07.10.2013 - 08.10.2013
MONDAY 7th OCTOBER
I got up early again for my flight to Mandalay. The airport was supposedly a new one but, if so, a very old design was used. For only the second time in all my travels anywhere, the first being in the Philippines, baggage tags were collected from passengers after they’d collected their luggage though what the purpose was I cannot imagine but I suppose it gives several people a job.
I met my new guide and driver and they took me to the first stop which was the 1.2km long U Bein footbridge which was built using the salvaged unwanted teak columns from the old palace during the move from Amarapura to Mandalay in the years after 1857. The bridge spans the Taungthaman Lake and is believed to be the longest teak bridge in the world.
Then we drove to a large monastery with some 1,300 monks to see them lining up in the road waiting for the clock to strike noon and then walking in single file, each clutching their alms bowl, which will be filled with rice and vegetable curry. Every lunch like this is sponsored usually by a local family or business. For some reason this daily ritual has become something of a tourist attraction and there were probably as many of them as there were monks though in my photos I have tried to exclude the former.
My guide and I each took a trishaw ride to Shwe Nandaw Kyaung, or Golden Palace Monastery since the whole building was originally gilded. The building was originally part of the palace at Amarapura but was moved to Mandalay become a royal apartment for King Mindon who died in the royal bedchamber on 1st October 1878. His son, King Thibaw, had it dismantled after his father’s death and it was reconstructed on a site outside the palace complex. It was that decision which saved it because the royal palace was destroyed by allied bombing during WW2 when it was known as Fort Dufferin.
Today, it is the only remaining teak structure from the original royal palace and it is amazingly intricate with many excellent carvings. To help preserve the woodwork it has been painted with creosote though, now, an American Foundation has pledged US$500,000 as well as expertise to help preserve the whole building for the future.
We then went to see what’s billed as The World’s Biggest Book, at Kuthodaw Pagoda, though it is not a book as such. King Mindon was responsible for ordering the construction of 729 large marble tablets each containing an engraved page from the Tipitaka Canon of Theravada Buddhism plus one extra tablet explaining how it all came about thus making a total of 1460 pages.
Work began in 1860 and the text was exhaustively checked by senior monks and pay officials and scribes carefully copied the text onto the marble for the stonemasons. As you’ll see the writing is small and densely packed with 80-100 lines on each side of each tablet. Each tablet was housed in a separate white stupa and all 730 stupas were arranged in neat rows around a central golden pagoda. The whole enterprise was completed and opened to the public in May 1868.
Later we climbed to the top of Mandalay Hill (790feet) even though it was raining lightly the view was still wonderful. We had to take our shoes off to make the ascent which seemed rather pointless to me as we were not visiting a monastery or coming close to a Buddha image. At the top there was a small memorial commemorating the lives of the many Ghurkas who died storming the hill with was then held by the Japanese.
Just before dusk we went to Shwe Kyin monastery to witness the monks being called to prayers. At the sound of a wooden gong lines of monks appeared and they walked single file and chanting in unison to the prayer house. My guide and I were the only visitors. It was here that I discovered my Nikon camera had no power even though I had a fully charged spare battery. It was really annoying as I knew that Bangkok would be the only place to get it properly repaired.
It took nearly an hour to get to the Ayeyarwaddy (Irawaddy) River View Hotel where I checked in. I had a good view of the river but there is very little river traffic these days. At dinner an Australian couple invited me to join them which made for a pleasant evening and the food was far better than I expected.
TUESDAY 8th OCTOBER
My guide was a bit late this morning and I had to wait almost 30 minutes in the lobby before he appeared. He is ok and very knowledgeable but lacks humour and empathy and isn’t always courteous like the previous two guides I have had.
We drove out to Maymyo, a former hill station in the mountains, now known as Pyin Oo Lwin. A military outpost, established in 1896, it later became a permanent hill station for the whole of Burma and was named after Col. May, a veteran of the Indian Mutiny; the name literally means May’s Town. It was at this hill station that my maternal grandmother was born in 1891 her father, William Alfred Roussac, having been appointed Post Office Inspector there two years earlier.
It rained this morning which I thought would mean a miserable visit to the mountains but it eased off a bit during the two hour drive and didn’t affect the tour at all. About forty minutes after leaving Mandalay we paused at a place where flower buyers and sellers come to do business. There were small trucks piled high with Chrysanthemums which seemed to be the main flower now in season but there were some roses too.
When we arrived at Maymyo we headed straight for the market and we wandered around it being constantly amazed at the huge range of goods, foods and other stuff on sale. As ever in such markets there were a great many vegetables on display but had it been the summer the market would have been full of the many fruits that grow in the region because of the cooler 3,510ft climate.
There were many colonial relics in the town including the Purcell Tower which was one of the very few made by Gillette and Johnston in 1934 to commemorate King George V’s Silver Jubilee and was a gift from Queen Victoria. A similar clock and tower were also given to Cape Town, South Africa.
Maymyo is less like anywhere else in Myanmar and more like parts of Surrey with its abundance of old colonial houses nestling among mature trees, country cottages and tea shops. Unlike Surrey though, the main mode of local transport is horse drawn carriages which operate like taxis.
We visited the Forestry Museum which is in the same building of old with a very knowledgeable curator. The museum was less about forestry and more about a collection of stuffed animals with examples of Burmese wildlife which were mildly interesting. Leaving the building I spotted a couple of large trees covered in scarlet flowers but I am not sure what they were...any ideas ?
We took a bumpy horse and carriage ride to the National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens which were laid out by Sir Harcourt Butler, former Governor of Burma. We had a very interesting walk around most sections of the gardens as you can see in the photos. We also visited Candacraig the colonial-era house made famous by Paul Theroux in The Great Railway Bazaar and is now a government run guesthouse. Apparently very few people stay there and there was no problem about going inside to see the magnificent staircase and views of the gardens.
Dinner was back at the hotel in Mandalay and was very pleasant though not on a par with other dinners so far.
COMING SOON......THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE WHOLE TOUR.......NOT TO BE MISSED ON ANY ACCOUNT!!