Spurred by massive Chinese investment in recent years, modern Mandalay is one of Southeast Asia’s boom cities, and a far cry from the low-rise, slow-paced, bicycled-powered backwater it was after the great fires of the 1980s. Today, glass-sided malls and tower blocks loom over its main arteries, while the roads below are jammed with imported cars and motorcycles. Navigating the mayhem is easy, though, thanks to its regular grid plan. Streets running east– west are numbered 1–49, beginning in the far north, and those running north–south are numbered 50 onward, starting in the far east. Therefore the address 81st St (28/29) means on 81st Street between 28th and 29th streets.
The Mahamuni Temple is the country’s second most revered shrine after the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Its stately bronze Buddha is said to be one of only five likenesses of the historical Buddha cast in his life- time, although it was probably made 500 years later. More cer- tain is that it came here in 1784 as plunder from Bodawpaya’s raid on Arakan . While women are not allowed to enter the inner sanctum, men are permitted to press gold leaf on to the figure – so much has been added over the years that large lumps of solid gold have formed. Only the face, polished daily, remains shiny and smooth.
In a hall off the main temple are six fine Hindu-Buddhist figures originally plun dered from Angkor Wat, but subse- quently looted from Arakan by Bodawpaya’s army. Worshippers traditionally rub various body parts of the images in the hope of curing medical afflictions.
Myanmar is the source of the world’s finest jade and nearly all of it passes through the huge jade market on 87th Street. It is a fascinating place, although only confirmed experts are advised to part with any cash – jade is notoriously difficult to price. All morning, buyers and traders meet to haggle around long Formica tables, shining lights through pieces of jade to assess their quality. Elsewhere, cutters and polishers can be seen transforming stones into finely worked pieces for export.
Shwe In Bin Kyaung
Commissioned in the 1890s by two wealthy Chinese jade merchants, this elegant teak monastery was created in classic Konbaung style, with a slender central tower of seven receding tiers capped by a golden finial. The cornices and eaves retain splendid, intricately carved ox-horn embellishments, similar to those of Shwenandaw Monastery, although unlike its more famous cousin across town, Shwe In Bin receives only a trickle of visitors. An oasis of calm, it offers one of the most atmo spheric retreats in the city.
This inconspicuous temple, seven blocks north of the Shwe In Bin Kyaung, houses a 16-ft (5-m) seated Buddha cast in bronze by King Bagyidaw in 1823, just before the outbreak of the First Anglo-Burmese War. Also housed in the com- plex is a sacred golden boulder and bodhi tree planted by the first prime minister of independent Burma, U Nu.
Three blocks northwest of Setkyathiha stands the gilded Eindawya Pagoda. Resting on four square, receding terraces, the beautifully propor tioned bell-shaped zedi (stupa) was built by Pagan Min (1811–80), ninth ruler of the Konbaung Dynasty, on the site of a royal palace where he lived while still a prince. In the popular imagina tion the pagoda is closely associated with rebel- lion: Pagan Min was the king whose noncompliance sparked the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852, and in 1919 a party of Europeans was expelled from the complex for not taking off their shoes (the monks respon- sible were sub sequently sen- tenced to life imprisonment). One of Burma’s best-loved singers of the 1930s, Myoma Nyein, later immortalized the shrine in his hit song, Eindawya Paya Zay, composed in support of Zegyo Market shopkeepers who occupied the temple precincts to protest against the British-imposed penal code.
Mandalay’s main shopping area, Zegyo Market is centered on a couple of Chinese-style multi- story malls and has a vast num- ber of stalls where it is possible to buy everything from pickled tea to traditional felt slippers. The surrounding streets, where fresh produce is sold from vibrant stalls, also offer plenty of local flavor. The best time to visit is in the early morning before the crowds and heat build, and when local monks file through collecting alms. Between 5pm and 10pm in the evenings, a night market springs up in this area with barbecue stalls.