The soles of my feet already felt very thick it would probably take a few foot scrub sessions to take out the dead skin and callouses from too much walking. By this time, after entering many temples and sacred grounds for almost a week, I’m already used to removing my footwear before entering temples. For Mandalay Hill, my next place to visit, I had to remove my slippers before climbing the 760-feet high hill. I really don’t mind the climb since after the two gigantic Bobyoki Nat guardian statues is a shaded stair pathway leading to the summit. What amused me was the footwear storage at the foot of the hill with a sign “Footwear not Allowed. Don’t carry shoes” clearly directed at foreigners where they’ll have to pay to store them. I saw a lot of locals carrying their shoes inside plastics so I just decided to clip my slippers to my bag and started the climb.
Being a pre-full moon holiday in Mandalay and all sorts of people were climbing Mandalay Hill. The trail was crowded most of the time with human traffic. I think I saw more people that the sights, which was interesting still as there are a lot of standout characters too. On occasional stops along the stairs, aside from the vendors selling cold drinks, there were Buddhist and nat shrines a few locals stop by to pay homage to.
Oh yeah, the hill wasn’t spared with a few cheesy displays where people can have their photos taken in a “Love” garden complete with signage and swan statues, good thing it’s just a small part. I also noticed a few vendors with weighing scales, for a few 200kyat, people could check their weights, hoping to probably lose a few pounds going up and down this hill.
I reached the road half-way the trail. If one wants to take a taxi half the way, they can start here. But bear on your conscience that this road was a product of force labor to develop their tourist spot way before.
About 2/3rds of the way, I reached a nice overlooking stop with a shrine showing a standing Buddha pointing out to the direction of the capital. Legend says that Buddha and his disciples climbed this hill and prophesized that a great city would be founded below. It was in 1857 when the capital was moved to Mandalay from Amarapura.
There was a portion of the stairs where it was short but steep before the summit but after that, the rest is easy. Under the mid-day sun, a lot of people where cooling down under the shade. The summit offers 360 degree views of the relatively flat surroundings of Mandalay up towards the rising peaks of the Shan Highlands. A lot of locals from families, monks and group of friends seemed to be enjoying their time here. Some even brought their own food having a mini picnic at the summit. The whole climb (and going down) took barely a couple of hours only with all the stops, refreshments and taking photos. It’s a really nice climb despite the crowd. I could imagine the views to be better during the sunset or sunrise.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.