We bumped down at the airport.

Several airlines serve Mandalay throughout the day we came in the late afternoon and on schedule, the Yangon Air twin engine propeller aircraft did a good job. The door opened and the heat swept in, its a different heat as the southern version we just came from, when visiting Myanmar Mandalay should be on the agenda.

Where is Mandalay ? It is located 650 kilometers north of Yangon. The second largest city in the country can be reached by flight, rail, road or river. Flying is the best option, by train or car takes about 14 hours while by boat up the Irrawaddy river takes at least a week. 

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Road to Mandalay,” made the name of the last capital of Myanmar kings familiar even to those who had never heard of the country before.

Mandalay Hill Palace and Moat

A look around showed the horizon ringed by low hills, we climbed down from the airplane and the bus moved us immediately into the arrival building. The problem was as information tells it is almost everywhere the electricity brakes down frequently and at monsoon torrential
rain often set everything under water. 

Outside the airport building some rotten taxis waited for passengers, it looked like the paint and some wires were the only things keeping them together. Coming in through the suburbs from the south, miserable huts made from wood, palm leaves and plastic sheets where everywhere along the road.

We passed some small pagodas and checked into a down town hotel. There are plenty of them, the best is just in front of the rebuilt palace, it’s the Sedona Hotel from where the picture below was made.

Mandalay Palace View

Mandalay Sunset

Many other, much cheaper are around, usually run by Chinese owners with all comfort including satellite TV, restaurant, bathroom with bathtub etc. rooms there are up to around $ 80,-. This smaller hotels are a good deal.

Kuthodaw PagodaAt Mandalay HillThe city is on a very flat plain, the right environment for bicycle and small motorbike, they are moving and parked everywhere now in the evening their owners were sitting in tea shops, talking away the time. Some thickly-bearded locals of Indian origin are around, their families came in during English colonial times. 

Mandalay Vicinity

Mandalay is originally the last capital ruled by Burmese Kings

Mahamuni temple and pagoda
Mahamuni temple and pagoda
At Las Vegas they "hijacked" the name and used it for a casino. This is the city where the last king of the country ruled until the British colonialists exiled him and his wife to India and the real problem started, it was purely the British "Crown" and their servants who brought down the country into the present mess. The Brits destroyed everything which could advance then Burma, at that time the country was "au par" with Japan during the Meiji Dynasty, they even had the first streetcar in Asia, below is the palace and Mandalay Hill

Mandalay Palace and Hill
Palace and Hill
There was no very important reason for the city's existence beside of the fact that the King commanded it. It never had strategic or commercial importance and the whole area has a rather unpleasant climate too. 

During colonial times the English escaped to Maymyo, today Pin Oo Lwin , a hour drive to the east in the Shan hills, they even built a railway to this place.

Amarapura and U Bein Bridge
Amarapura and U Bein Bridge

The former royal cities of Ava and Amarapura are close by and further to the north is Shwebo. To the south is Bagan all were here before the new city was built. King Mindon reigned from 1853 to 1878, in 1857 he ordered to relocate the capital from Amarapura to the site where it presently is. Chosen was the place at the hill since legends told Lord

Buddha on Mandalay Hill
Buddha on Mandalay Hill

Buddah had visited the hill once with his disciple Ananda and pointed to the place when standing there. But actually there were some other reasons, first Amarapura simply become to small and the swampy area of the Irrawaddy over-spill was full with mosquito's and not healthy at all. 

At the opposite side of the stream is Sagaing one of the real highlights of the country with countless pagodas, temples and some Buddhist meditation centers. But there are still some positive impacts until today. Today this is a very flat area which makes it easily possible to use bikes and the proximity to China brings plenty of motorbikes into the area, its difficult to get petrol but somehow it is managed.

Sagaing Pagodas and Irrawaddy
Sagaing Pagodas and Irrawaddy
Myanmar meditation center
Meditation center

King Mindon in Mandalay - Myanmar Burma

King Thibaw and Queen Supayalat the picture is from 1880 have been the last rulers, they were deported by the British colonialists afterwards into exile in India.

In 1858 the foundations for the palace were laid out. The fortified city wall, built in the form of a square with brick walls, is 8 meters high and 2 kilometers circumference. It has 12 gates equidistant from each other, 3 are on each side.
Mandalay Palace at 1886
Mandalay Palace at 1886

It took around 4 years to complete in 1859 and it was a masterpiece of contemporary architecture. A composition in teak and brick with lots of artworks in the buildings. On the advice of the Brahmin astrologer an exemplary mass-sacrifice was arranged, including that of a pregnant woman. According to the old Mongolian belief the spirits of mother and child would unite in death to form a composite demon of exceptional malignancy. As a Buddhist scholar of renown and the leading authority of his times on Pali texts, Mindon probably disapproved of this stone-age practice. 

If he permitted the woman to be buried alive, he did so in the same spirit as a socialist cabinet minister might dress for dinner - not because he agreed with the principle, but because these things were expected of him; and, after all, there was nothing to be lost one way or another.

A moat (picture below) 66 meters wide and 3.7 meters deep, surrounds the city with four bridges leading to the doors.

The Moat around

Palace Building

Palace Rain Tree

Pretty Sunset

Twenty-nine years later the town fell to the British without the slightest attempt at defense, either ghostly or human.

The Mahamuni Temple is one of the most venerated in the country

The temple was built to enshrine the great Mahamuni image which for so many centuries had been the palladium of the kingdom of Arakan, as well as the most important of the Buddhist sacred objects. The peculiar sanctity of this image lies in its acceptance by Buddhists as a contemporary likeness of the Master. It was cast in brass when the great teacher visited Arakan, at that time a remote Indian kingdom. 

The work was done supernaturally by none other than Sakra, the old Hindu Lord of Paradise, who had become converted to Buddhism. When completed, the portrait, which was indistinguishable from the original, was embraced by the Buddha, and thereafter emitted an unearthly refulgence, and actually spoke a few words. 

Naturally, its possession was coveted by many pious kings, in particular the greatest of Myanmar historical figures, Anawrahta, who organized a large-scale raid into Arakan with the object of removing this along with sacred relics to his capital at Bagan. The king's purpose was frustrated by the size and weight of the image: the white elephant which accompanied his army, and was regarded as the only suitable means of transport, could not carry it.

It was finally obtained in 1784 by King Bodawpaya, who is declared, in an inscription at the pagoda, to have drawn the image to its present resting place by the charm of his piety. In fact an expeditionary corps of thirty thousand men was involved, after elaborate precautions to deprive the image of its magic power had first been taken by Myanmar wizards disguised as pilgrims.

I had been told that only in this city would real works of art, wood-carvings, bronzes and ivories, be found; and that the colonnades of the Mahamuni Pagoda would be the most likely place. Today a permanent crowd is gathered before the railings of the shrine behind which the twelve feet high image is placed, but they were quite ready to make room for a foreigner to take a photograph. 

Gold-leaf is sold in packets and the purchaser was entitled to apply it himself, clambering as reverently as possible up the sacred stomach to reach the face. Pilgrims from many parts of the country waited their turn to perform this illustrious task.

As in the Shwedagon Pagoda at Yangon, the roofed-over approaches were lined with stalls selling devotional objects; flowers, votive images and triangular gongs. In Myanmar (Burma) art is always intertwined with religious or magic motives. The life of the people still has a high spiritual component. As a result lots of creative energy is diverted into pagoda-building, from which it is expected to derive not mere aesthetic pleasure, but a substantial spiritual reward. 

The town is a good example for this, pagodas and temples, white and golden, on the hills around everywhere, in particular at Sagaing on the western side of the Irrawaddy river. 

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