated image is cast in bronze, but over the years thousands of devout Buddhists have completely covered the figure ina6in thick layer of gold leal. Only men are permitted to walk up to the Mahamuni buddha image and apply gold leaf.
It's always the centre of much activity, especially during festivals, when you can see locals bowing before TV screens installed to allow locals to pay respects to the Mahanumi's video image at other parts of the packed complex. F.ach morning at 4am a team of monks washes the buddha's face and even brushes its teeth.
In the northwestern corner of the outer courtyard, a small building houses six bronze Khmer figures brought back from Rakhaing State, along with the Mahamuni buddha. Three are lions (the heads of which have been replaced with ones in the Burmese style), two are images of the Hindu god Shiva, and one is Airavata, the three-headed elephant. Originally, these figures were enshrined at Angkor Wat in Cambodia; they were taken from Angkor by the Thais in 1431. King Bayinnaung subsequently looted them from Ayuthaya in 1564 and brought them to Bago, where in 1663 they were nabbed by King Ra/agyi of Rakhaing. According to legend, rubbing a part of the image will cure any affliction on the corresponding part of your own body. Local legend has it lhat there were once many more Khmer figures here, but they were melted by order of King Thibaw to cast cannons lor the defence of the Mandalay Palace.
In the northeastern corner, there's a museum with giant 19511s era paintings that chronologically tell the tale of the Mahamuni image.
In the southeastern corner of the courtyard aie inscription stones collected by King Bodawpaya, who appears to have had quite a thing for this pursuit.
There are many interesting shop stalls and palm readers at the entrance to the shrine (though the little stone elephants are cheaper from the stone carvers to the west, for information on the frade in precious stones before you buy).
SHWE IN BIN KYAUNG
On the lip of a rivulet, this large, elegant, quite peaceful, wooden monastery dates from 1895, when a pair of wealthy Chinese jade merchants commis-sioned it. Called simply 'the teak monastery' by many locals, the central building stands on tall poles, and its balustrades and roof cornices are covered in detailed engravings. It's seldom crowded.
The surrounding villagelike neighbourhood is something of a 'monk's district', with many robed monks and nuns walking to and from smaller monasteries on the leafy lanes, or playing football. (Numbers have diminished in the aftermath of the 2007 protests, as many younger monks were encouraged to return to their homes.) One of I lie other more currently active monasteries, Ma Soe Vein Nu Kyaung, is just across the bridge to the south from Shwe In Bin.
Also nearby, and fascinating to visit, is the Tingaza Kyaung, a largely dilapidated but lived-in wood monastery on a back street 500 yd northwest. Here you can walk along elevated planks around the teak monastery, and monks will show you the woodwork details inside. To get there from Shwe In Bin, go to 35th St, go west two blocks and turn north (right), then take the first left.
It's not all pagodas Mandalay has several churches and mosques among the many temples, including the Judson Baptist Church, named for the American missionary who has virtually become a saint in Myanmar. Other key churches and mosques are marked on the map.
About 3 miles east of Mandalay Palace, the quiet and relaxed Yankin Paya is on a pagoda-dotted hillside overlooking Mandalay, and with far fewer visitors (and certainly no pesky $10 combo ticket checkers). Up the steep steps from where the road from Mandalay dead ends, you reach a pagoda, with deer to feed (for merit) and nice views of the mountains just behind. Follow the pagoda walkways to the right (south), where after a couple of hundred yards steps lead down into a cave altar with gold fish at the feet of a buddha image.
Be sure to get a bottle of water at the nearby Mya Kyauk Kyaung, about 200yd back towards Mandalay.
It's a pleasant bike ride out. Cars can take a back road up to the top of Yankin Hill.
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