Some travelers skip Mandalay because they say it’s crowded and dusty. Based on my very short stay, I would have to agree to that. However, there’s still an authenticity in the place in the sense that their everyday life is still carried out in a typical Myanmar way, with little influence from tourism. As I’ve mentioned in my first article about Myanmar, anywhere in this country, there are no Mc Donald’s and for Starbucks tumbler collectors, sorry, no Starbucks either.
Mandalay town center. It's not even rush hour yet
Motorcycles are the kings of the road...in fact, the road is their parking lot
I've never seen a basket of veggies so neatly piled as these. These are betel leaves, by the way. The ones Burmese love to chew together with betel nut.
I headed out to the countryside (“Outer Mandalay”) on my first full day in Mandalay so I didn’t expect my “Inner Mandalay” tour to be any better. But I did enjoyed my time in Mandalay city and my half day was easily occupied visiting sites. I found myself a good young guide cum motorcycle driver during my Outer Mandalay tour and so talked to him again about getting me around Inner Mandalay this time.
First on the list is Mandalay Palace. If you look at Mandalay city’s map, the palace can easily be spotted as a huge square surrounded by a moat. The perimeter is quite too long for a walk, about 2 kilometers on each side. I saw some tourists cycling this way. Renting a bicycle is probably a cheaper option for getting around Mandalay city but cycling along its busy streets with a weak sense of direction and without a travel insurance sounds like a bad combination for me.
Entrance to the Royal Palace
The palace is the royal residence of the last king of Burmese kingdom. It was bombed during World War II and what were left of the original structures were only the Watch Tower and the royal mint factory. Hence, all structures besides these two buildings are replicas rebuilt in 1990s.
The Watch Tower
A cute boy guarding the Watch Tower at its base 🙂
These stairs up the tower are really creaky!
Views from the tower
Next stop is Mandalay Hill. Like the Sagaing Hill, Mandalay Hill is climbed through roofed stairways. The hill top offers a panoramic view of Mandalay.
This dog is too bored to go up the Mandalay Hill
View from the hilltop
Just located at the foot of Mandalay hill is the Kuthodaw Pagoda, surrounded with hundreds of stone slabs inscribed with Buddhist teachings, roofed under white structures. The inscriptions are surely enlightening to read, but reading a pocket book or an e-book sounds more appealing to me.
Pre-nup (or wedding?) shoot near the entrance to Kuthodaw Pagoda
Even trees need somebody to lean on
Very close to the Kuthodaw Pagoda is the Shwenandaw Kyaung, which is a living example of traditional Burmese teak architecture. This monastery is originally a part of the Royal Palace and is historically significant because it is the only remaining original building of the Royal Palace. The ornate carvings surrounding the exterior and interior of the monastery is impressive.
A few minutes driving distance away is the Atumashi Kyaung. I don’t know anything about architecture but the monastery looks like a modern version of a Burmese monastery for me, or was it because it’s already a rebuilt structure?
Sounds Japanese but Atumashi Monastery is 100% Burmese
Our last stop is a gold leaf workshop located in a street I-don’t-know-where. My motorcycle driver passed through narrow streets and my sense of direction has easily been lost. Myanmar is called the Land of Golden Pagodas but it isn’t the gold paint industry that flourished here. The color gold is due to gold leaf sheets devoutly placed by worshipers over the statues of Buddha or onto the pagoda exterior, believing that they will be blessed when they offer such.
Manpower is literally an important resource in the gold leaf business, and Mandalay is known as a center where these thin gold leaves are laboriously hand-pounded. Gold sheets are stacked on top of each other, in between are sheets of bamboo paper. About 200 gold pieces are bundled together, secured on a slab of rock, then the pounder beats the gold stacks for half an hour using a heavy metal hammer.
After the gold leaves have flattened, these are cut into equal-sized pieces and undergo the same process of stacking and pounding over again. Women are then responsible for cutting and packaging the leaves.
Occupational health and safety practitioners will surely find a lot to tick in their checklist of observations: bad ergonomics (their backs are oh so at risk), heavy repetitive lifting, danger of hitting any of the body part because the hammer is pounded towards the worker and hot working environment, among others. These issues are surely not easy to contend with, as you would be dealing with changing year-long traditions. Besides, the workers seem proud of being part of this work, which they consider spiritually significant.
That ends my “Inner Mandalay” journey. I’m off to Inle Lake the next day after this.
Traveled March 2015