Mandalay is the capital of Myanmar (Burma) in South East Asia. It may conger up thoughts of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘Mandalay’ On my first day there I decided that the conspicuous Mandalay Palace would the place of my first adventure, seen as though it was so close. The palace walls grounds are so large, I think they must have been 1km square, with a 64 metre-wide moat forming the perimeter of the palace.
The moat at Mandalay Palace took me around 10 – 15 minutes to walk part of the length at a brisk but leisurely pace. I turned on to East Moat Street (66th Street), hoping to find the entrance to the palace grounds. There were some security men there. The entrance fee was $10. I passed the security, but they didn’t bother me. The palace grounds were scattered with army personnel. The driveway was quite long.
The Glass Palace was rustic red with gold edgings, having a tiered structure to it. All these buildings were replicas been rebuilt in the 1990s. Most of the buildings were either burned or bombed during Japanese occupation by the allies during World War II. There were many places that were simply out of bounds. The thrown-room which was the palaces most fascinating building, with its large multi-tiered pyramid of gilt filigree. It was beautiful in its own way and certainly different from what I was expecting.
Chief Queen’s Apartment, with the Myay Nan Pyathat Building with a spire to the rear.
The Great Audience Hall
It was the British that eventually ejected the Burmese King Thibaw in 1885 and then demolished part of the original city for their own interests, mainly to create a parade ground and then they turned the centrepiece palace complex into the governors, residence.
In the grounds, there was a strange conspicuous looking watchtower. I was hoping that the Palace grounds would have fantastic looking gardens with possible fountains, but that wasn’t to be.
Much of the grounds were out of bounds so, I continued walking the outside perimeter of the palace grounds
Once outside the grounds, I continued walking in an anti-clockwise direction. In total it took me two hours to walk around the palace walls. The strange thing was, was that I came across at least two wells where people were washing. They just ladled water over themselves.
Bicycles can be hired from a shop on 25th Street, which crosses 82nd Street. Although you might have to look hard for the pen written sign that reads: ‘Bicycles for Hire.’
These are old ones, using the rod-actuated brakes system rather than a calliper break design. Although research told me that these brake systems are still widely used here in Asia and Africa.
Today’s adventure would take me down to the Irrawaddy River, where I came across boats and rafts that were being constructed. There was lots of activity going on in this area both residential as well as industrial. The buildings were simple in nature, having what looked like rattan style walls and grass roofs, some incorporated corrugated iron.
After taking photographs of the fascinating area that I had stumbled across: this was somewhere off-limits to the average tourists. I cycled north following the riverside road.
In some areas, the right side looked like squalor living, it almost looked like a refuse tip, I hate to say with rubbish compacted to the ground, my description may sound a little over the top, but that was exactly what it looked like. Even cows and goats were grazing here.
Away from the construction area, there are healthy rice plantations, surprisingly right on the doorstep of Mandalay. Across the paddy fields and the river, I spied many similar looking villages with their simple crude looking buildings. Obviously, they were effective. How hot it got in those, was anybody’s guess. Most of the males there just longies and nothing else.
There was no discrimination between looking very dark and wanting to look white. Well, not that I came across that. Young boys played, looking as brown as berries, gaily welcoming me as I cycled by saying ‘hello.’ They were ever so polite with their gestures, to say that I was a complete stranger to them.
Later, I realized that I was cycling around Mandalay Hill. This was 240 metres high, so it is hard to miss. It is famed for having an abundance of pagodas and monasteries scattered up its stairways (saungdans), this was the hill that had a temple on its upper peak, which had been my original destination.
I reached a car park, and a sort of market area, where I parked my bicycle up using the wheel lock as opposed to a chain. Then I risked leaving my bicycle there, I started to climb up the steps towards the temple summit.
As I went up I kept passing romantic teenage couples lingering there gazing romantically into each other’s eyes.
The stone steps went on and on, luckily all under cover from the harshness of the elements, up and up I went, catching my breath as I went, it was just a good job I was fit. Determined to get to the top as quick as possible I carried on at a challenging pace.
I reached the halfway mark. There in front of me was a temple, complex, a small one so I had to remove my sandals and walk across the floor barefooted.
The next part of me accent seemed to be steeper, as the pathway zig-zagged the contours of the hillside. Once at the top the view from the Su Taung Pyi Pagoda was relatively good, luckily the sun’s haze had not yet reached its climax so one could see for miles.
In some places, they might charge you for taking photographs. The young lady who approached me stated that I needed to pay 1,000 K. So, I parted with the money and continued in my photographing of this landscape. I got some strange looks by people, was it the hat that I was wearing, or was it more to do with the fact that I was wearing shorts, even though I been given the OK for wearing them.
From Mandalay Hill, you could just make out the Royal Palace, but the heat haze was now intensifying. Mandalay certainly looked different, from what I could see of it.
In these temple complexes, it is considered respectful to remove your footwear and walk around barefooted. Thankfully, the floor tiles hadn’t had the chance to bake yet, so the soles of my feet did not feel like they were cooking. Now I had the delight of descending down the 700 odd steps to the bottom.
Once at the bottom I located my bike and shortly afterwards I set off cycling back from where I’d come from, in the that I would be able to drop the bike off and get back before it got dark.