Tag Archive: Mandalay



We went as far North as Mandalay. Known as the Golden City with its many pagodas and monasteries. It was the capital of Burma (now Myanmar) before it was colonized by the British in the 1880’s. Rudyard Kipling’s poem entitled Road to Mandalay may have romanticized this former capital of Myanmar. Rightly so, as it remains a religious center, the very heart of Buddhist Burma.

 

 

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Among Mandalay’s religious monuments is Kuthodaw Pagoda where the world’s largest book is enshrined. Inscribed on stone tablets are excerpts from the tipitaka or Buddhist scriptures. Each stone tablet is housed in each of the 729 white stupas surrounding a golden temple inspired by Bagan’s Shwezigon Pagoda. Star flower Trees planted between rows of white stupas provide ample shade and tons of charm for this pagoda complex. Kuthodaw glistens in its goldness both from the ground as well as when viewed high up in Mandalay Hill. Speaking of Mandalay Hill, one may choose to climb it by hiking up, or go easy by taking an elevator to take you up in Sutaungpyei Pagoda from where one gets a panoramic view of Mandalay.

 

 

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A monk’s life involves a lot of discipline and silence. Here in Mandalay lie many monasteries and monastic schools like Maha Ganayon Kyaung where visitors can witness the monks’ rituals like lining up for their midday meals or doing their late afternoon prayer ceremony. All that chanting, bowing and meditating comprise the prayer ceremony we had the fortune to witness.

 

 

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For a moment there, I thought I’ve had enough of temples and monasteries so early in my trip. But what fascinated me are Myanmar’s landmarks in teak wood. The country is the world’s top producer of teak wood and the Golden Palace Monastery or Shwenandaw Monastery is one fine example of Burmese architecture. As the last royal capital before the country was colonized by the British, Shenandaw happens to be King Mindon’s last royal palace. It’s just curious that the most sacred area within the monastery is exclusive to men.

 

 

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Last but not the least is one of Malanday’s iconic landmarks — this 1850-built bridge is touted as the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world to be found in the former capital of Amarapura. The bridge was built from wood reclaimed from the former ancient royal palace in Inwa or Ava. It doesn’t look much during the day, but its mosquito-infested location is perfect for sunset shots. With patience and a not so few mosquito bites, one can have a good snapshot of the teak bridge wrapped in the red orange warmth of a setting sun with monks, cyclists, basket-carrying women crossing the bridge, and likely tourists taking selfie shots. With a better cam, the silhouettes should make for a dramatic shot.

 

 

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It is only fitting I end this piece with a few lines from the poem penned by Kipling.

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo an’ she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!”
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin’ my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.
Elephints a-pilin’ teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

 

 

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I’m GUILTY as charged. Got into a snapping frenzy when we visited the monks in Mandalay’s many monasteries and learning centers, and whenever, wherever, however we found them — in temples, in the market, along the streets, walking, resting, in prayer, dining, in study. We couldn’t stop! So can’t many others.

 

 

 

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And it’s never more true than when we caught them lining up towards their dining hall where a group must have donated their sumptuous 2nd and last meal of the day. Perhaps “extravagant” by monks’ standards. The usual 1 or 2-dish meals expanded to 5, but at the price of being watched and photographed while dining. Forgive me, for saying this. I am just as guilty. It took another fellow (thanks, Bob) to remind me that it didn’t seem right to photograph them while they are eating. More so to have photos taken with them in the background. Come to think of it, why in heaven’s name do we do that?

 

 

 

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Quite frankly, I would not have hesitated to join the monks at the slightest hint of an invitation. Shame on me. The silence was palpable. I hardly heard any plate or bowl being moved nor any tin cup being put down. At some point, I wondered if the monks chew their food. I didn’t hear a sound!

 

 

 

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Mandalay is said to be the monastic center of Myanmar. Many monasteries and monks’ learning centers are located there. And we visited the bigger ones where these monks can be observed while praying, studying and dining. Much like a tourist attraction. In one, I felt like we barged in while young monks are having their study periods. The headmaster in sight didn’t seem to mind. One young monk in particular was weirdly hamming it up, playing with his cat knowing our cams are all trained on him.

 

 

 

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Not all are big and well-funded. We visited a remote school a boat ride away from Old Bagan and found a small village supporting a few young monks. At the time we visited, we wondered what else these monks do outside of prayer and study times. Being dependent on these poor villagers’ support for food and other basic necessities, it would have been more pragmatic to also teach them farming, fishing and other means of livelihood. Much like some other monks elsewhere who farm even just for their own food requirements or tend vineyards, coffee plantations, etc. to earn enough to cover their needs.

 

 

 

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A wake up call. I’m done with my monks’ photography. Let this set be my last. Mi apologia. I leave you guys alone now.

 

 

 

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