Preceded by associations of a rich and exotic past, Mandalay’s name resonates well beyond the borders of the country. The last royal capital of Burma and the country’s second largest city, Mandalay is considered the main economic hub of Upper Burma and is rich in Burmese culture, arts, artisans and architecture, as well as a cultural and religious centre for Buddhism in the country. Mandalay Hill, from which the city takes its name, is considered a holy mount as Lord Buddha, on his visit, made a prophecy that a great city would be formed at its foot, a prophecy fulfilled by King Mindon. At 230 metres high, the hill is a great spot for sun set, affording fantastic views over the city, Shan mountains and the Ayeyarwaddy River. The city also has one of Myanmar’s most revered depictions of the Buddha, the Mahamuni image. The Buddha himself is said to have breathed on to the just-finished image, giving it some of the Buddha’s power. The highly revered image’s face is lovingly washed every morning and offerings water, food, flowers, candles and incense are presented. Elsewhere, within Kuthodaw Pagoda can be found what is known as the ‘World’s Largest Book’, 729 upright marble slabs containing the complete Buddhist Scriptures on them. The vast Mandalay Palace was destroyed by allied bombing during WWII but has been rebuilt in recent years and visitors can now visit its grounds. Mandalay’s positioning also means it’s a great base for sightseeing trips to other ancient royal capitals, including Sagaing, Ava (Inwa) and Amarapura.
Amarapura: Once a city of some 170,000 inhabitants, Amarapura (‘City of Immortals’), is now just a quiet southern suburb of Mandalay. The town is well known for its numerous workshops where bronze foundries and woodcarvers creating devotional objects for the markets of Mandalay, and the looms of cotton and silk weavers produce fine longyis. Nearby U Bein Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world is perhaps the most unique attraction. The bridge, constructed using 1700 vast teak pillars, stretches 1.2 kilometre over fertile fields and is still, over two centuries after it was built, an integral part of the community with hundreds of locals and monks making their way back and forth across it daily. The bridge is particularly popular at sunset as it provides a famous photo opportunity as the sun sinks behind the chunky pillars of the bridge.
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