Road to Mandalay

A journey to the grandeur of the past, Mandalay offers the true exoticism of Asia, which will transform every journey into an unforgettable experience.

Mandalay is the former capital of Burma (now Myanmar). It was called Yadanabon, which means “golden city,” when it was founded by King Mindon in 1857. Mandalay has stirred the imaginations of famous writers, poets and songwriters, who have immortalized it in their work. Mandalay is located on the eastern banks of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River, a 2,000-kilometre long waterway that flows from the north to the south of the country.

Bagan is best described as a “city of a thousand pagodas.” It is located on the eastern banks of the Irrawaddy River, 140 kilometres south of Mandalay. Visiting Bagan is like stepping back in time. Thousands of ancient sandstone pagodas stand in regal silence. The tranquillity is complete; there is the feeling of remoteness, of being in a world apart from the rest of the world. The horse-drawn carts carrying tourists to the temples create a sense of colonial life. Everywhere you look there seems to be a trace of the past.

As we pass Old Bagan, hundreds of sandstone pagodas of every shape and size flash before my eyes. Roaming the vast plain we are amazed by the dizzying array of architectural styles of the temples, each one more unique than the last. Sadly, some of the temples are in a deteriorating state, and restoration work, if any, is certainly not in compliance with the original architectural designs or materials. Of the temples we visited, the 12th century Ananda Temple, a white Mon temple built by King Kyanzittha, stood out as the finest, largest and best preserved.

Early the next morning, we set off for the Shwe-kun-char jetty. There, Rv Pandaw 1947, an original colonial-style steamer, is ready to welcome us on board. Under the clear blue sky we step into this renowned triple-decker steamer. The purser, in Burmese traditional costume of longgyi (sarong) and thaik pon (coat), ushers us to our charming cabins with attached private shower rooms on the upper deck. We pass the open promenade where deck chairs are placed in front of each cabin, then to the stern where the dining room is located and onto the salon-cum-bar in the prow. Suddenly, with a little jolt and a deep, resonant whistle the ship starts to move. Holding onto the nearest gleaming teak banister I feel giddy as our adventure begins. Standing on the spotless iron-wood sundeck, looking at the river below, I fantasized that I was one of those British colonialists from centuries ago, off on an adventure of discovery. A soft breeze brings me back to the present.

Armed with a long list of things to see and do in Mandalay we drive straight to Amarapura, 11 kilometres south of Mandalay, to visit Mahagandayon, the famous Buddhist monastery complex where hundreds of monks clad in red robes live and study.

Mandalay is an exciting commercial city with lots of historical attractions and mouth-watering food. As the former capital of Burma, Mandalay witnessed the tragedy of its last monarch, King Thibaw, sent into exile in India in 1885 by the British colonialists. But more than 60 years after British colonial rule, Mandalay continues to thrive as a commercial hub for Upper Burma, as well as being a centre of culture and Buddhist study. The city is located at the foot of Mandalay Hill (hence the name), which rises 240 metres above the surrounding the plain, which is covered by pagodas and monasteries.

Shopping for silver jewellery, rubies and silk are on our to-do list in Mandalay, which turns out to be rewarding as they are reasonably priced with a good selection. The highlight of our last evening in Mandalay is watching the Moustache Brothers, a comedic trio who were jailed for more than six years for their satirical criticism of the Burmese military regime, and who are now only allowed to perform for foreigners in the garage at their house. I gaze at the walls of Mandalay Palace from my hotel room for the last time and with that I bid farewell to the majestic Mandalay.

Text & Photos by Nani Budiman

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