Mandalay Hill is the dominant summit of the city and is the perfect place for visitors to watch sunrise or sunset over the plains. Everybody who arrives in Mandalay, the ancient capital of Myanmar, usually goes to Mandalay Hill, and I wasn’t going to be any different – but nobody told me the climb would be tiring!
Virtually all visitors and pilgrims to Mandalay either climb the 1,729 steps of the covered southern stairway with its magnificent guardian chinthe (half-lion, half-dragon) at the entry, use stairways on the other sides or use easier means and take the escalator, cars or buses to the top. From there, and from several way stations along the ascent, one has a magnificent panorama of the city, the old Royal Palace and Fortress, as well as the Ayeyarwady river and the distant Shan Hills.
If you drive by car from the archway of Mandalay Hill, you will reach the escalator of the hill. From there, you can proceed to the top of the Mandalay Hill and enjoy the views and pay homage to Su Taung Pyi Pagoda. There are also newly-constructed stairs that will take you up. There is a saying here in Mandalay that if you want to live long, you take refuge in the environs of Mandalay Hill, as climbing it by foot is good for health!
The Sutaungpyi Pagoda and its ancillary pavilion are located near the top of Mandalay Hill, the holy hill from which the Buddha reportedly predicted that a great religious city would emerge at its base. It is suggested that the pagoda was originally built by the great builder of Bagan, King Anawratha, in 1052. This “wish-granting” pagoda was often renovated by its patrons, the Konbaung kings, in later years. Perhaps the most famous of the renovators of the religious structures on Mandalay Hill was U Khan Dee. the famous and legendary “Hermit on the Hill”, who spent 41 years of his life on the hill raising funds for many structures, including Sutaungpyai, where he spent many years.
During the time when Buddha was alive while on one of his visits to Myanmar, the Buddha with his disciple Ananda climbed Mandalay Hill and prophesied that a great city would be founded below the hill and also pointed the place of that future city. Then a huge standing Buddha image was built at the place where Buddha stood, with his hand pointing to the Royal Palace. The legend has it that the Buddha, on his visit, had made a prophecy that a great city would be founded at the foot of this hill.
All this climbing had really made me hungry. I was absolutely STARVING! On the way back down, I decided to purchase something to eat from a street food vendor. He was strategically positioned to take advantage of tired tourists. I didn’t fancy any skewers or anything too fatty (battered meats), so he recommended something called Ohn Htamin, which is a variant of the Burmese Coconut Rice dish. It sounded amazing, but such was my hunger, I was prepared to eat a goat’s testicle (which he probably sold in his melee of food!). My coconut rice was served to me in a nice bowl and sat down alone, out of breath, and devoured the meal in what seemed like a few seconds. At least those carbs would get me back to my hotel without collapsing!