Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The 'Grand' Palace and Up Mandalay Hill (Myanmar)

I rent a bicycle from Mr. Jerry. Like most businesses here, his is home based, the downstairs a sort of garage for his bikes with many oily rags and tools lying around to clean and repair his aging cycles. Mr. Jerry isn’t there when I arrive, and some of the locals chase him down a block away. I see him racing back in an effort to earn the $1.50 he rents the bicycle to me for the day. I find him affable and kind, like most Burmese I have met.

I set out to visit the palace where the king of Burma once resided. The grounds have a sordid history, as rumor has it (someone told me) that an astrologer once recommended to the king that to ward off evil spirits he should bury 50 people alive under the palace, which, somehow (people can be soooo touchy,) angered the victim’s families, and they showed up in mass and slaughtered everyone in the palace.
I could see the astrologer bragging to his friends beforehand, “This king is so stupid. If I can get him to believe this one, man, this will my crowning achievement!” I doubt the astrologer fared well in the aftermath.
You know the only thing affected by the alignment of the planets? The tide (credit to Mr. Moon)
the palace wall viewed from afar

Dodging through traffic, I bike my way to the palace wall, following it for a couple kilometers to find the East (and only) entrance to the complex. I come across two girls journeying to the same destination, and hop off my bike and walk with them.
Anna and Belen are from Spain, and will be my partners through most of the remainder of journey through Myanmar. We converse mostly in Spanish, switching sometimes to English when I had difficulty; “resbala” means slippery, I learned only after I fell on my ass. (Que?)
The palace costs $10 American to enter (they won’t take their own Myanmar money here!), and frankly, it’s a complete waste of time. The whole complex was recently rebuilt, and lacks whatever charm it might have previously had, along with the majority of relics that used to exist inside.
For me the most interesting part of the experience is the fact that the military has appropriated much of the palace grounds for officer homes, and big red warning signs tell me not to veer from the path we are currently on. “Restricted area-” wish they had put that sign in front of the whole complex before I contributed ten U.S. dollars to the military junta.
area resticted 

DO NOT step off the path (notice how much is red)

Mandalay Hill
We begin ascending Mandalay Hill, 45 minutes to an hour up a series of never ending steps, featuring flat levels with various large, golden Buddhas, along with various stands, locals trying to scrape by selling water, soda, and snacks. 
one of many Buddhas
kneeling Buddha
It’s debilitatingly hot. I’m an athlete, but here the stifling humidity saps my energy and I feel the need to stop once in a while to gather the necessary strength to journey onwards. We continue our climb, because, what else is there really to do?
We are promised a nice view from atop the mountain, but are in for an even greater treat. Storm clouds are forming, the breeze is getting cooler and stronger. Moments before we finish our ascent, dark clouds blanket us completely, reducing visibility to zero, and the heavens open, pouring rain upon us like a bathtub faucet. Step out from cover and get instantly soaked.
Rather than being disappointed, we find it a relief. I feel invigorated and refreshed, grateful for the opportunity to be drenched, the cool water replenishing my energy.  
check me and the boys having fun atop Mandalay Hill in the deluge
golden nearby pagoda

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