Mandalay April 2013

Mandalay is the second largest city and the last royal capital of Burma.  Only two Burmese kings ruled from here, King Mingdon and King Thibaw, before the British conquest in 1885.  Even though a large part of the city and its splendid wooden structures were bombed during WWII, Mandalay still remains the religious center of Myanmar.  Mandalay Hill is dotted with numerous temples and pagodas.  It has long been a major pilgrimage site for the Burmese Buddhists.  The Sutaungpyei Pagoda atop Mandalay Hill offers a panoramic view of the surrounding areas.

We flew to Mandalay from Yangon and stayed at the Mandalay Hill Resort.  The city is relatively new compared to other parts of Myanmar because a lot of it was rebuilt after WWII.  You will need to spend at least a few days in this area to see everything it has to offer.  The following will be a compilation of the highlights of our few days here.

DSC00700Heading up to Sutaungpyei Pagoda atop Mandalay Hill.

DSC00683Sutaungpyei Pagoda

DSC00687Sutaungpyei Pagoda

DSC00684Sutaungpyei Pagoda

DSC00685Sutaungpyei Pagoda

DSC00705Sutaungpyei Pagoda

DSC00679_2Kuaiktawgyi Pagoda houses one of the largest marble Buddhas in Myanmar.

DSC00680The Buddha at Kuaiktawgyi is carved out of a single marble stone and weighs 800 tonnes.

DSC00678Unlike temples in other parts of Asia, the religious sites here in Myanmar all tend to be quite decorative and colorful.

DSC00714 - Version 2Shwenandaw Monastery (Golden Palace Temple) is made entirely of teak wood and it was originally part of the Royal Palace at Amarapura before being moved to Mandalay. It was dismantled in 1878 and rebuilt in 1880 thus escaping the bombing during World War II that destroyed the Royal Palace.

DSC00719Shwenandaw Monastery (Golden Palace Temple)

DSC00718 - Version 2Shwenandaw Monastery (Golden Palace Temple)

DSC00725Inside Shwenandaw Monastery (Golden Palace Temple)

DSC00728 - Version 2We were told that all surfaces including the ceilings used to be gold-leafed and hence the name Golden Palace Temple.

DSC00721 - Version 2Inside Shwenandaw Monastery (Golden Palace Temple)

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DSC00771 - Version 3Kuthodaw Pagoda is often referred to as the World’s Largest Book. In the grounds of the pagoda are 729 white stone inscription caves each containing a marble slab inscribed with text from the Tipitaka scriptures of Theravada Buddhism.

DSC00786 - Version 2The white patch on the baby’s forehead is called thanaka and is made of ground bark. The Burmese women and children apply this creamy paste to their faces to provide protection from sunburn. It is also believed to promote smooth skin and remove acne.

DSC00795 - Version 2Mahamuni Pagoda is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Myanmar. It was believed that the king, Candrasuriya, requested Buddha to leave an image of himself for the benefit of the people and this statue was the life-like image of Buddha.

DSC00804 - Version 2The statue at Mahamuni was originally cast in metal and now it is entirely covered with a two-inch thick layer of gold leaf lending to its irregular outline.

DSC00958View from U Min Thone Sae Pagoda on Sagaing Hill.

DSC00965 2Sagaing Hill is widely regarded as the religious center of Myanmar with over 600 white pagodas and monasteries.

DSC00928 - Version 3U Min Thone Sae Pagoda on Sagaing Hill.

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DSC00850U Bein Bridge is the world’s longest teak bridge. It was built in 1850 and is about 1.2 km long. Hundreds of villagers and monks commute back and forth across it everyday.

DSC00840 - Version 2U Bein Bridge

DSC00819 - Version 2U Bein Bridge

DSC00844 - Version 3Take a ride in a row boat during sunset. The sun sets behind the bridge and the silhouttes of people crossing the bridge make beautiful pictures.

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DSC00861Sunset at U Bein Bridge.

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Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura is one of the largest teaching monasteries in Myanmar with over a thousand monks in residence.  If you arrive around 10am, you will get to see the procession of monks into the dining hall for their main meal of the day. Many pilgrims come during this time and offer food and money to the monks as they filed past.  I was told that there is a waiting list of over a year to be the family who donates and prepares the food for the monks.  We made a small donation to the abbot of the monastery and was offered to sit with the donating family of the day and share some of the desserts they have prepared.

DSC00902 - Version 3Monks at Mahagandayon Monastery filing into the dining room.

20130403_101718 - Version 2It is customary for Burmese males to enter a monastery twice in their lives. Once as a novice monk, between the age of 10 and 20, and then again as a fully ordained monk, around the age of 20. You can be a monk for a few days or for life.

DSC00926Monks are not allowed to eat after 12 noon. For the rest of the day, it is like a school environment where they copy scriptures, take lessons from the older monks, engage in sports etc. For those who excel, they will probably go on to attend the Buddhist University in Yangon.

About an hour boat ride up the Ayeyarwady River from Mandalay is Mingun. The main attraction here is the uncompleted stupa of Mingun Temple. It was left unfinished after an astrologer predicted that the king would die should the temple be completed.

DSC00976 2Boat ride to Mingun.

DSC00985 - Version 2The unfinished Mingun Temple.

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DSC01009This “Taxi” gave me a chuckle.

DSC01018Not far from Mingun Temple is the Hsinbyume Pagoda modeled after mythical Mount Meru. The base of the pagoda is a representation of the 7 mountain ranges surrounding Mount Meru which is the center of the universe in Buddhist cosmology.

Our few days in Mandalay was fruitful, though we didn’t get to see everything we wanted to see.  We had to hurry on to our next destination – Bagan.

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