Friday, January 17, 2020

Die Swans Die!!!

To paraphrase a cliche, I am "templed out". There were are few nice temples in Mandalay that were mentioned on all the travel sites but I had zero interest in exploring any of them.

Still bleeding on the shin from my fall on the jetty, I was greeted with big smiles as I checked into the Hotel Sahara. The hotel was located near the historical castle and moat giving it a great location to use as a base. Luckily there was a small patio on the 4th floor near my room that had a direct view of the castle, the moat, and a lovely construction site. You win some, you lose some. As the staff copied my passport and checked my reservation I was given fresh orange juice and 3 bananas. This is the third time I have been given three bananas at check-in, weird. Fifteen dollars a night gave me a nice room and bathroom, air conditioning, elevator, and buffet breakfast. As I happily entered the room I was greeted by a couple of stupid swans created from my bath towels and face cloths. They died immediately and did not have a chance. I am still a bit shocked I took the time to click a photo before I destroyed them. I had a long day on the boat and I just wanted to sit on my patio and drink a few cans of beer. Mission accomplished. No cloth swans were going to ruin my evening.

My goal for the next day was simple and not very ambitious, to hike up Mandalay Hill. It is only 790 feet but like all hills, they call out to me and it will give me a sweeping view of the entire area. Regardless of the surrounding temples, this hill had great historical significance. The Battle of Mandalay and Meiktila was a critical Allied victory over the Japanese near the end of WW2.

I had my game face on for a good walk. Each side of the moat was 2.5 KM. The hill was at the far side of the moat and another 2 KM to the entrance. This was going to be a leg crushing day. After a good breakfast, I laced up, drank a litre of water and off I went. Why drink a litre of water before I go? First, I do not carry a day pack anymore for day trips in a city. Second, it was a trick I learned climbing in Nicaragua. Finish the water before you go, do not wait until you are thirsty through the hike, be prepared. Plus, there was water along the way if needed and it would be needed. By 8:30 AM it was already 30 Degrees.

Mandalay is busy but it is peaceful. There was quite a bit of well-behaved traffic and horn blasts were infrequent. The road was set away from the wide walkway around the castle/most giving it a peaceful feeling as I enjoyed my walk, Mandalay Hill in my sights.

The entrance is easy enough to find, especially with Google Maps. There were supposed to be two different ways to get up the hill. The first is through the main temple which was guarded by 2 massive Lions. The second is a road that meandered up and busy enough with tourist-packed Tuk Tuks. I chose the stairs and the Lions. Cleverly, at the entrance, there was a woman who had you pay to leave your shoes as you would be going through various temples. I did not think anything of it so I left them with here and continued.

As I climbed I went through a few temples, stopped for a photo and continued up. This wasn't so bad. Nope, not so bad until the stairs ended and the road began. I was halfway and my hike was stonewalled. I could not walk on the road barefoot the rest of the way, trust me I tried. Shit! I backtracked down the way I came, passing knowing smiles, to the entrance. I sarcastically said to the girl, "you knew I would not be able to make it to the top without my shoes". She suddenly did not understand English and offered to sell me water. OK, $1 lost. Off I went to the road entrance 20 feet away and again knowingly row of Tuk Tuk drivers across the street came alive. As three of them started across the street towards me a loud "NOPE" stopped them dead. They wavered and I smiled with a lesser "nope, I will walk". 

Fifteen minutes later I came to the area where I was denied. I spit and continued. It was here that I notice the worn-out white building hidden sitting quietly amid the hills and trees. This building was a main battle area during the war and the Japanese held tight until it was overrun by Allied forces. I could have walked down to have a closer look, but it just did not feel right. I sat there for about 10 minutes thinking and imagining the battle raging around me.

I took off my shoes and paid my small entrance fee and climbed a few steps. The temple was shimmering in the sunlight with small clusters of gold and mirrors reflecting the morning sun. It was impressive. The views were not the best as the day was hazy but you could see and feel how important this hill was for the Japanese in the defense of the area. I do not know if the temple or any of the temples were damaged during the war, I am sure they were and were rebuilt. I never looked it up and this was not a war museum.

As it was a beautiful day It was strange there were few people at the summit. I counted more worshipers than camera-toting tourists, it was nice. The second effort to reach the summit was worth it.

On the return, I found a roadside stall where I sat down to some noodles, chicken, and broth for about $1. I sat across from the famous The Hsinbyume Pagoda, the circular white Pagoda that has recently become a destination because of its high Instagram rating. It looked impressive and as I slurped my soup a small voice inside told me to get off my little plastic chair and go over and have a look. I ignored that voice.

I finished my walk around the moat bringing me to just over 15km walked for the day. Now had one destination on my mind. The Rock Gastro Pub. Mandalay's only real western-style pub. I was tired, it was hot and I was thirsty. I figured to stay there for a couple and ended up talking and laughing with a loud Scotsman and two Nigerian Telco workers who lived and worked in Mandalay. 

As my phone ran out of charge and I had had just about enough Tiger, I suddenly realized I had no idea how to get back to the Sahara Hotel. Excellent. 


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