Mandalay is the second-largest city of Myanmar with its one and half million habitants. It has been the last capital of the kingdom from 1860 and 1885 before the British colonized the country changing the capital to Yangon. We took 14 hour to get there from Mindat with a minivan: on the road we had two flat tyres and a stop of one hour waiting for the road to reopen. We crossed many dry river beds and we really don’t understand how they do this trip in the monsoon season. Well, once in Mandalay the driver and the passengers were too kind with us: they waited us to find a place to sleep before going to the local guest houses ( which foreigners are not allowed to stay, if not we would had gone with them).
We spent or first day in town recovering from the heat and the fatigue of the trek on Chin State and the trip in minivan. We only went out to see the sunset on Mandalay Hill: 760 stairs to climb barefoot to get to a temple and have the city at our feet!
People usually dedicate more time to the surrounding of Mandalay than to the city itself but there are at least a couple of attractions which really worth the visit: the Shwenandaw Monastery (we didn’t go!) and the Maha Muni Pagoda. The monastery is what remains of the royal palace, it’s made in teak and known for its marvellous carvings. The Maha Muni Pagoda which hosts a very famous image of Buddha is crowded since early in the morning (when the monks brush the teeth of the statue) to the sunset. Women are not allowed to touch the statue so they sit and pray watching at TV screams who show the parade of men sticking golden leaves on the Buddha statue. Another option is the Shwe In Bin Kyaung Monastery. We’ve been there and we loved it. It is a smaller version of the Shwenandaw Temple, it’s also made in teak wood and it’s a good place to avoid the crowds.
We managed to rent a motorbike in the next morning and, after the small itinerary in the city, we went to Sagaing, on the west side of the Irrawaddy river, 20 Km south-west of Mandalay. It’s an important religious centre with numerous Buddhist monasteries; the central pagoda, Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, is connected by a set of covered staircases that run up the 240 meter hill. Once on the top you can admire the riverside with the bridge that links Mandalay to Sagaing and the others temples spread all over the hills.
Once in Sagaing, instead of going further to reach the Mingun Pagoda (the biggest uncompleted stupa in Myanmar), we went straight to Inwa that was imperial capital from the 14th to the 19th centuries. The city was completely abandoned in march 1839 after repeated earthquakes that destroyed the great part of the city buildings. The classic tour to Inwa includes a short boat trip to cross a creek plus a horse cart ride around the ruins. We put the scooter on the boat and kept going to visit the old clock tower and some pagodas to finally reach the main road that takes us back to Mandalay. The charm of this place comes from the feeling to travel back to the time when someone was living there and from the green vegetation that surrounds the ruins.
The best spot for sunset (and sunrise) is for sure the U bein Bridge near Amarapura, between Inwa and Mandalay. The bridge is the longest teak-wood bridge in the world and only few of its 1086 pillars had been replaced with concrete. The structure is becoming unstable and need a serious restoration because the wood pillars had been damaged by the stagnant water (due to the introduction of fish breeding program in the lake). We walked the 1,2 Km to get to the other side and then we set to enjoy the colourful crowd who comes here from other regions of Myanmar and all over the world.
We could have spent one day more in Mandalay to really enjoy the city, but the road was calling again. Direction Inle Lake!