On the road to Mandalay

Writer: 
Thet Tun Aung
Mandalay Hill provides the perfect backdrop for a budget holiday.  (Photo – EMG)
Mandalay Hill provides the perfect backdrop for a budget holiday. (Photo – EMG)

Mandalay Hill is lush and green during the monsoon, towering majestically over the city when viewed from across the moat of the Mandalay Palace. On one fair day, it looks picture-perfect under a blue sky and silver clouds.

The hill is the residents’ pride and joy, a must-go destination for anyone visiting Mandalay. I usually take my friends to the hill whenever they pay me a visit but I rarely go there on my own. Being part of the urban crowd, I never have time to go up the hill though having passed it by many times. But one recent evening, I broke with the norm and decided to hike up the hill just for exercise. 

A magnificent view of Mandalay with the Ayeyarwady River in the background from the pagoda platform. (Photo – EMG)

Standing 776 feet above sea level, Mandalay Hill is a great place for hiking and inhaling some fresh air. I parked my motorcycle at the foothills and walked up the hill like those joggers via the winding road instead of taking the stairsas preferred by most pilgrims. I saw many people walking, jogging, and riding their bicycles on the way up.

Tall trees grow in abundance on both sides, and I encountered a few roadside signs with a stern warning:  “Three Years for Cutting a Tree”.

The hilltop was crowded with local pilgrims and foreign tourists.

Mandalay Hill is situated on the northern edge of Mandalay. (Photo – EMG)

“There aren’t many visitors around this time of year. It is more crowded during the cold season,” said the owner of a souvenir shop who has plied her trade on the hill since the time of her grandparents.

She added that Mandalay Hill attracts many visitors during the Taungpyone Festival and Yadana Cave Festival, which are held near Mandalay, and shops enjoy good business during those festivals.

The platform of the Sutaungpyei Pagoda was overflowing with foreign tourists expectantly waiting to catch thebeautiful sunset over Mandalay.

“All tourists like to watch the sunset from the top of Mandalay Hill. They enjoy watching it. It’s very beautiful especially from this vantage point,” said a tour guide.

The Shan Yoma mountain range with Yankin and Kywel Na Phar hills lies in the east while Sarlu Hill and Thakhinma Hill lie in the north. The hills of Sagaing and the Minwun mountain range lie in the west. The serene Mandalay Palace with its moats is visible to the south. One can never have enough of the beauty of the scenery around here.

Crowds gather to catch the sunset from the top of Mandalay Hill. (Photo – EMG) 

“There’s rarely a time when there’re no visitors on Mandalay Hill. Tourists from various countries come here. Various ethnic tribes in Myanmar including the Shan, Kachin, Kayin, and Chin also come here. Now people take photos on their own with their mobile phones and cameras. So our business has been affected by it,” said a photographer who makes money from taking photos of tourists on the pagoda platform. 

Later I saw him trying to cajole a group of pilgrims probably from the countryside into standingnear the Two Snakes Statue of the northern staircase for some photos.

As daylight faded, the platform was lit by bright spotlights.A whisper of evening breeze brought refreshing relief to our spot. As I stood there, I remembered an old poem that encourages one to take refuge in the intimate embrace of nature up on Mandalay Hill if they want to live longer.