The last Burmese Royal Capital before colonialization established by king Mindon, Manday is busy and developing trading city on the banks of Irrawaddy river with population of 2 million and with large Chinese community.

Mention of the word “Mandalay” conjures up sentiments of romance and tragedy, as immortalized in the literary gifts of George Orwell, Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham. The true saga of the last reigning monarch King Thibaw, however, is imbued with romance and tragedy as much as any literary account. Through a combination of deceit, manipulation and false hopes stirred by court advisors and his wife, the fitful reign of King Thibaw ended when the British took Upper Burma in 1885. His family was exiled to India, where they lived in near poverty for the remainder of their lives. Before him, the struggles of the many ancient kings to gain control of the region were as complex and fantastical as a fairy tale.

With British rule, Mandalay’s streets were laid out on a grid system with the large, square palace compound of the former King Thibaw as its epicenter and surrounded by high, red walls and a moat. The effect is unlike any other city in Southeast Asia. With Myanmar’s highest concentration of monks, hundreds of monasteries, and legions of craftsmen, Mandalay is widely regarded as the religious and cultural heart of Myanmar. Among the most venerable pagodas are the Mahamuni Paya, now home to an ancient Buddha image from Rakhine State in western Myanmar, covered in gold leaf by devout Buddhists over many years; and Kuthodaw Paya, with 729 marble slabs bearing inscriptions of the entire Buddhist Tripitaka canon placed around the central stupa.

According to legend, on a visit to Myanmar accompanied by his disciple Ananda, the Buddha climbed the 236 metre high Mandalay Hill overlooking the surrounding plains. Standing at the summit, he pointed with arm outstretched to where the Mandalay Palace stands today, and declared that a great city would be founded there after 2,400 years. That year corresponds to 1857 AD, when King Mindon ordered the move of the royal capital from Amarapura to a new city constructed at the foot of Mandalay Hill and bearing its name. Near the top of the hill, a standing Buddha image represents the prophecy.

Royal arts and crafts

Many small scale workshops at Mandalay specialise in crafts such as woodcarving, stone and marble carving, bronze figure casting, gold leaf making, jewellery, silk weaving, Kalaga tapestry and puppet making, etc., all clustered in certain quarters of the city, where objects of high craftsmanship can be purchased at bargain prices. In the past, these workshops would supply the royal palace.

Traditional culture shows

On the entertainment front, marionette shows in the company of live traditional Myanmar music and singing are a great pleasure to watch. Delightful not only to Myanmar audiences, traditional a-nyeint pwe variety shows, which include improvised slapstick comedy, singing and dancing can be enjoyed also by non-Myanmar speaking visitors on an evening’s outing.