River to Mandalay

There is an aura of romance about the Myanmar city of Mandalay. Perhaps because it was written about by Rudyard Kipling, or because it was the subject of a popular Hollywood film starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

Mandalay is, in fact, the second largest city in Myanmar, and a very important commercial and cultural city on the mighty Irrawaddy River.

The city is one which can trace its beginning to a specific date, 13 February, 1857 when the ruler of the time King Mindon decided to found his new royal capital at the base of Mandalay Hill in order to adequately celebrate the 2,400th jubilee of Buddhism.

One of the city’s best attractions is the Royal Palace, which was constructed mainly from teak that has been gilded with gold. The palace is built as a perfect square within fortified high walls with ramparts and the beautiful deep moat. Although much of the palace was destroyed by fire during World War II much of it has been rebuilt.

Mandalay is also the home of the world’s biggest book. This is not a book in the traditional sense, but a series of carved stupas which form part of the Kuthodaw Pagoda. Inside the grounds of the pagoda, which is itself very impressive, are 729 annexes which have been formed within the stupas, an each annexe contains a large marble slab that has been inscribed with gold lettering with text from the Tipitaka, which recounts the entire canon of Theravada Buddhism.

Mandalay actually consists of five townships, which can be best seen from the top of Mandalay Hill.

The city is located 716 kilometres (445 miles) north of Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon, and is connected by good air and rail and bus services. If you wish to experience the Irrawaddy, which is one of the world’s great rivers, there are now some excellent cruise ships plying the river.

About half of Myanmar’s Buddhist monks, and there are a considerable number of them, live in and around Mandalay. Its religious significance is obvious by the number of pagodas and temples that can be seen there, which has been estimated to number over 700.

Mandalay is a city of contrasts as apart from the monks, who take a vow of poverty, the city is thought to have Myanmar’s biggest number of millionaires and trade and commerce is a very important part of life there. For a city that was originally built on religious principles, Mandalay has progressed to be the economic powerhouse of the newly-emerging Myanmar.

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