Mandalay is the capital of the region of the same name in central Myanmar. It is the second largest city in the country with over a million inhabitants. Founded in 1857 by King Mindon, this city on the banks of the Irrawaddy River is known as the last royal city of Myanmar until the British arrived in 1885. They took the city and settled in using it as strategic city and weapon storage. The story explains that each successive dynasty kings of the region have established a new capital around the city, moving some of the old elements. It is virtually nothing left of the first capital. One that survived the longest was Inwa.
Mandalay today remains the Burmese cultural hub and Buddhist religious center with many historical monuments such as the Royal Palace, the Pagoda Shwenandaw and 150 monasteries where more than half of the monks of the country reside. Mandalay is famous for its rich crafts such as wood and marble carving and manufacturing of gold leaf. It is also a paradise for puppets; you can buy them from the artisans and escape into several centuries ago by attending a puppet show where the Burmese legends are freshly represented.
We can say that Mandalay is still living in the past and that a visit to this place is like going back in time. With its splendid temples, sanctuaries, remarkable fortress at the foot of the hill, monks in procession, the beautiful surrounding countryside with the distant Shan mountains and the Irrawaddy River, Mandalay is one of the most beautiful regions of Burma. When night falls, you will see women move downhill to head back to the farm, fully loaded with long fresh grass. The sun setting behind the ruins on the edge of the rice field will leave a beautiful image. .
Not only Mandalay- the last royal city of Myanmar, travelers will also be seduced by the royal capitals surrounding it including Amarapura, Inwa, Sagaing and Mingun.
Built by King Mindon in 1897, the Royal Palace remarkably extends over an area of 4 square kilometers in the center of Mandalay. It is surrounded by four 9-meter-high wall and surrounded by a moat of 75 meters in width. Total 169m stand guard towers topped with golden roofs. Each wall has three doors and five bridges over the moat. The palace was the residence of the king and all his wives. It was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt almost to the same in 1990. The buildings today hold administrative and military functions, but the central part including the Royal Palace and the museum is open to tourists. If you go up to the top of the watchtower, you will be able to enjoy a beautiful overview of the complex.
Lying in close proximity to the south of Mandalay Royal Palace, Mahamuni Pagoda may shun visitors with its lackluster appearance, far detached from the grandeur and delicacy posed by other prominent buildings of Mandalay. It is, nevertheless, second to only Shwedagon Pagoda in terms of reverence. The Mahamuni Buddhist Image is said to bear the most resemblance to Gautama Buddha and is the central piece of worship in the Pagoda. It was taken from Mrauk-U after the kingdom fell. Devotees stick tons of golden leaves to the statue – to the extent that its original shape is distorted. The pagoda also displays several Khmer bronze statues which were war loots from Cambodia. People believe that, by rubbing ailing body parts on these statues, ailments will be cured. Originally grandiose, the pagoda went down in flames several times, which contributes to its underwhelming look today.
Kuthodaw Pagoda (meaning “Royal Merit” in Burmese), magnificent religious complex is the world’s largest book. Built in 1857, modeled on the Shwezigon pagoda by King Mindon, it has a total of 729 marble stelae, each inside a small stupa, which are sacred texts in Pali Theravada Buddhism. The site was restored in 1892. The gold adorning each of the lines have been looted, it was replaced with black ink. Between the rows of stupas grow small trees whose flowers give a scent like that of jasmine. Burmese families often come to picnic, pick flowers to make necklaces for statues of the Buddha, while their children play hide and seek among the stupas.
The discovery of Kuthodaw pagoda is the most remarkable visit in a voyage to Burma.
Shwenandaw the monastery is the most significant building in the history of Mandalay. It is the only remnant of the original royal palace that has not been destroyed by British bombs. This magnificent monastery consists of chiseled and carved teak is a masterpiece of the Burmese architecture. There is a replica of the throne of the Lion (throne) and exceptional sculptures of Nats, the spirits who worship the image of the Buddha. Monks still live there and do not want to “give” the monastery to archaeological authorities who would renovate it.
This market starts early in the morning which is a fascinating place; it immerses you in Burmese life.You will see hundreds of workshops with a multitude of craftsmen who cut and polish jade pieces side by side in small shops. Jade from Burma is the most beautiful in the world. It is practically of all colors, nonetheless the emerald green, purple jade is highly sought after. Be sure to circulate among the stalls of the vendors, you will love the color gradients of magic on their boards. It is fascinating to watch the merchants who discuss and negotiate prices for a cup of tea.
Mingun village is 10 km from Mandalay upstream of the Irrawaddy River. Crossing the river takes about an hour, permitting river navigation and activities on the river banks. Mingun is renowned for the unfinished stupa built by Bodowpaya king which was to be the largest in the world. The unfinished pagoda, the great bell and pagoda Hsinbyune are the main attractions of this site.
The city of Sagaing is located twenty kilometers southwest of Mandalay, facing Inwa, on the other bank of the Irrawaddy River. Out of four royal cities of the region, it is the one who has the most charm. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Sagaing from 1315 to 1364. The city of Sagaing, often compared to Bagan, is the most important religious center of the country. By far, the myriad of pagodas (nearly 600), stupas and monasteries perched on the hills bordering the Irrawaddy 37 offer a wonderful show.
Amarapura is 11 km south of Mandalay. This town was one of the ancient capitals of Burmese Kingdom between 1783 and 1841. Today it is famous for traditional silk and cotton weaving. The monument absolutely not to be missed is the famous U Bein Bridge.
Built in teak columns and abandoned during the transfer of the capital to Mandalay, the bridge, along 1,200 meters, the world’s largest teak bridge crosses the lake Taungthaman. The monks of nearby monasteries like to walk there. Visitors can rent boats to admire the bridge from the lake, the opportunity to capture beautiful pictures especially at sunset and sunrise.
Inwa, also known as Ava, is located in the area near Mandalay. Inwa was the capital of the kingdom of Burma for nearly 400 years from the 14th to 18th century. After an earthquake in 1838, there are only very few vestiges of royal buildings of the period. You can visit the city in a carriage and visit the Bagaya monastery , built entirely of teak, the most beautiful building in Inwa. It was built in 1864 and is supported by 267 pillars. The prayer room is beautiful and majestic with varied patterns on the beams. There reigns an atmosphere full of mystery and spirituality. The doors are remarkably carved. This monastery is still inhabited by monks; you may have the opportunity to see a monk teacher giving lessons to children.