Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mandalay Impressions: Between Pilgrims to a very holy Buddha Image and the unholy Chinese Hunger for Jade

See the locations on Mandalay Myanmar Google Map

Picture by Roger Price
Morning on Mandalay street in 2004

If you would have come to Mandalay ten years ago, you would have discovered a quiet town: very few outdated cars on the streets, some bicycles, many people walking. If you arrive in Mandalay today, you find yourself in a bustling city full of motorbikes, many new cars, crowded streets and advertisements everywhere - and trishaws have become a rare view.

Picture by marhas
78th street seen from Diamond Plaza in 2014

But Mandalay remains a town, where traditional beliefs and modern life are joining in a melting pot of flavours, colors and cultures, of Chinese, Indian, and Burmese influences. Get a first impression by Aung Myats video 48 hours in Mandalay.

The most famous Buddha Image, temples and monasteries

Mahamuni Paya: Maha Myat Muni Paya is Myanmar's second holiest pilgrimage site. It is a 4-metre high Buddha statue, made of bronze, covered with gold and decorated with jewels. According to ancient tradition there are only five likenesses of the Buddha, made during his lifetime; two were in India, two in paradise, and the fifth is the Mahamuni Buddha image in Myanmar. The legend says the Buddha visited the Dhanyawadi city of Arakan in 554 before Christ. Sanda Thuriya requested that an image was cast of him. For this the Buddha sat under a Bodhi tree for a week of meditation. After the Great Image had been casted, the Buddha breathed on it. After this the image became the exact likeness of the Mahamuni. Read more. Tipp: See the monks washing the Mahamuni Buddha and brushing his teeth every morning at 4 am.

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Early morning at Maha Muni Pagoda

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Facewashing ritual every morning at four o'clock

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Bronze figure

In a side building you see people touching bronze statues: Khmer bronze statues in Bayon style. According to legend rubbing a part of the images will cure a malady at the corresponding part of the own body. There is a Dvarapala (guardian) in royal outfit. It shows features of Shiva, like the frontal eye. It is, beyond the fragment of a reclining Vishnu in the National Museum Phnom Penh, the second-biggest known Khmer bronze. Then there are two lion rumps and a statue of Airavan, the three-headed elephant. How did these statues arrive in Mandalay? It is a war history. In 1431 the Siamese sacked Angkor and took thirty statues to their capital Ayutthaya. In 1564 the Mons sacked Ayutthaya and took the statues to their capital Pegu (Bago). In 1663 The Rakhaing (Arakan) sacked Pegu and took the statues to their capital Mrauk U (Myohang). In 1785 the Burmese conquered Mrauk U and brought the statues, together wirth the Mahamuni Buddha image, to their capital Amarapura. In 1884 some statues were damaged by fire. And King Thihaw had most of them melted to cannons. So today there are only six statues left.

Kyauktawgyi Paya: The pagoda of the Great Marble Image can be found near the southern entry to Mandalay Hill. It was constructed between 1853 and 1878. Here you discover a huge seated Buddha image sculpted from a single block of pale green marble. As notes it took 10'000 to 12'000 men thirteen days to transport the stone block from the Ayeyarwady to the site of the pagoda where it was carved. A covered corridor leads to the structure housing the Buddha. On each of the four sides there are twenty shrines with figures representing the arhats, the eighty Great Disciples of the Buddha. Each October one of the largest festivals is held at the Kyauktawgyi Paya.

Picture by Mat Maessen

Sandamuni Paya: At the southeast foot of Mandalay Hill it contains Sandamani, the world's largest iron Buddha image, cast by King Bodawpay in 1802 and brought by King Mindon from Amarapura to Sandamuni pagoda in 1874. The iron has been covered with gold foil attached by believers over the decades. Then you find here a large number of whitewashed stupas. They contain 1774 marble slabs inscribed with the Tripitaka, the Buddhist scriptures. Each is 5.5 feet high and 3.5 feett wide and 5 feet thick, as orientalarchitecture notes. You may call these the worlds largest book.

Picture by gorbulas_sandybanks

Picture by gorbulas_sandybanks
Atthakatha Chedis

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Ceiling at Sandamuni Pagoda.

Kuthodaw Paya:

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The main entrance

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Picture by dany13

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Picture by Allan Grey
Wall mosaic

Shwenandaw Kyaung Temple: Shwenandaw Monastery (built 1880) is made entire out of teak wood with beautiful carvings of Buddhist myths on walls and roofs. It was originally part of the royal palace built by King Mingdon in Amarapura and moved to its current location by his son, King Thibaw, in the late 19th century. It is the only major building from the original wooden royal palace, that has survived the bombing during World War II. Read more on

Picture by marhas

Picture by marhas

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Picture by marhas

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Atumashi Monastery: Formally Maha Atulawaiyan Kyaungdawgyi. It was built in 1857 by King Mindon, but burned down in 1890 after a fire. In 1996 the Burmese archaeological department reconstructed it with prison labor.

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Shwe In Bin Kyaung: A monastery built in 1895 by Chinese jade merchants. Its tiered roof is covered with exquisite carvings.

Picture by Matt Werner

Picture by Matt Werner

Picture by Matt Werner

Picture by Guillén Pérez

West Kone Yoe Central Mosque:

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Melting Gold in Mandalay

In all the temples you see the Buddhist people putting gold leaves - called Shwe Cha in Burmese - to the Buddha images to make merits. At Mahamuni Paya only men are allowed to do this. The gold leaves are sold at the temples. The making of gold leaves used to be concentrated in the Myatpa Yat quarter of Mandalay. And it was restricted to a few families. Several households were involed in the process of melting gold blocks, as Leo Paul Dana describes in his book "When Economies Change Paths". The melted gold is poured into a vessel. Then bullions are produced and flattened. Then craftsmen beat them to sheets of gold. "Men hit the blocks of wood where the gold is embedded and that original, small, thin piece of gold yields thousands of sheets of gold foil. I think I’d have the energy to sledge-hammer it about 3 times, I don’t know how they do it for hours every day", narrates From A to Zim. See this video.

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Gold pounding

Picture by Kirk Siang

Mandalay Hill

Mandalay Hill: 230 meters high. Along its paths and at its top you find several monasteries and temples.

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Picture by Thomas Z H Zhu

The Royal Palace that was bombed and reconstruted with Forced Labour

Mandalay Royal Palace (Mya Nan San Kyaw): A reconstruction. The palace was a walled city inside Mandalay. It was built in 1861 by King Mindon, but later destroyed in World War II. It was renovated with forced labour. The materials used were not faithful to the original (metal was use instead of teak wood).

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Picture by Szaller

Picture by marhas

Picture by isriya

Picture by marhas

Picture by marhas

Picture by isriya
Mandalay Palace Moat

The big Jade and Gem Business

Jade Market / Mahar Aung Myay Gems Dealer's Market: Between 39th Street and 40th Street, between 87th Street and 88th Street. The place to go for jade, rubies and other gemstones, Myanmars biggest jade and gem market. Many buyers are Chinese. "And almost all of the gemstones would end up smuggled to China", reports South China Morning Post. Myanmar exported jade worth US$6 to US$9 billion in 2011 – more than twice the country’s reported exports to China in 2013, according to a study released by the Harvard University Ash Centre for Democratic Governance and Innovation in the United States. Read more background about the jade business in Myanmar on Myanmar Insider News.

Read: Mandalay's gem, jade traders fight market move. Plans for a gem market being constructed around Sinywa Myinmhu village in Amarapura township are forced by the regional governemtn, read here. There is a jade pagoda unter construction (see video). But the opposition by the gem traders is strong (read here). End of December 2014 tens of thousands of jade workers and dealers took to the streets on Tuesday to protest, as The Nation reported.
See videos by Federico Barlocher 1 and 2. Read more on

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Clear jade or green jade? Both extremely expensive.

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Traditional and modern Shopping

Zay Cho Market: Also Zegyo Market. Between 84th Street and 86th Street and between 26th Street and 28th Street. The market consists of many street shops and retail stores with handicrafts (silver ware, marble anf wood carvings), furniture, garments and jewelry.

Picture by Thomas Z H Zhu

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Dry fish market:

Picture by Sandro_Lacarbona

Kai Tan Market: 28th Street, between 86th Street and 87th Street. The five-storey market built in 1997 sells food-related items, from vegetable and fruits on the ground floor to fish on the second floor.

Thiri Mandalar Market: Between 22th and 23th streets ten buildings house more than 2300 shops. "Everything you can think of that is grown, sewn, or crafted in the rural regions straddling the Irrawaddy River ends up on the shelves of this trade hotspot", notes

Diamond Plaza: 34th street, between 77th and 78th street. The shopping mall with Ocean supermarket in the basement and a cinema has opened in Dezember 2012 on the site of the old Yadanarpon Market, which was destroyed by a fire in February 2008. Myanmar Book Centre is here. American, European, Chinese, Korean and Japanese food can be found on the top floor.

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78 Shopping Mall: On 78th street. Opened in 2007. One of the first shopping malls in Mandalay. Longtime popular with young people because of the Happy World Amusement Centre on the fourth floor and the retail outlets with branded clothes and also more reasonably priced gear. Open from 9am to 9pm. Read about the construction.

Gem Palace: No. 376, Corner of 33th Street and 83th Street. Precious stones, timepieces, eyewear and sterling silver pieces.

Mandalay Riverside
Picture by Heribert Duling
Washing day at Ayeyarwaddy River

Good to know when in Mandalay

Credit Cards: Commercial Bank on 78th Street will issue cash against credit cards. One credit card can withdraw three hundred thousands kyats per time, up to three times a day = 900,000 kyats per day.
ATM of KBZ Bank now accept international Credit Cards (Mastercard, Visa, Maestro, Cirrus). ATM inside Hotel Yadanarbon accepts Visa card.

The Chinese Influence in Mandalay

Chinese in Mandalay: Here you will meet much less Western tourists than in Yangon. Read: A trickle of foreigners follow the road to Mandalay. In Mandalay you can discover a lot of Chinese influence. The so called Burma Road from the China border city Muse ends in Mandalay. In the markets of Mandalay many goods from China are sold. Some statistics indicate, that 30 to 40 percent of the population of Mandalay is of Chinese origin. These statistics could be right, if you include a Sino-Myanmar population that has been living in Myanmar for generations and has intermarried with local ethnic groups. Read more: From Kunming to Mandalay: The New "Burma Road". You find many shop signs and advertisements in Chinese, as has been desribed here: China's sway runs deep in Myanmar's ancient capital

Hall of Yunnan Association: See picture by jlguo. There is also the Yunnan Hall Gymnasium Association – the official title of an group of dancing aunties. These mostly middle-aged and senior women meet regularly to dance for two hours and they often perform for events such as weddings and business openings in the city’s Chinese community (read more).

Picture by Wagaung
The Yunnanese Buddhist Temple and Association

Mandalay in literature: Read "The Glass Palace" by Indian writer Amitav Ghosh. The novel, that starts in Mandalay, is set in Burma, Bengal, India, and Malaya. It spans a century from the fall of the Konbaung Dynasty in Mandalay through the Second World War to modern times.

See this video:
taikwongmor or Travelogue of 3 days in Mandalay and all the fascinating wonders of that fabled city!

Read more:
Mandalay Hotel Picks: Reviews by guests
Mandalay Restaurant Picks
Get around in Mandalay by Taxi
Amarapura - the City of Immortality and U Bein Bridge: A day trip from Mandalay
River Cruises from Mandalay to Bagan and Mingun
From Mandalay by train to Gokteik and one of the longest viaducts of the world across a canyon
Everyday Mandalay: Guide Khaing Gyi walks with you along the riverbanks and through small lanes or through the Gold District. Khaing Gyi is recommended here.

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