Impressions of Mandalay
On arrival, our first impression of Mandalay was not very positive: the town was dusty, the buildings were non-descript, and the relatively few cars around were enough to create chaos as they seemed to defy any idea of traffic rule.
However, on the second day, following our habit of exploring on foot, we discovered an engaging city. We first trekked south along 83/84 streets to the Mahamuni Pagoda, which shelters a highly revered Buddha figure attracting many pilgrims from all over Burma. On the way back, we decided to avoid these congested streets and started wandering around side streets. Doing so, we met many utterly friendly people who were always eager to show us the way and point us in the direction of the next temple or pond. We discovered that Mandalay is in fact more a conglomerate of distinct neighbourhoods, each one being more like a village with its own temple and shops. So we did not really realise the long distance involved until we reached the top of Mandalay Hill. Unfortunately, the views from up there were very hazy but, still, it had been worth the climb. We did not visit the Royal Palace but stopped at many pagodas and monasteries around Mandalay Hill and were fascinated by their detailed and beautiful wood carvings. It was a very long rewarding day, even so as we walked also all the way back to our hotel in the town centre! We have some pictures of Mandalay and its temples and the surrounding Amarapura, Sagaing and Mingun in our photo section, make sure to check them!
In the Kuthodaw Pagoda, we met Madanta, a friendly souvenir seller with whom we engaged a conversation. It was our first full day in Burma and we were wondering about many new things we had seen so far. In particularly, we wanted to know what was the yellowy paste many women and children were displaying on their faces. So we asked her and while she explained, she offered to show us how to prepare this paste, called Thanaka. The paste is prepared by grinding the wood, bark or roots of certain trees on a round stone slab and mixing it with a bit of water. Madanta was very chatty and she told us everything we needed to know: Thanaka does not only cool and protect your skin from sun and dust, it also makes you pretty. As far as she's concerned, she prefers Thanaka made from Santal Wood, which is expensive and a real treat from her husband, a pleasure she cannot afford so often. She was very proud of him, a tour guide, 10 years older than she is. She will always wear her Thanaka in the traditional way in a square pattern, as this is the way he prefers, not like some other women who sometimes apply it patterned in the shape of a leaf.
As we left Madanta, we bumped into Cherry, a 68 years old woman with very nice blue / grey eyes. Here again, we ended up starting a conversation with this endearing lady. She was born in Burma. Her father was a soldier with the British Army and came to Burma as the country was still a colony of the Crown: he promptly fell in love with her Burmese mother and decided to stay in the country when the Brits left. She, herself, has never left Burma and she speaks a perfect English, without any accent. She is an English teacher, and still active, but because of her age, she feels she can now choose whom she wants to teach: no children anymore, they are too troublesome, she prefers elder teenagers or young adults. And no, she's not married, never has been: she does not like men! She was also very proud to tell us that her grand father was a German from Munich, while her grand mother came from San Francisco. A very interesting woman indeed and we spent quite a nice time chatting with her, having a rest before starting the trek back to our hotel.
Mandalay was for us the perfect introduction to Burma. We took our time and spent five days there. Like all the other tourists, we used the town as a base to tour the surrounding sites of Amarapura, Sagaing and Mingun. We decided against hiring a taxi and took the trouble of using pick-ups to reach those destinations. It took us more time, but gave us a great opportunity to mingle with locals while we waited for the pick-ups to fill before departure (and this could take quite a while...). We shared snacks, learned the numbers, smiled a lot...
We dedicated a whole day to Amarapura, the village with the famous U Bein teak bridge and this was a great idea: after touring the touristy musts like the monastery and the bridge, we wandered around the village (where we did not see an other tourist in the whole time) and discovered a very industrious place full with weaving workshops, some mechanised, other still weaving manually. We had a long rest at the Pahtodawgyi Paya which was in the midst of repairs and quite lively, as people were busy painting in gold colour a multitude of bells which were to be fixed on the terrace of the paya's stupa.
$updated from: Blog.htxt Fri 15 May 2020 14:57:27 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$