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Published: September 27th 2016
Mandalay, The Ancient Capital
The Minibus left the hotel with me around 0800 hrs but did not start the toMandalayuntil 0900hrs trying to locate and rest of the passengers. By this time it was getting hot. I was given the seat No1 which was right on the windscreen. I found it unbearably hot and changed for a side seat in the back where it was bearable. There was no cooling in the cabin and for an hour we it was stifling hot At one of the stations they refilled the coolant and we had bearable conditions in the cabin.
The bus went through probably the shortest route not hitting the highway until ¾ of the way. We were picking up and dropping off passengers in villages and small towns on the way though majority of the passengers were heading forMandalayorAnuradhapuraabout 15km away.
The drive to the “dry north” was changing the vegetation, There were no coconut palms or banana plantations, these were replaced by shrubbery and palm trees. With fewer vehicles on the road we mad good progress to the highway when there was a 2 fold increase in speed from a paltry 50km/hr to hitting 100km/hr. One
of the queerest things I forgot to mention aboutMyanmartraffic. It follows the American / Chinese /European system. However almost all cars are RH drive even the new ones. The explanation given to me was they liked the Japanese Vehicles and refusing to change where they sit even though it is at odds with the driving. There are only a few Chinese cars with LH drive.
We reachedMandalaybefore 1400hrs. The Minibus dropped me at the Hotel.Mandalayis in the central north ofMyanmar. It was the ancient capital ofMyanmarand it showed. The hotel itself was excellent with well appointed rooms for $20/night. Unfortunately they were unable to help me with a suitable tour program and I was forced to opt for a half day taxi program for a single person which worked out well in the end. I saw a few conducted tours. So obviously somebody was doing it inMandalayand the Hotel did not know about it.
We headed straight forMandalayhill. Around 250m it gave a Panoramic view overMandalayand the surrounding area. The Pagoda on top of the hill apart from being beautiful also improves the viewpoint atop the hill.
The palace walls encompass an area of 4sq KM of
area 2x2km. This is surrounded by a moat (about 60m wide on all 4 sides). Outside the moat there is a well laid out road with wide 4 lane traffic lined with trees on both sides and also in the middle..
This setup dominates northernMandalay. Currently the Army occupies the area inside palace walls and has strict controls at the gate. Once inside there is a second wall as a second defense with fortifications.
MandalayRoyalPalacewas completely destroyed in WWII but was rebuilt in 1995. So, though not original the reconstruction was based on creating an exact replica of the old palace. And it is beautiful with various court rooms, function halls and thrones and bed chambers. There is also a 120 step high watch tower from which one could get a birds eye view of the whole complex which contains a quite a number of buildings
Just outside the palace is the Schwe Kyang Monastery which escaped the destruction bout was partially charred, The amazing intricate woodwork is the characteristic of this Royal which was often used by the king and has his throne and other ornaments.
Athumashi monastery was built in a grand style with
the largest main hall to house a Buddha statue which also had 25ct diamond on its forehead (of course that disappeared during the British Raj. The Sandamuni Pagoda (outside palace grounds) had 1774 mini Pagodas (raws and rows of them) on it grounds each housing a marble slab with verses from Buddha teachings (often referred to as the biggest book in the world)
After the circuit of Northern areas we went to two places in the south of the city. First one was the Schwe In Bin Monastery. This quiet place escaped the WWII intact. Even though nearly a thousand monks live and pray here you would never know it. Again being made of wood the intricate carvings are showing signs of decay (built in 1895).
The last place, The Mahamuni Buddha pagoda is a place of contradictions. The sitting image of Buddha (4m high) is made of mostly gold and silver is said to have been made 2,500 years ago during Buddha’s time. On his visit to a town near the Indian border the local people donated most of their jewelry to build this statue and during his 7 day stay in town he was supposed have
infused his powers in this statue. After a number of years the king ofMandalaytook the statue after a bloody war and built this pagoda to house it. May be due to the story and the importance of the statue there were far more devotees here. What an absolute travesty for a guy who preached not to harm any living being, not only humans.
Compared to Yangon Mandalay is a beautiful town especially the northern part. The roads are well laid out, no street vendors on footpaths, and even though there are two wheelers on the streets they are not congested. To me two things are the reasons; there is much less population and the town plan was influenced by the prominence and lay out of the Palace.
The Airport was a good 50km away fromMandalay. When there was so much free area available near the city I could not understand why they had to build one so far. Probably they wanted the taxi drivers a good income.
The airport itself is pretty and neat constructed onMyanmararchitecture with their characteristic towers.
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