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The Road to Mandalay. And Further On
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The city of Mandalay is located somewhere in the middle of Myanmar, the country
formerly known as Burma. For Westerners, the city was and remains a symbol of the
mysterious Orient and unattainable eternal happiness, along with Shangri-La. Mandalay,
otherwise known as Manderlay, was made famous not only by Rudyard Kipling, but
George Orwell, Kurt Weill, Daphne du Maurier, the Beatle George Harrison, Lars von
Trier, and others as well.
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The narrow road leading to Mandalay has not change much since Kiplings times,
except for the fact that it got paved. Trucks packed with people and carts pulled by
buffaloes only rarely roll down it. All around are still the same paddy fields with ancient
stupas rising here and there. New stupas, or prayer shrines, characteristic of Theravada
Buddhism practiced in Burma since ancient times, are also encountrerd very often there.
Attracted by the sound of the prayers being chanted, a small group of Moscow journalists
witnessed the raising of the sacred Buddha Umbrella over a village stupa ( in what
resembling our Exaltation of the Holy Cross ). The residents of the village first listened to

a sermon given by monks dressed in purplish-red cassock, then walked several times
around the stupa ( in what resembled our Cross Procession ), and a modest prayer
platform. In the meantime, the adroit builders climbed the scaffolding and put in place a
gilded Buddha Umbrella symbolizing the deitys invisible presence. The participants in
the crermony gave the foreigners staring at them friendly smiles. That greatly surprised
us. Incidentally, friendliness and a kind of placidity are not only characteristic of the
profoundly devout rural inhabitants, but the vast majority of the citizens of Myanmar.

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The builders of the Yadanabon motorway bridge, which had been commissioned
only days before our arrival, also greeted the foreigners, with al their photo and video
cameras, with smiles. There was no problem taking pictures of both the strategic facility
and the construction site executives. Only the stern-looking soldiers at the checkpoint
refused to pose before the Russian TV cameras. A beautiful three-span bridge connects
the provinces of Mandalay and Sagaing, which are separated from each other by the
Irrawaddy River. At some point in the future, motor vehicles will occupy all four lanes of
the 1,700-meter highway laid by Chinese workers and with Chinese loans. For the time
being, the state-of-the-art portion of the road to Mandalay is used by rare cars and
motorcycles.
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And here is Mandalay, where there is the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at
the sea. You can see a multitude of both run-down and well-kept up shrines on the banks
of the large Irriwaddy River that flows from the mountains of Tibet to Yangon (Rangoon)
on the shore of the Andaman Sea, on the surrounding hills, and in all corners of the city
with a population of one million. In its heyday, Mandalay was the kingdoms capital. It
was taken by the Englishmen in the 1885 Anglo-Burmese War, 28 years after King
Mindon had founded that new capital. The scale of the city built during the reign of
Burmas next to last king is impressive. According to an old prediction, the king planned
and had that remarkable city built from scratch at the foot of the Mandalay hill for the
2400th birthday of Buddha. The city was supposed not only to become the capital of the
kingdom, but that of the entire Buddhist world as well. The best wooden houses were
taken apart and carried on elephants from the former capital, Amarapura. That definitely
sped up the construction. But was it possible to relocate the palaces four masonry walls
that were each two kilometers long along with the deep moats shaped as squares? Besides
the main pavilion where the king lived and worked, smaller wooden pavilions for 52
queens were built. While the king could visit any one of the queens, his wives were not
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allowed even to try to be with their sovereign spouse in his premises. The masonry
structures of the Summer Palace, the Clock Tower and the Relic Tower were built
anew.Only they were fated to survive the English occupation. During it, the palace was
transformed into barracks called Fort Dufferin, while the bulk of the treasures were
transferred to the Museum of Victoria and Albert in London. And then, in March 1945,
after the final stage of the Japanese presence, the Britsh Air Force totally demolished the
palace that the soldiers of the Country of the Rising Sun had turned into an ammunition
depot. The reconstruction of the palace was a matter of national honor for the Burmese. It
took seven years and was finished in 1996. Simultaneously, other architectural gems of
King Mindon were reconstructed. Among them was, first of all, the Kuthodaw Pagoda
dubbed the Worlds Biggest Book. Along with the central gilded pagoda, the
compound has 729 snow-white stupas, each containing a stone tablet with Buddhist
texts.The Maha Muni Pagoda, where the ceremony of washing the four-meter-high
statue of the seated Buddha takes place every morning, is yet another sacred place for
Buddhists. While being a major center of spiritual life and traditional culture, Mandalay
remains a railroad hub and river port indispensable for domestic trade, as well as trade
with its neighbors, notably India and China. Myanmars biggest and modern airpoart,
built with Chinas help in 2000, has yet to play a major role. For the times being it looks
fairly deserted.