After a short flight from Bagan, today was my first experience of Mandalay. The weather could have been a little kinder, but in truth it didn’t get in the way of sightseeing.
The first stop was Amarapura, one of the former capitals of the country. The town is a home for weaving and silk and is thus a popular shopping destination, but it is also home to the longest teak bridge in the world built across Taum Tha Man lake. It’s notable for using pillars from a royal palace as the foundation of the structure, and can be walked across in its entirety if time permits.
The town is also home to Mahangandayon monastery, which while relatively new in construction does offer the sight of the monks lining up to receive their alms on a daily basis. I must confess to being in two minds about this. It is clearly a fascinating thing to witness, but it also requires those tourists doing so to conduct themselves properly and with respect. On a gloomy, rainy day the clatter of photographs being taken is one thing, but the endless flash from cameras lent it the appearance of paparazzi lining the red carpet at a movie premiere. When granted the privilege of allowing visitors to watch, it surely behoves those doing so to conduct themselves properly. Tourists can get themselves a bad name by behaving disrespectfully – the monks are not specimens in a zoo.
No visit to Mandalay is complete without seeing the Mahamuni temple. Although temples are hardly in short supply throughout the country, this one is different in offering what is thought to be the only image of Buddha outside India cast during his lifetime. One of the traditions of adherents is to attach a small piece of gold leaf to the body, meaning the torso has become somewhat shapeless and much larger in consequence.
The other complex well worth seeing is Kuthodaw Pagoda, except in this instance it isn’t the pagoda itself that is the attraction. For here you find what is often described as the world’s largest book, where a page of the Tipitaka is inscribed on a marble slab. So far so unremarkable. Except that there are 729 pages, and thus the “book” is simply immense.
The centre of the city is comprised of the walls of the Mandalay Palace. They are more or less the only intact part of it left, the palace itself falling victim to allied bombing raids during World War II. A replica of much of it has been built in order to give an indication of what it would have looked like, and while relatively new it is still worth seeing as it allows the scale of it to be appreciated.
Fortunately given what was to happen half a century later, Shwenendaw monastery had been moved out of the palace in 1880 and reconstructed elsewhere in the city. As a result, it means that one original building does at least survive, and it is scheduled for considerable renovation and restoration work in the near future.
It’s fair to say that Mandalay isn’t short of things to see. My only regret is that I have such a short time here.