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Mandalay Travel Blog

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Mother and child posing at the beautiful Shwenandaw Kyaung.

Today we can sleep late, our alarmclock isn’t supposed to sound before 7.45 a.m.. Trudy, however, has risen and shined well before that time and opens the window to let in some fresh air at 7.15 and it doesn’t take long before I am brutally yanked from dreamland by car horns in the streets below.

We take our time for breakfast and leave the hotel around nine. In front of the hotel a trishaw driver adresses us, offering his services. He asks where we want to go and we tell him we want to go to the base of Mandalay Hill, to visit some temples.

If the entire Royal Palace had wood carvings like the Swenandaw Kyaung, than a treasure was destroyed in WWII.
His price is 4,000 Kyats, but when I casually mention that we paid only 3,000 for the same ride yesterday he agrees on that price. He takes an alternative route, avoiding the busy streets near the fortress and cruising through the narrow, more quiet streets. In one of these streets we spot, in the corner of our eye, the logo of the Care Foundation. Every month we donate a small amount of money to this charity and we are very curious what they are doing with it in Myanmar. We tell our driver to stop and walk into the office/garage. The people inside are very surprised by our visit and it is obvious that they haven’t got a clue what to do with us. One of the men speaks a little English, but all he can tell us is that it is better that we leave, because he is afraid of what the government might do if they find out that we have made contact. He does give us the address of their office in Yangon, because they áre allowed to give information.
Shwenandaw Kyaung.
We decide to leave the men in peace and walk back out again after thanking them politely for their time. It looks that the foundation spends most of the money on birth control and HIV prevention, because in the garage we saw some giant boxes filled with condoms.

We sit down again in the brand new trishaw, that our driver has bought early January. And it shows, the trishaw shines and beams like we haven’t seen on a trishaw before and when the driver talks about it he almost bursts with pride. He also tells about his house, that is made of bamboo and doesn’t have any luxury at all. Still, the rent he has to pay is 20,000 Kyats every month.

We start our cultural tour at Shwenandaw Kyaung, the teak monastery that belonged to the original Royal Palace (the one that was destroyed by bombings on March 20 1945).

This statue is the only interresting part of the recently rebuilt Atumashi Monastery.
The only reason that this monastery wasn’t raised to the ground as well is that it was moved outside the palace walls at the end of the 19th century. The monastery is adorned with magnificent wood carvings and the restorations that have been done are done rather nicely. It is a beautiful example of a traditional Burmese monastery. If the entire Royal Palace looked like this, than a treasure of significance was lost in WWII . It isn’t difficult to guess to what the “Golden Palace Monastery” owns its name, the interior of the building is almost completely covered in gold. Another reason why this is a very famous structure, is that king Mindon died here.

After dreaming of the kings of old and imagining what the entire city must have looked like in its heyday, I move on to the next item on our program.

We stumble onto a film set in the Kuthodaw pagoda.
Trudy has left a bit earlier and is already looking at marionettes in some stalls on the other side of the road. Subsequently she cannot get rid of the sales ladies anymore and I have to play the “bad cop” routine and take her with me. The Atumashi monastery is very nearby and we don’t have to go out of our way to pay it a visit, and that’s a good thing, because it has been completely rebuilt in 1996 by forced labour and is not much to look at. The Incomparable Monastery was the last religious project of king Mindon and the original was one of the most beautiful monasteries in Myanmar. It was destroyed by fire in 1890 and only the brick base and stairs remained. The Buddha image inside is the only interresting thing nowadays, because it is not a copy. It used to have a diamond in its forehead, but the gem disappeared when the British claimed the city in 1885, probably the doing of a looter. We don’t spend much time here and soon we are walking towards the Kuthodaw pagoda.
Every heavy stone page of the Largest Book in the World is kept safe in its own little tower.
We are hardly on our way when our trishaw driver comes up to us, asking if he can take us to the hotel later on. I have already promised him this when he dropped us here, but since we are not done yet he will have to wait a little bit longer. The ladies selling marionettes have spotted Trudy again and have another go at selling their goods, but for $25 we still don’t have a deal.

When we get to the “Largest Book in the World” we first take a break to have a drink. We have become loyal Star Cola drinkers since we set foot on Burmese soil, because it is 4 to 8 times cheaper than Coca Cola, which must be imported from Thailand. Coca Cola doesn’t directly supply Myanmar with their fizzy drink, but everybody knows (even the people at the Coca Cola headquarters can’t be oblivious) that Thailand re-sells their product to Myanmar.

This man is resting inside the Kuthodaw pagoda.
Star Cola used to be called Pepsi, but since it is being manufactured in Myanmar the name has been changed.

With our thirst quenched we now enter the Kuthodaw pagoda, where 700 marble slabs contain the Tripitaka, the holy Buddhist texts. It took eight years to carve the texts that, when written on A4 paper would be a book of 15,000 pages, into the stone slabs. Hence the nickname of the pagoda. From the moment we enter the temple complex we are accompanied by four girls that are selling postcards and they are very tenacious, because they won’t give up. On the left side of the main hallway a filmcrew is recording a television series of some sort, I guess it won’t be called As the World Turns, because that title is probably a bit too revolutionary...

When I am putting on my shoes again, the girls explain to me that the many-coloured flag with the pattern of beams and cross-beams is the old Burmese flag, but that it is officially replaced by the red and blue with stars and the wheat ear.

Another pagoda, another postcard vendor, this one we met in the Sandamuni pagoda.

We go on to the Sandamuni pagoda, where another pile of walking postcards is waiting for us. It is almost unbearable to be asked “Buy postcard?” several hundred times a day and Trudy starts a counter offensive. She tries to talk the girls into going to school, which is an uphill battle, but it takes their mind off selling for a few seconds. This pagoda is another square filled with domes containing carved slabs, the slabs here contain commentaries on the Buddhist teachings. We can’t read a letter that’s written here, so we are done pretty quick and we move on to the Kyauktawgyi pagoda, the last one of today. It is not so much the pagoda itself that is interresting, but the Buddha image inside. The giant statue weighs 800 tonnes and has been cut from a single piece of marble.

In Kyauktawgyi pagoda sits marble Buddha, weighing in at 800 tonnes.
It was cut in the Sagyin mine several kilometres outside Mandalay and it took 10,000 workers to get it here.

When we are done we have our driver take us to the hotel and from here we walk to Mann’s for a nice meal and after that to the next door neighbour for an ice cream or two. We walk off lunch while checking out the market, relax a little in our hotel room after that and finally we walk to the Hindy temple near the hotel. The temple opens at four p.m. and we are a few minutes early. When the doors open we are welcomed by the janitor who is more than willing to give us a private tour. When we tell him that we have been to India he gets even more enthousiastic, because this particular branche of Hinduism comes from the south of India and so do his ancestors.

We stroll down the night market before going for dinner at Mann’s, enjoying the company of Ben, Riet, Evert and Aart-Jan.

This dancing Ganesh is the patron "Saint" of the Hindy temple near our hotel.
We top it off with a couple of ice creams and then go to our room to prepare for tomorrow’s day of travelling.

glennisnz says:
What a mission moving a chunk of marble 800 tonne in weight, even with modern equipment it would be a slow job.
That Royal Palace carvings were great too, the War destroyed so much, not only in Burma, probably plenty in your country too.
Posted on: Nov 15, 2008
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Mother and child posing at the bea…
Mother and child posing at the be…
If the entire Royal Palace had woo…
If the entire Royal Palace had wo…
Shwenandaw Kyaung.
Shwenandaw Kyaung.
This statue is the only interresti…
This statue is the only interrest…
We stumble onto a film set in the …
We stumble onto a film set in the…
Every heavy stone page of the Larg…
Every heavy stone page of the Lar…
This man is resting inside the Kut…
This man is resting inside the Ku…
Another pagoda, another postcard v…
Another pagoda, another postcard …
In Kyauktawgyi pagoda sits marble …
In Kyauktawgyi pagoda sits marble…
This dancing Ganesh is the patron …
This dancing Ganesh is the patron…
Detail of the wood carvings at Shw…
Detail of the wood carvings at Sh…
A view of the way to the top of Ma…
A view of the way to the top of M…
The golden inside of the Shwenanda…
The golden inside of the Shwenand…
Mandalay
photo by: Mezmerized