Yangon may have the Shwedagon Pagoda, and Bagan may have, well, thousands of the things, but Mandalay has an incredible array of Buddhist temples and monasteries that will keep an eager visitor occupied for days when staying in the old royal city.
Mahamuni Pagoda is a Buddhist temple and major pilgrimage site, located southwest of Mandalay. The Mahamuni Buddha image is deified in this temple, and originally came from Arakan. It is highly venerated in Myanmar and central to many people’s lives, as it is seen as an expression of representing the Buddha’s life. I think the Mahamuni Pagoda is certainly one of the top attractions in Mandalay.
Kuthodaw Pagoda is a Buddhist stupa that lays at the foot of Mandalay Hill. It was built during the reign of King Mindon and is said to contain the world’s largest book. The stupa itself, which is gilded above its terraces, is 57m high, and modelled after the Shwezigon Pagoda near Bagan. In the grounds of the pagoda are over 700 stone-inscribed caves, each containing a marble slab with a page of text from the entire Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism. I thought this pagoda was an incredible sight in Mandalay, as it is unique in appearance compared to the others.
Bargaya Monastery is built on the southwest side of Inwa Palace and has one of the more enchanting appearances of any temple or monastery in Mandalay. This magnificent monastery is one of the most famous tourists attractions in all of Myanmar, and cannot be left off your itinerary!
The Snake Pagoda came to be when a Buddhist monk found two large pythons wrapped around a statue of Buddha. The monk dutifully carried the snakes out to the jungle and returned to clean the pagoda. Within a day the snakes were back, and a third had joined. Each time, the monks would carry the snakes out to the jungle, and each time they would return. Eventually the monks came to see the snakes as holy, possibly the reincarnated souls of monks who used to tend to the pagoda. The monks stopped removing the snakes and instead began taking care of them. If you don’t like snakes, then don’t visit – but if you can tolerate these real-life slippery serpents, then you will no doubt admire the level of worship Burmese people give their Burmese pythons.
Shwenandaw Monastery (otherwise known as the Golden Palace Monastery) was built in 1880 and was originally part of the royal palace at Amarapura, before it was moved to Mandalay. The building was heavily gilt with gold and adorned with glass mosaic work. The monastery is known for its teak carvings of Buddhist myths, which adorn its walls and roofs. The monastery is built in the traditional Burmese architectural style. Shwenandaw Monastery is the single remaining major original structure of the original Royal Palace today. Another must-see attraction when in Mandalay.
Mingun Temple is an incomplete monument stupa northwest of Mandalay city limits. The ruins are the remains of a massive construction project begun by King Bodawpaya in 1790 which was intentionally left unfinished. While not a true monastery, this is still an interesting place to check out.
Sandimuni Paya is a Buddhist stupa located southwest of Mandalay Hill, very close to the Kuthodaw Pagoda. Sandamuni Paya was commissioned by King Mindon Min in 1874 as a memorial to his younger brother who was assassinated during the 1866 Myingun Prince rebellion. This pagoda also contains an iron image of the Buddha that reportedly weighs over 18,000kg!
Kyuak Taw Gyi Temple was constructed from 1853 and completed in 1878 by King Mindon and is located near Mandalay Hill. It is a replica of the Ananda Temple at Bagan. It is famous for its 900 tonne Buddha statue placed at the centre. This statue was carved by 10,000 men from massive marble and it took 13 days to transport the stone from Irrawaddy River to its current location.
Have you been to Mandalay? Did you see any of its temples or monasteries? Which ones impressed you most?