I can’t get enough of Mandalay. Ever since reading The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, my curiosity was evoked to conduct further research. After gaining a better understanding of Myanmar, I was intrigued by Mandalay and the idea of travelling to such a ‘new’ country in terms of its tourism industry. I liked that the place was not overdone; food and attractions were advertised as they were and was not overly commercialized; Locals continue to live a life rich with tradition and religious fervour.
I started my day early by walking around town. The first thing I noticed was how the people of Myanmar wore skirts for any occasion in the day – men in striped pasoe and women in brightly coloured htamein casually going about. It turned out that most of them prefer wearing their longyi over trousers because it doesn’t restrict their movement as much.
I visited the Mandalay Palace and was smitten by how magnificent it looked. It was huge! The roof looked amazing, with its design reflecting the cultural identity of the country. The palace grounds were wide and spacious while being surrounded by palace buildings, which reminded me of the Forbidden City in China. It was a waste that the palace was rebuilt due to a fire that burnt down most of its original structure. Only Shwenandaw Monastery remained intact despite the burning incident, making it one of the longest-lasting monasteries in Myanmar. The overall environment of the monastery was peaceful and quiet. In the afternoon, I went to the Cultural Museum and saw the belongings, furniture and materials used by King Mindon, one of Myanmar’s most popular and respected kings, and King Thibaw, the last king of Myanmar. There are also paintings by Saya Chone, the royal court painter of King Thibaw.
Next, I went to Kuthodow Pagoda that is at the foot of Mandalay Hill. When I entered the pagoda from its south entrance, I saw huge teak doors delicately carved with scrolls, nats and floral designs. The amount of handiwork required to create these doors must be exhaustive, given how detailed each design was. Stepping inside, I was excited to finally witness the World’s Largest Book. The book was actually in the form of huge marble slabs inscribed with teachings of Buddha. There were 729 marble slabs kept in individual stone-inscription caves placed in the grounds of the pagoda. I was surprised to see families casually having picnics by the pagoda and discovered later that it was common for the locals to spend leisurely time at these religious sites.
As late afternoon arrived, I began climbing up Mandalay Hill. My journey to the top took 30 minutes. Everyone had to climb barefoot as there were several other temples and monasteries along the way. The heat on the ground was bearable, so I enjoyed my hike up the hill. I befriended a young monk who impressed me with his English skills, offering to accompany foreign tourists to the top in exchange for a humble request – to learn new English words from them. His love for learning was truly inspiring.
When I reached the peak, the view took my breath away. I was just in time for the sunset, and as I watched the orange hue of the sun inched to hide behind the hills while the sky slowly changed colours from red to yellow, and violet to blue. As I looked upon Mandalay City from the hill, I realised its location was in an ideal position for sunset-viewing, along with the panoramic view of the entire city..
I enjoyed myself so much that I insisted on squeezing one more destination into my schedule before calling it a day. The U-Bein Bridge at Thaungthaman Lake that was believed to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world, measuring 1.2km in length. With the stillness of the lake surrounding the bridge, it appeared to be floating from far. It was amazing to walk on a bridge that was built between 1849 to 1851 – the structure was so stable, and I was even more impressed to discover that Myanmar engineers actually counted footsteps to measure the scale of the bridge before it was constructed. That must have taken a long time!
After exploring some of Mandalay’s best locations in a day, it was one of the best adventures I ever had. My love for this city grew as I witnessed for myself the authenticity and beauty of this place. The pagodas highlighted the locals’ strong faith in Buddhism, and the palace was evidence of a established kingdom that once flourished in the city. It was an eye-opening experience to the glory of Myanmar’s past yet the locals maintained humility, showing me warmth and kindness. It was a fulfilling visit to Myanmar and Mandalay is indeed worth a visit!