It is a rather disagreeable town-it is dusty and intolerably hot,and is said to have five main products beginning with P,namely, pagodas, pariahs, pigs, priests and prostitutes.
So said George Orwell of Mandalay (in his early novel Burmese Days) ,when he was here in his real life of Eric Blair, a colonial policeman in British Burma. The pagodas and priests are actually Buddhist temples and monks, and there are still plenty of both here, even more than in Thailand. I have not seen any of the others, but it is dusty. I thought it would be cooler here, as Mandalay is quite a bit further north than Chiang Mai, which itself is noticeably cooler than Bangkok, but no, it is quite warm here even in “winter” so it would be hot for the pukka sahibs of Orwell’s time. I flew here direct with AirAsia, about 90 minute flight from Bangkok. AirAsia have a free shuttle bus into town but they do not publicise that on their website when booking nor on board the plane so I only found out after paying for a share-taxi ride. But at only 4000 kyat, around 4$US, for a half hour trip direct to my hotel it is probably the best option anyway. Driving into town you pass many of these “pagodas” in the fields and on the hillsides. They are not pagodas such as the towers in China or Japan, but bell shaped like Nepalese stupas or Thai Chedi. The British name has stuck though, and pagoda is used on the tourist signs. Pagoda, temple, Chedi, stupa or whatever, there are plenty of them, covered in blinding white plaster or gold paint. And walking around town I have spotted a couple of Hindu temples, a Sikh one, a mosque, a Catholic Church, and even a Seven Day Adventists one too !
(Edit, after going to dinner tonight I’ve found another Hindu temple and an Anglican church)
The town itself is dirty and noisy, with vehicles of all sorts from cycle rickshaws and motorcycles to rickety old trucks and buses all honking horns and ringing bells. The footpaths are just about unusable, either full of potholes, covered with parked motorcycles, or are partly covered open drains…definitely third world. There is virtually no street lighting so you have to walk on the road at night or risk falling into one of the drains 😦 The outskirts of town, around Mandalay Hill where many of the oldest temples are is better, at least you can walk on the grass verge. Some tourists hire bikes to get around, but with this traffic I am not that brave, I will either walk or get a motorcycle taxi.
It does n’t sound very attractive, but the place has it’s charms. Just do not come here expecting western infrastructure and comforts !
As Rudyard Kipling said, “This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about (Letters from the East,1898)
In olden times, Burma had seven capitals around here, all only a few miles apart. Apparently the new kings always wanted to start afresh ? After all, they did have plenty of slave labour to use. I’ve been here 3 days now and seen all I want to visit here. I’ve made merit by climbing Mandalay Hill to see the pagoda on top, all 650 odd steps barefoot 😦 Not something that I will want to do again soon ! I hope that I did get some merit out of it, because it is not worth doing for the view …. too smoggy. Tomorrow I am off to Bagan, yet another of the ancient capitals of Burma. That is a day’s ferry ride downriver. The Internet here is painfully slow, it took several attempts just to upload one picture for this post so other pics will have to wait. Until then …….