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2007 Biking Burma

Mandalay

Mandalay was built in the mid-1800s by Burma’s penultimate king, Mindon. It has a population of 1,2 million. During the three days we spent there we encountered only one traffic light. There are no road markings and no stop or yield signs at the intersections. Learning to negotiate the free-for-all traffic on our bikes was quite a challenge.

Around the old palace walls (now enclosing an army barracks) are cynical and sinister billboards warning:

Tatmadaw [army] and the people in eternal unity anyone attempting to divide them is our enemy

Only when the tatmadaw is strong will the nation be strong

Tatmadaw and the people co-operate and crush all those harming the union.

At Kyauktawgyi Temple we saw a massive Buddha carved in the mid-1800s from a single block of marble. It took 10,000 men 13 days to transport the marble to the temple.

At Kuthodaw Temple we visited the “World’s Biggest Book” – the Tripitaka (Buddhist scriptures) inscribed on 729 marble slabs. The book version comprises 38 volumes of 400 pages each. Here a young woman painted my cheeks with tanaka bark – used by women and children as protection from the sun.

We watched the sun set over the “Road to Mandalay”, in fact the Ayeyarwady River, which runs west of the city. It is 2000 km long, of which 1500 km is navigable.

We marvelled at the wood carvings at Shwenandaw Kyaung. King Mindon died in this building which was subsequently removed from the palace enclave to its current site by his son, Burma’s last king, Thibaw. All the other palace buildings were later destroyed during WWII. Thibaw was exiled to India by the British after the third Anglo-Burmese war when Burma was declared a province of British India.

We were fascinated by the gold leaf workshop where gold strips are beaten by hand to the thickness of ink on paper. The men work a 12-hour day, beating for 6, resting between for 6. The ink-thin gold is used for gilding temples and Buddha images.

Mandalay palace
Mandalay palace
Kyauktawgyi Paya
Kyauktawgyi Paya
Kuthodaw Paya
Kuthodaw Paya
Kuthodaw Paya
Kuthodaw Paya
Kuthodaw Paya
Kuthodaw Paya
Kuthodaw Paya
Kuthodaw Paya
Mandalay
Mandalay
Road to Mandalay - Ayeryawady River
Road to Mandalay - Ayeryawady River
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