On the road to and finally at... Mandalay


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Asia » Burma » Mandalay Region » Mandalay
March 6th 2009
Published: March 6th 2009
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"On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!"

- Excerpt, "Mandalay" by Rudyard Kipling, 1892

Wiki Facts: Mandalay is the second largest city (after Yangon - Rangoon), and a former capital of Myanmar. Mandalay is not an old city, not even a medieval one, but rather a new city that was created by King Mingdon Min of Burma in 1857 as the new capital of the kingdom of Ava. Only two Burmese kings ruled from there, King Mingdon and King Thibaw, before the British conquest of Upper Burma in 1885.

So, we've got that over with: The bad news, my camera is broke - fuck - arse - tit. I stupidly kept it in my shirt pocket and it dropped out as I bent down to take off my sandals entering a Paya in Mandalay and it cracked the lens window. So I've been forced to rely on John G's camera, another reason why I've not gone solo so far.
Mandalay Royal PalaceMandalay Royal PalaceMandalay Royal Palace

One of the wall gates
It was a new one I upgraded to with Fujifilm but I'm thinking of getting a 300 quid one at the duty-free at Bangkok, the pictures John G has taken are so much better than mine.

Anyway, I went by trishaw to this Mahamuni Paya - which houses a 1st Century AD Buddha image cast in bronze, but having a 15cm thickness of gold - and to which I also contributed. Oh, the first dodgy part is that part of the complex is ladies only, I'm afraid. The second is that it's famous for having been stolen by the Burmese king in 1784 from the Rakhine kingdom (Arakan) a separate kingdom in the south which he conquered - a bit like the Medieval English king Edward I taking the Stone of Destiny from Scotland.

Camera repair to and fro



This part gets boring...
So, I then got a trishaw to take me to a Fujifilm specialist in town but with no luck, as he was only a film developer, however he got the driver to take me to a repair man next to the hotel where we were staying. We went down the back of this mosque into what seemed like the Muslim quarter of Mandalay, lots of Muslim hats and beards. This guy wasn't there but his son popped up and said he'd take me to his shop in town. So he got his own trishaw (they are all rented by the day here) and took me to his father's shop - where this fat beardy man looked puzzled and said he couldn't fix it. But it didn't end there, his son then took me around the backstreets of Mandalay to another place. But again, the guy couldn't do it for the principle reason that he didn't do Fuji cameras. . Undeterred, at his suggestion we set off again to another place - an open shop looking out onto the street. This guy sat there at a table fixing cameras. His wiry beard and big afro making him look like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo than anything else. A good sign? Anyway, he had a look at it and said that I should come back at 5pm. SO I was hopeful, but when I did come back with the trishaw driver, or course he couldn't fix it! Dejected and angry with myself I decided to go meet John G at Mandalay HIll for sunset views over the city. I got the trishaw driver (yes, the same one who's father was the first camera guy) to take me to Mandalay Hill over at the other side of the city.

On the way as I muttered expletives to myself we passed the huge Mandalay Royal Palace, 3.2km-long, 8m high walled thing and guarded by a 7m wide moat. So, it was a good 20-25 minute journey by trishaw and as the driver had done a fair bit of cycling that day, when we arrived at the bottom of the hill I made the mistake of giving him a congratulatory pat on the back - I recieved a soaking wet sweaty hand in return.

So, I climbed up the top of the various shrines and stupas by barefoot and in a bit of a rush to the the top for sunset. When I reached the top I pid a fee for using my camera - oh the irony). I noticed John G from afar with two monks surrounding him - chatting away. Keen as mustard to talk to us in English, we had a lovely sunset overlooking Mandalay, the palace and the Irriwaddy river. But I stil despised my stupid arse.

Royal cities


The next day, John G and I rented a pick-up taxi - a little blue Mazda with wooden seats in the back to take us around the "Deserted Cities" 1. Amarapura (Pyi) - famous for its ancient sights, and for U Bein bridge, the world's longest teak bridge and also Inwa (Ava), both former capitals and only ruins now. We also visited Sagaing (to the east) - which has many Buddhist temples and monasteries, especially on Sagaing Hill. At Inwa we had to get a horse cart for a few uncomfortable hours and then dodge the hawkers selling all kinds of souvenirs (read: pap). Sagaing Hill was cool, home to nearly 500 stupas and even more monasteries and so we got some great views from a Paya called Soon U Ponya Shin - and built in 1312.

Booking train tickets


The next day we decided to go north, this time to Bhamo in Kachin State or at least to Katha (the basis of George Orwell's time in Myanmar recounted in Burmese Days). Despite its reputation as being tortuous and only for the hardcore travelers we decided upon getting the government-run train there. We swung by the train station in Mandalay but struggled to find any signs in English signs. Useful! Anyway, clearly foreigners really stand out here, so a taxi driver eagerly approached and tried out his English. He then proceeded on a game of Back 'n' Forth! (the new game which tests how tired and annoyed you can get!) leading us to about 3 ticket booths and back again, then trying to get us a ticket to Katha. Unfortunately, there were no tickets for that day's departure so we decided to go the following day, so after waiting for paper work to be filled out (seriously every foreigner has to be recorded and passports produced) we eventually got a ticket (foreigner price of $18 as opposed to $6 for the locals - nice!).

Once out of the station we went to some shop where we changed some dollars to kyat on the black market for the reduced rate of 900 Kyat to the dollar as opposed to 1040 Kyat to the dollar in Yangon. What's with that? I then restarted by campaign of getting my camera sorted and so asked the taxi driver to take us to a camera repair shop somewhere. In Mandalay the "taxi"we used were little blue Mazda pick- ups that have two wooden (occasionally "cushioned") benches in the open back, in which you get thrown about a bit and in the process get your backs bruised. I'd had enough of these things by this stage, but they give you a view out the back, and likewise the curious locals.

More camera arse


Frustratingly we must have gone to about 3 or 4 different camera shops before finally being sent to a young ethnic Chinese guy who seemed to fix cameras. He said to come back at around 4 pm after he'd fixed it, I was pretty chuffed to say the least, I wasn't too happy about losing the ability to take my own photos, even if they were a bit shite in comparison to John's. We then drove to a few Payas in and around Mandalay Hill, all a bit samey I'm afraid. At the Kuthodaw Paya which houses the 729 marble slabs of the entire 15 books of the Tripitaka (books of the Buddha) we got approached by a monk who spoke English. We chatted away about Buddhism, about each other's lives (his last year at religious university in Mandalay). As with all monks we've befriended in this country 1. he was a really nice guy but 2. with poor-to-moderate English (he complained about not having any foreign teachers to teach English at his university in Mandalay which explains alot). I got a pic with him and later as we parted he even gave me his business card!

Other visits we made in Mandalay were to the Shwenandaw Kyauna, an interesting wooden monastery part of Mandalay Palace before it was moved (and therefore saved from the WWII bombs that destroyed Mandalay Palace itself) which king Mindon built, lived and died in. For this reason the palace was not of much interest largley because it was a massive reconstruction and one built on slave labour too. Thus ended our time in Mandalay (for the time being), and next we waited for our train to Katha - the next day at 1pm...


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Sandamani Paya from Mandalay HillSandamani Paya from Mandalay Hill
Sandamani Paya from Mandalay Hill

Those white stupas hold 1774 marble slabs inscribed with commentaries on the Tripitaka. (I got that from Lonley Planet, btw)


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