Mythical Mandalay

For additional Burma posts click here.

Mandalay is an illusion, the golden city  of lore that was found at the end of the fabled road is no more. The last royal capital, Mandalay remains a center of Buddhist learning and culture and we visited quite a number of religious sites, not all of which are mentioned here. However, the city is much changed as many of the most important buildings in Mandalay, including the legendary palace complex, were destroyed during the Second World War. 

For us the Shwenandaw Monastery  (pictured above and below) was the most memorable architectural site. It is all that remains of the spectacular golden palace complex which awed travelers for generations. Serendipitiously this small wooden structure was moved from the walled palace in the Nineteenth Century and consequently survived  the decimation of the  Allied bombings at the end of the war. 
The wooden carving was beautiful in the late afternoon sun though it was poignant to think about all that was lost. from here you can also visit a nearby temple with a series of historic stone carvings  that is pre ported to be the , "largest book in the world".
In contrast contemporary Mandalay is noisy and dirty, filled with generic modern structures quickly built to accommodate the influx of Chinese immigrant who have settled here over the last two decade.  Despite the numerous and significant Buddhist sites surrounding the city, the town itself isn't a place that offers any immediate appeal to tourists. However, we enjoyed our visit  by embracing the modern town and exploring the market, which I discussed in the previous post
In truth we enjoyed the day spent wandering the modern town easily as much as the day spent exploring the famed out of town sites with our guide - who looked  about twelve and whose favorite phrase was , "Yeah, yeah, yeah...something like that!
On the way in from the airport in the late afternoon we visited the Mahamuni Buddha Temple just south of the city center. Here, male devotees are allowed to rub sheets of gold leaf onto the Budhha's statue. The quantity of gold has built up and the statue of the Budhha has take on a lumpy,irregular form. In the temple there is gold decoration everywhere. The area around the temple is filled with streets of artisanal workers and though we didn't have time to stop it looked like a fascinating area to explore.
The traffic noise in Mandalay was cacophonous and unrelenting, it stood in stark contrast to Yangon where scooters and motorbikes are banned and the roads are much calmer.
This view of the moat around the old palace site (now a military base) makes Mandalay city look surprisingly green, we took a nice evening walk but there was no escaping the traffic noise!

Tips: There are a number of evening shows aimed at tourists in Mandalay including a comedy show by the Moustache Brothers (who were jailed under the military junta), a puppet show and  traditional dance show. We opted to visit the small dance theatre and I would recommend it. It was a charming show  with a small orchestra and it is great to have the chance to  support traditional arts. Many of the pieces were set to folktales and you'll see the same  motifs and characters in puppet shows.