A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.
When I’m on my travels, and reach a destination, in this case Mandalay, I like to wander so I set out with no real itinerary. I usually have a street map (of sorts) and a hint of a place I’d like to visit, in this case Zay Cho market. But the real purpose is to explore.
And so I left my hotel (Tiger One Hotel on 31st Street) and walked and walked and walked. Tiger One Hotel (I expect by now there are probably more Tigers) seemed to be on the edge of the city but in reality it was just an area undergoing some construction. The hotel was new and clearly the staff were proud of the place. And a nice place it was too – elevator to take you to the fifth floor every morning for breakfast (not just eggs but a plentiful buffet to chose from) and pristine rooms. And all for $25 USD per night.
The road outside the hotel was wide and unpaved with little restaurants springing up where you could sit outside and watch the locals saunter by. This is my idea of heaven – no agenda, relaxed but with eyes and ears alert to soak up the sights and sounds.
I learned later (via Google) that Mandalay had developed rapidly during the 1990s; there was an influx of immigrants (largely from the Yunnan Province of China) who came bringing an entrepreneurial flair to the economic life of the city. The population of Mandalay increased from 500,00 in 1980 to one million in 2008, largely owing to Chinese immigration. Traditionally, Mandalay was home to the Bamars, the largest ethics group by far in Myanmar but now it looks like there is an equal number of Chinese immigrants. The city is projected to grow to one and a half million by 2025. How this will change the life of the city and the surrounding area – always the spiritual and cultural heartland of Burma – remains to be seen.
My walk that day took me over the railway lines leading to Myanmar station using an overhead walkway. Mandalay is laid out in a grid pattern with long blocks – very long blocks – that were not particularly interesting. I was beginning to think I was on a wild goose chase but the thought of another Asian market to explore spurred me on. I finally reached a market but it was not Zay Cho (which discovered later was a boring covered market). It was a street market, several streets in fact, located around Zay Cho, selling produce.
One minute I was trudging along streets with asphalt and vehicles and the next minute I was wandering along dusty streets with large trees shading vendors selling their produce. I had tripped over Onion Street Market; the onions were plentiful and so were the peppers – all shapes and sizes.
Several young nuns were walking around the produce and looked like they might be buying supplies for dinner or soliciting donations.
I was standing gawking at the onions and peppers wondering who could buy such a quantity when I suddenly found myself in the middle of a maelstrom – rickshaws, men with handcarts and small trucks all vying for space. Within minutes, the street had become crowded. I stepped to the side wondering how all the vehicles would extricate themselves.
To complicate matters, there was a procession of young nuns in pink sarongs doing the morning round for Dana (donations) winding between them. They carried pots for food donations and umbrellas because the sun was already hot. As the procession snaked through the jumble, the girls chanted their thanks for Dana. In addition, several shoppers with determined glints in their eyes slipped into any cracks.
Without any yelling or screaming, the gridlocks finally untangled – another example of Buddhist calm – and I could walk freely. I had to pull myself away from the spot because the photographic opportunities were endless. Eventually, I wandered out through some back streets and almost fell into a pagoda. Eindawaya Paya was quiet and calm after the hustle and bustle of the street market.
It was quite a large compound. In wandering around, I came across a hallway on either side of which were small spaces where women were making accoutrements for monks. Most of the women were having an afternoon break but one was still at her sewing machine. She cheerfully held up the fan she was making so I could take a photograph.
By the time I was ready to leave, darkness was closing in. I’d spent a full day exploring the lesser known areas of Mandalay and I hadn’t seen a single tourist – just the way I like it.