Mandalay is a hot and dusty city. But it's not as hot as Yangon or Bangkok, and it's less humid. Both Rudyard Kipling and Rush have referenced Mandalay - I've never read Kipling, so it must be Rush that brought me here. Can anyone direct me to the lyrics of the Rush song that I'm thinking of? It's one of their older ones (around "A Farewell to Kings?") but I've had no luck with Google.
[2015 Update: Not sure what I was thinking of: I probably meant "A Passage to Bangkok" from "2112," but it doesn't actually mention Mandalay.]
Mandalay is more like India than other Myanmar cities I've seen - the appearance, the number of beggars and peddlers. I haven't missed the beggars, peddlers, or touts at all. Mandalay also has the highest number of monks of any location in Myanmar - not just my observation, the place has more monasteries per capita than any other city. As in Yangon, I've been approached several times by people wanting to practice English with me, including a couple of initiates who led me around Mandalay Hill this morning.
Yesterday, in the company of Claus (from Denmark) and Calvin (from Singapore), I toured both Mingun and Inwa - two of the four ancient cities surrounding Mandalay. Calvin and Claus are both avid photographers, carrying serious gear - while I envy the capabilities they have because of that gear, I don't envy them the weight! They're both carrying at least 10 pounds of camera equipment, quite possibly twice that. My little Nikon 5400 gets me by, and weighs only about a pound. We had some interesting discussions about the state of digital photography.
Mingun requires you take a ferry ride - about 3/4 of an hour on the way there, upstream. In theory, the downstream return should be shorter - that's if the boat motor doesn't break, and you don't spend 15 minutes drifting in the Ayeyarwady river while your pilot dives head first into the engine with a set of wrenches. As with the bus ride to Taunggyi, all that was needed was some patience, and we were on our way again - albeit at a reduced speed.
I don't currently have access to photo editing software, so I have no pictures at the moment. I got some good ones on the trip yesterday, I hope I'll be able to post them soon. I was particularly impressed with Mingun Paya - the King who was constructing it died and then the base was split by an earthquake, after which it was never completed. The masonry base measures 72 meters (slightly larger than a yard) by 72 meters, and stands 50 meters high. It's immense. You have to take off your shoes and socks to climb it, as it's considered holy ground even though it was never finished. The views from the top are great - just watch your step when you get to the gaping crevasses left by the earthquake!
The food here is wonderful: not only is there Chinese and Indian, you can also get both Bamar (the incredibly oily and tasty curries that dominate the south) and Shan (the somewhat less oily and more varied cuisine of the northeastern division, which I enjoyed in Taunggyi and Nyaungshwe). I think I've actually lost weight on the trip despite eating so well (and so cheaply!). If I have, it's the result of walking several kilometers every day.