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Mandalay City was founded by King Mindon Min in 1857. Although relatively young compared to some other cities in Myanmar, it is the second largest city in the country, with population of around 1, 2 million residents.
The city was built according to the Buddhist traditions and is now a cultural, religious and touristic center of Myanmar. Around 300 000 monks live in and around Mandalay City, making it some kind of a pilgrimage focus primarily for Buddhists of Myanmar. It had been the country’s capital until the British conquest of Upper Myanmar in 1885, when the capital was moved to Yangon, and it remained there till today.
This didn’t contribute to the decline of its importance, especially for the northern part of the country, where it remains the biggest, most populated, most visited and most developed city. Thanks to the rapid rising of trading volume with China, with the most important route for this-the Lashio Road- starting in Mandalay City, it is experiencing a fast growth rate concerning economy and living standards. It is also, undoubtedly, the most important port of the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) River.
Not settling with this much, Mandalay with its surroundings is also a center of various crafts, as well as trading center for gems, most notably jade stones. The famous Mandalay’s Jade market is a place where vivid trading with gems is done every day, starting from an early morning. Items which tourists also like to buy in the area are embroidered tapestries and traditional puppets. Speaking of puppets, one of the most famous attractions of Mandalay is its Marionette Puppets Show.
What to see in Mandalay?
Mandalay City has an abundance of impressive pagodas, temples, and a monumental Mandalay Palace and Fort, one of the first buildings built here. The city’s surroundings also have a lot to offer to visitors, starting from the Mandalay and Yankin Hills, the cities of Amarapura, Inwa, Sagaing, Monywa, and the village of Mingun.
Amarapura- The ‘City of Immortality’ founded in 1783. It is now known for its production of first class silk products. Besides residues of the old pagodas and monasteries, the city is best known for the U Bein Bridge, which was built in 1851, using 1060 logs. It is the oldest log bridge still in everyday use in the world. Kyauktawgyi Pagoda is located 180 yards from the bridge, dating back to 1847. The third famous sight in Amarapura is the Maha Ganayon Monastery, known for its monks queuing up for lunch, with hundreds of tourists taking pictures of this happening.
Inwa- known to most tourists by the name Ava, or Ratnapura, this man-made island was also the capital of Burma. The sights worth visiting on Inwa are Bagayar Monastery, Nanmyin Watchtower, and Maha Aung Myay Bonzan (monastery). Bagayar Monastery dates back from 1834, it is supported by 267 logs made of teak, and has beautiful carvings placed in front of the monastery. Nanmyin Watchtower is about 25 meters high and is leaning due to the earthquake damage, and is therefore known as “the Leaning Tower of Inwa”. Maha Aung Myay Bonzan Monastery is one of the rare brick monasteries, constructed in 1822. It was also damaged in the 1838 earthquake, but it survived thanks to its brick construction.
Sagaing- another ex-capital of Myanmar. It is most famous for hosting around 500 pagodas and monasteries, making it a Mecca for Buddhist monks from all over the country. Must-see attractions in Sagaing include the Sagaing Hill and Kaungh Mu Daw Pagoda. Sagaing Hill hides within itself numerous monasteries and pagodas, and is considered the meditation centre of Myanmar. Kaungh Mu Daw Pagoda (Kaunghmudaw Pagoda) was built in 1636, and is most famous for its enormous white dome. The pagoda is said to house a tooth relic of the Buddha and miracle-working emerald bowl from Bago.
Mingun- this village also offers a lot to the visitors: the Mingun Pagoda, Pondaw Pagoda, and the famous Mingun Bell. Mingun Pagoda was designed to be the world’s largest pagoda. It was supposed to be more than 170 meters high, but the construction was stopped for an unknown reason, and it only reached less than 50 meters. The 90 ton bell is the largest, un-cracked bell in the world, 5 meters across and 4 high. Visitors like to crouch and get inside it.
Monywa- a small city on the east bank of the Chindwin River, whose main attractions lay on the outskirts of the town. Thanboddhay Pagoda was built in 1958, although the construction began in 1939. It was paused due to the WWII. It is famous for hosting 582,357 Buddha images, large and small. Bodhi Tataung is a complex featuring a collection of more than 1000 Buddhas. The main Aung Setkya Pagoda has a 430 feet, gilded stupa surrounded by 1060 smaller ones.