Mandalay, Myanmar, February 2016

I just haven’t been able to upload photos. But, as a friend said, chin up and feet forward! The days go on and we’ve been having so many adventures. We have been in India over 2 weeks and I keep writing, so I wanted to post even though photos will have to be loaded later.

After all night on the train bench, we staggered into Mandalay from the train station and, hoping for the best, asked a taxi driver to take us to one of the hotels we had on our list. We found ourselves in the back of a truck-like taxi with all of our luggage, bumping along dusty, busy roads crowded with cars and motorbikes. Motorbikes! Those sneaky between-the-lane vehicles that made crossing the street treacherous in Bangkok but had been pleasantly absent in Yangon. Happily no one was hurt, but a motorbike was to shape our Mandalay experience for the worse.

The hotel was fine, and I for one took a nap. Later, I noticed our room was actually quite nice with large windows and a little balcony. Breakfast was included, which seems standard in Myanmar, and this one was really good- sweet milk tea, fruit, eggs, toast and homemade donuts! They actually gave us breakfast that first day, since we were there so early, in addition to letting us check in early and sleep 6 in a 3-bed room. So, a great hotel for us!  

 Later, we walked around the area and found that we were in a warren of dust and rock streets, near a large vegetable market and a temple called Eindawya.   

  In the mornings we saw monks in crimson robes, unlike the Thai orange-robed monks. Also unlike Thailand, we saw many female monks. They wear pink and white and we often heard them singing as they went alms collecting. There was a small school in a traditional wooden building across the street, and the kids were invited to class. There were local kids everywhere, plus a few at the hotel, so our kids enjoyed the neighborhood. We walked to the paved streets in the downtown area and found a simple Indian restaurant and a nearby ice cream shop and had a great dinner.

Our next few days we did a little sight seeing. We went to a restaurant on the river that has traditional puppet shows. We had a taxi tour to a temple with domesticated stag deer and later to the gold pounding part of town. The stag temple had a lovely temple grounds which included a golden cave shrine and a stag with large horns. The kids fed the stag, as did many visitors. Like many temples we have seen, it had several staircases to access the top and also it functions as a small community with houses, people cooking and doing laundry, with all of this surrounded by fantastical painted statues and people bowing and praying. I am always amazed by the mixing of sacred and ordinary- everywhere in Asia there are monks walking around towns and people having a picnic lunch near the Buddha statues in temples. It is so different from my experience growing up Catholic and having distinct spheres of church and then separately, the rest of life. 

Back in town, the gold pounder area featured men wielding large hammers and flattening pieces of gold into a thin foil, which is gold leaf. This takes several rounds of pounding, the last of which takes five hours! The foils are sold and used by Buddhists to decorate Buddha statues at shrines. We visited one where this was taking place. The Buddha there had about six inches of the gold leaf everywhere except the face, which we read is ritually polished every day at 4am. Only men were allowed to place the gold leaf on the Buddha, as women watched outside a gate and on video screens. The place was packed with Buddhists taking part in the activity. 

Mr. Fantastic and I rented a motorbike one day and saw a few temples. We saw a replica of the famous golden rock shrine (Kyaiktiyo pagoda). We rode near the walled palace and out towards a famous wooden bridge, but didn’t make it to the bridge. This ride had started out well but took a turn for the worse when the motorbike was stolen! We spent several hours with a crowd of monks (it was stolen at a temple), the owner, and two types of police (tourist police and city police). We went to the police station where uniformed officers apologized for their countrymen and served us tea. There was a long conversation between the police and the owner; I think they were discussing the need for us to be present at a trial. We had time constraints of crossing the border to India on a specific day, so we couldn’t stay too long. We ended up paying about $450 to the owner- could have been worse but what a budget killer for us!- to replace the bike. It had partly been our fault since we had left the keys in the ignition. But come on! It had been inside temple gates, and was left for only 15 minutes before we realized we had left the keys. Unfortunately, for us, Mandalay will always be tied to that event, though the city really was nice and the people and food and sights really were great. We were ready to continue towards Tamu and the Indian border, so we headed north to Monywa.

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