Mandalay

Rudyard Kipling wrote: ...them spicy garlic smells, An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells; On the road to Mandalay... Our particularly Road to Mandalay was a night bus which swerved back and forth over hills for seven hours, arriving at 3am. Not quite as poetic an image. There may have been a garlic smell though... Knocking on random hotel doors at 4am, waking up the receptionists (or rather whoever was asleep next to the front door) and being turned away from several places didn't help the mood, nor did the penny-pinching nature of a French guy that we were attempting to help. We did eventually find a hotel, lost the Frenchman (apparently the standard Myanmar hotel prices are far too high for him), and then got some well-earned recovery sleep... Day One We only really regained any form of useful consciousness after lunchtime, and rolled out of the hotel to get some food at a nearby restaurant (sadly average and forgettable). Looking at things to do in the city quickly boiled down to two main sights which were, in my dubious estimation of relative locations, within walking distance - Mandalay Palace and Mandalay Hill. We reached the surrounding moat fairly quickly - this is more of a giant hollow rectangular lake than a moat, being 64m wide and 2km to a side - though the walk round the edge to the palace entrance on the far side proved to be a substantial trek, and the day was unsurprisingly hot. I did have a minor hissy-fit when the ticket office returned the $20 bill I tried to use as payment, due to a tiny 1mm tear at the top. Burmese bank notes look and smell like they've been used as toilet paper, so their insistence on pristine foreign notes beggars belief. The palace grounds are partially used as a military base, and so access to the palace itself was limited to a single road along the middle of the compound, and a loop around the palace itself. And the palace? Hmmm. The original would undoubtedly have been incredible - built in the 1850's primarily from teak, it was to be the centrepiece for a new capital city. Unfortunately during WWII the Japanese used it as a supply depot, so the British bombed it to the ground. The current palace was built in the last twenty years, and while the reconstruction attempted to be faithful to the original, the corrugated iron roofs, concrete, and generally shoddy building standards just made it feel a bit more like a purpose-built tourist attraction rather than a part of the country's history.
Moat around Mandalay Palace

Moat around Mandalay Palace

Sun setting in the haze at Mandalay Hill

Sun setting in the haze at Mandalay Hill

Mandalay Hill is the highest point in the city, and is home to many temples and pagodas. The climb up the 1729 steps of the southern stairway is said to be a 'meritorious' venture, and so we chose that route rather than a moto-taxi to the top. It did take some time and effort to get up there, although the frequent stops at the temples along the way did provide welcome rest. Once at the top, we could see... well, not very far really, as the ever-present smoke occluded the view of the city in the distance. The sun setting was an angry orange ball, glowing through the haze, which would clearly disappear from view well before it hit the horizon. I was approached by a couple of university students who wanted to practice their English - Mandalay Hill appears to be a popular spot for this kind of thing, as there were quite a number of groups of tourists with attached locals. Daniel (and I to some extent) were slightly suspicious of their motives, but in the end, after chatting about their terrible music tastes (Westlife - really?) on the way back down, they thanked us and left. No attempt to sell, steal or otherwise take advantage of us - a pleasant surprise. After about 10km walking, and in fading light, Daniel persuaded me to get on a moto-taxi for the ride back to the hotel. My first time in a city, and as terrifying as I'd expected, despite the simple route that we took. I definitely needed some beer as reward!
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