is it just the romantic in me? the name mandalay conjured up a dream of romance, a far east place with exotic food, smells and words, a pair of enticing pale eyes and lips that mumurred unattainable promises. I was smitten. the real mandalay was full of dust, noise, motorbikes, cars and human congestion. a big city with highrises, neon lights, long boulevards, concrete and glass, broken sidewalks, dirty streets and side streets faintly illuminated. our hotel was located above the train station. the whistling incoming trains kept one awake at night. riffraffs and backpackers on the station platforms. pigeons (she hates pigeons!) galore flying outside the hotel room and balconies covered in pigeon droppings and even dead pigeons hanging from the AC units. but inside the hotel, it was simple grandeur. marvelous reception, beautifully appointed rooms, large clean bathrooms filled with amenities and proper shower stalls with curtains. Breakfasts were superb. asian station with dim sum and european stations with bacon. and the view from the restaurant terrace was nothing short of glorious, buildings and mountains. the hotel was called marvel and what a marvel it was.
the sutaung paya pagoda on mandalay hill had a touch of feminism. pink tiles on the wall and arches. I quite liked it. It should offer grand views of the city below but myanmar seemed to have a permanent haze, probably due to the vehicles exhaust, so everywhere we looked, it was hazy and smoggy. The shwenandaw monastery had teak carvings on every inch of the exterior walls and roofs, and it was quite impressive. next, the kuthodaw pagoda contained the entire buddhist scripture in 729 marble slabs, the biggest book in the world. the mya nan san kyaw royal palace was enclosed in a square red brick fort that covered 2 miles with a moat. the palace reminded me of the one in kyoto. I've climbed the spiral staircase of the red tower and I could see the entire palace compound from the tower top. our last stop for the morning was the Mahamuni paya, the city's holiest temple. it contained a buddha statue that grew over time due to the people paying respects by adding gold leafs to the image. quite a fat and distorted looking buddha it had become. however, women were not allowed to go in to the sanctuary, so I just tried to get as close as possible for a photo. They all came out blurry. In the courtyard, there were bronze Khmer statues stolen from angkor wat in cambodia as war loot in the 15th century. One 2 headed elephant, a bronze lion and 2 warriors that once stood guard in Angkor are believed to have healing qualities and people rubbed the statue's tummy, knees and arms in hope to cure their ailments in their corresponding body parts. I've rubbed the tummy, knees and forehead of the statue. I still got headaches and tummy aches.
in the afternoon, we crossed the Irrawaddy upstream to Mingum to see the unfinished stupa. it would have been the world's largest stupa if finished but king bodawpaya died before it was completed, thus all further construction had ceased. Even unfinished, it looked enormous. together with it, 2 giant lions stood in front, now with their tops broken and missing. Only the lions butts remained. But the huge 90 tonne bell that was cast to be hung in the finished stupa was completed and on display. now considered the largest bell in the world. One could crawl inside it. before returning downstream to mandalay, we've visited the mya thein tan stupa, all white that looked like a wedding cake. each successive layer was curved to resemble the waves of the sea, a symbol of mandalay. even the longhis here have waves in the designs. On our way back downstream, we witnessed a magnificent sunset, the sun red and round and we had it all to ourselves.
the next day we've visited a gold leaf factory and we each got a piece of gold leaf on our faces and a bit of tanaka powder. We all looked very funny. in myanmar, the people, mostly women, apply the tanaka powder (pounded ground paste from the thanaka bark) to their faces for sunscreen, and they all looked funny with white yellowish rectangular spots on their foreheads and both cheeks. at the factory, I bought a small lacquer jewelry box decorated by gold leaf for Mom. then we made a stop at a local tapestry and puppet shop. all tapestries were woven with shiny beads, not my liking. And i'm scared of puppets so I didnt buy anything there. but the puppet costumes were very intricate and beautiful. We've noticed the girls sewing the tapestries under weak florescent lighting but wore no glasses. they must have real good eyesight but will probably lose them when they get old. Just like in Cambodia, we saw workers polishing buddha statues in stone factories and made a stop to photograph them.
then the highlight of the trip when we came to the ancient capital of Inwa. I specifically selected this trip because it included a visit to inwa. We crossed the small river and horse drawn carts along dusty bumpy dirt roads brought us first to the bagaya kyaung monastery with enormous teakwood foundation pillars. not too interesting to me. Then to the real reason why I came to myanmar, the manu ok kaung monastery. yes the one I saw online with yellow stucco that caught my eye and imprisoned my heart. It was brilliant in the afternoon sun. just like in angkor wat, I forgot to bring the stuffy for a photo. left small leo at the hotel to enjoy the room and he was furious, and being a stuffy, didnt talk to me for 2 days. wasnt given enough time to really admire and appreciate the building, i just ran around to look and photograph, and then did a quick tour inside the building. was very happy.
Right before sunset we drove to Amarapura to catch the sunset over the U Bein teakwood footbridge. I've walked a ways on the bridge until the first island. The place was packed with tourists, shops and cafes. the sunset was nice but all the people and tour buses just put me off. Not impressed. The teak bridge itself wasnt all that impressive.