What a beautiful city! Peaceful, clean, quiet and happy. It reminds us of our first visit to Vietnam in 1997. Tourism is growing rapidly but the town still retains its innocence. The people are extremely friendly and welcoming. Children yell “hello”, and adults smile and nod without any inkling of prejudice and are eager to practice their English and take selfies with us. They are happy to see us here and we are so happy to be here. There isn’t any stress evident in the eyes of the people that seemed to underline the faces of the people in India. The air is clean, the traffic rules are generally followed and there is next to no honking and aggressive driving. The roads are well paved and marked and you don’t feel like you are putting your life at risk every time you cross the road. “Laid back and content” seems to be the order of the day. We weren’t sure what to expect when we arrived but any notion of noise, chaos, congestion and pollution were immediately dispelled upon our arrival and reinforced on our day trip around the city that we did yesterday and our walking around and exploring that we did today.
Yesterday we hired a car and driver ($30.00 US for both of us for the day) and set out to see the many rich and fascinating historical sites the city has to offer. Our first stop was a gold leaf paper workshop. Gold leaf is used extensively as an offering to Buddha and is rubbed on to Buddha statues and icons along with gifts of incense and flower garlands. The gold leaf is made by placing small amounts of gold concentrate between bamboo paper and wrapped in many folds of leather and then pounded by a sledge-hammer for six hours. The resultant leafs of gold are then sent to a room for peeling and preparing. The gold sheets are much thinner than paper-thin and requires a certain dexterity to lift off of the bamboo and placed onto a usable medium
Our next stop was the Maha Myat Muni Pagoda which contains the most revered Buddha Image/statue in Mandalay and is the most ancient image of Buddha in Myanmar. People from around Myanmar visit and pray in front of this Buddha and paste gold leaf onto the figure. There were photos of the statue dating to 1923 and there was no gold on its edifice. Through time the statue slowly became covered in gold and now it is almost impossible to discern the fingers on Buddha’s hands as so much gold leaf has been put onto it. It almost looks like there is a possibility that in 100 years, it could look like a big golden blob. The museum within the pagoda traces the journey through art the transport of the Buddha from the ancient city of Amarapura to its present site in Mandalay. Very interesting!
Maha Myat Muni Pagoda
Next stop was a local carving and handicrafts shop. The work they do there is amazing and we ended up purchasing two carvings that we’ll hang on our wall when we get home.
Our new wall carvings
Further along we made a short stop at Shweinbin Monastery. Built in 1895 the beloved monastery is built in the Burmese tradition of teak architecture.
The Royal Mandalay Palace was next. The palace is actually a walled city located within the city of Mandalay. The palace was built in 1861 and many sections of the palace were destroyed during WW II but rebuilt after the end of the war. The palace is one the city’s top attractions, boasting a number of exquisite pavilions and a museum where you can see models of several of the original palace buildings.
Royal Mandalay Palace
We had a full schedule and were starting to poop out but continued on to the Shwe Nandaw Kyaung Monastery. The palace was built in 1880 using material obtained from King Mindon Min’s apartment in the Royal Palace. Mindon founded Mandalay in 1857 in a fulfillment of a Buddhist prophecy that a religious centre would be built at the foot of Mandalay Hill. The monastery is a splendid structure ornamented with fine teak carvings, mirrored glass mosaic and gilding.
Shwe Nandaw Kyaung Monastery
Atu Mashi Monastery
Our final stop was Kuthodaw Pagoda. which is known as “the world’s biggest book”. This pagoda is a Buddhist stupa with 729 marble slabs. Built in 1857 the entire 15 books of the Tripitaka are inscribed on the slabs, each of which is housed in its own small stupa. It has been estimated that it would take one person, reading for 8 hours a day, 450 days to read the complete “book”.