Arriving in Mandalay mid-morning it was obvious that a heavy rainstorm had occurred during the night. The air was clean and crisp and there was a vividness about the colors that follow sudden downpours. Our small group of travelers were in good mood after 5 days in Burma (now called Myanmar) and despite frequent thunderstorms were enjoying mixing with the locals in the street markets and observing their reverence as they prostrated themselves before Buddha in the incensed fumed temples. Careful to observe the rituals we had also bought perfume scented flowers from the street sellers and carefully hung them from the alter in the hope of improving our karma while the last of the rainy season storms filled the ricefields and we dodged under cover to continue our sightseeing.
Much to our surprise we were informed that the famous Mandalay road is in fact its river, the Ayerwaddy, which we were due to get a glimpse of when we ascended Mandalay hill for the “glorious sunset”, as promised in our literature. But first we visited the Golden Palace Monastery and the “Largest book in the World” pagoda which consists of 729 marble tablets carved with the Buddhist sacred writings and then broke for lunch. Due to its geographical positioning between two of the world’s great culinary countries, India and China, Burmese food surprises visitors with its subtleness and variety and so far none of our group had succeeded in losing any of the pounds they’d hoped for on leaving home. With the heat back in renewed force we retreated to our rooms to coolly contemplate the chances of seeing a sunset instead of the aerial pyrotechnics witnessed the previous night.At the appointed hour we set off up the hill which appeared to be more of a recreation and jogging park for the thousands of locals out with friends and family then it was a tourist attraction. A beautiful temple sits on the peak of the hill but nearly all foreign arrivals are armed with a camera and intent only on the descending sun which in the tropics is a fast occurring phenomenon. Meanwhile Burmese students, novice monks and middle aged joggers maneuver to trap a tourist on the railings and get the much needed practice to speak English which they see as a way to a better life. Waylaid by a teacher and one of his class I turn at a cheer from a group of Thai tourists and find the sun has disappeared while I was in conversation. Within minutes the groups dissolve away leaving only the patient and the well informed, plus the locals who work on a completely different timescale to us westerners and for whom rushing seems like a sin.
The minutes drift by, the formerly wispy white clouds high in the sky now begin to take on red glow and the river reflects the deepening colors as the land turns to silhouette. It’s well after sunset and almost dark but for the lucky few who made the wait it was a magic moment of silence and timelessness.
On the journey down in the noisy, bouncing local truck-taxi I couldn’t help but reflect on whether someone writing tour itineries knows just when the sunsets will be glorious or if enough garlands of perfumed flowers can arrange things with those higher powers that fix such things. Like a good Asian I’ll keep an open mind, try everything and dismiss nothing. It’s magic.
Our Burma: Land of the Golden Pagoda Small Group Trip departs in January, October and November. Alternatively, you can travel on this itinerary as a private traveler on any departure dates you choose or have us customize a trip to Myanmar (Burma) from scratch based on your interests.