On the road to Mandalay
A very early start this morning as we leave the hotel (with breakfast boxes in hand) to drive to the airport for our flight to Mandalay. Our luggage goes ahead and our guides Michael and Harry help check-us in on arrival at Yangon Domestic Airport. The boarding card is essentially a coloured sticker and a coloured card. There is not much organisation in the departure lounge but eventually an airline representative walks round holding up a hand-written notice showing our flight number. It must be time to board!
On arrival in Mandalay we are met by staff from our privately chartered ship, the RV ANANDA. Dawn and the local guides head off on a mini-tour of Mandalay while Richard heads direct to the ship with everyone’s luggage. The mini-tour includes a visit to the Kuthodaw Pagoda, a Buddhist stupa surrounded by over 700 marble slabs inscribed with Buddhist texts - often referred to as the biggest book in the world. Kuthodaw lies at the foot of Mandalay Hill and was built during the reign of King Mindon. We are followed around the Pagoda by a charming young girl trying to sell postcards. She has reasonable English and although we advise her we have no money, this didn’t spoil her enthusiasm or charm. She also knew how to strike a pose for photos!
We then walked to the Shwenandaw Monastery – a very finely carved teak wooden monastery just outside the Mandalay Royal Palace. Both exterior and interior of the monastery are decorated with intricate wood carvings. It was originally part of the Royal Palace in Amarapura and when the capital city was moved to Mandalay, the building was dismantled, transported and rebuilt.
Our final visit is to a gold beating workshop where men hand beat gold into gold leaf. Gold is put between pages of paper, bound in leather and hit with a hammer! The gold is then split, bound and hammered again. Eventually it becomes so thin it is gold leaf, used to re-gild the stupas and pagodas.
At the dock, Richard and our ship crew are ready to welcome us. The staff escorts everyone to their individual cabins to settle in and lunch is served while we cruise towards the hills of Sagaing.
Sagaing is located on the Ayeyarwady River, around 20 kms to the southwest of Mandalay. It has numerous Buddhist monasteries and is an important religious and monastic centre. The pagodas and monasteries crowd the numerous hills along the ridge running parallel to the river.
From here we visit a silversmiths’ workshop where we are treated to a demonstration of the way they carve intricate details on the silverware. The work is amazing and we are unable to prevent purchases being made!
Back on board we join a welcome reception to meet the captain U Aye Lwin, and key members of the ANANDA team including Baptiste, our cruise director, and our three guides Nyauw, Aung and Tinme. Then we’re off to dinner, a tasty four course meal with complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks included. Our chef is from Thailand and clearly knows how to cook. We are in good hands.
Photo: Kuthodaw Pagoda © Dawn Furlong