From Bagan to Mandalay, the last five Royal Capitals of Burma

Mahamuni Pagoda, Mandalay. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

‘ By The old Moulmein Pagoda, looki’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a – settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm – trees, and the temple – bells they seay:
‘Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!’

Everything started with my husband’s suggestion: ‘ We could visit  Burma this year…’. Without thinking, Mandalay was on the list. On the  top.  Is it  that  Rudyard Kipling’s Mandalay is the city that evokes the Burma of romantic imagination? May be. The colonial, mysterious royal capital of old Burma. Perhaps. Yet, there is a fact that not everyone is familiar with: Mandalay, although the last, is not Burma’s only former royal capital. Nor it is the oldest. Nor the longest-serving…But we did know that. Decision made.

Close to Mandalay, so close that we could say absorbed into its suburbs, are no less than three more ancient royal capitals : Sagain, Ava and Amanapura, which ruled Burma for a total of nearly 500 years, if we put all them together, to Mandalay’s 26. Yes, this is what numbers and history say.

Burma’s history is a story of city states of diverse ethnic origins trying to coexist in the same territory. And to rule it. It wasn’t easy as it is not easy even nowadays. Long before Burma were part of British India, different principalities meant different kingdoms. Different royal capitals, different seats of power.

When the Bagan Kingdom fall, Burma was divided into several small states that, successively, disputed the honour of ruling the territory. It was in this scenario that the Shans, in Upper Burma, established sovereignty over a kingdom around Ava, but one that wouldn’t be the last one.There would be more. One after the other. All of them with their own capital city, not so far one from the other. And, as history shows, those cities would be the last four Royal capitals in Burma. And we would visit them. The four of them: Sagain, Ava, Amanarapura and Mandalay, the last one. Then, we would go to  Bagan, the Majestic ancient capital. Great.

We had a plan, a good one. During six days we would track Burma’s history going back in time. Following the Irrawaddy River. After having been touring a wet Mandalay for the first two days, it was time for the other capitals. We would start visiting Ava, the furthest city to the west, at only 28 km, then Sagain followed by Amanarapura. What means that in those 28 kilometres are seated the last four royal capitals of the last four kingdoms of Upper Burma. The following day, early in the morning, a boat would take us to Bagan, the fifth, but the first in time, of the Burma’s last five Royal capitals. Yes, it was good.

That was our plan which was great but a short lived one. Wisely, our driver suggested to visit Mingun city directly after Sagain, instead of  extending our visit in Amanarapura. ‘Mingun is too close for skipping it’… ‘Mingun is not on our list.’…’ May be  it wasn’t a royal capital Madam , but for us was important and has very nice religious buildings. We will get at U Bein bridge in time to see the sunset, not worry…’ With that argument, he convinced us. We agreed. It was impressive. Now, we are grateful for having followed his advise.

We stayed six days  in Burma, nowadays Myanmar. We visited six cities, five  royal capitals among them. We  navigated the Irrawaddy River, as Rudyard Kipling’s soldier has done before us, only in the opposite direction. We went back in time following Burma’s history and stories. Could we have  asked for more?

Mandalay, Burma’s  last Royal capital , but first in our itinerary…

Mandalay Royal Palace, as we saw it reflected on the moat calm water. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Interior road of King Mindon’s Palace, Mandalay. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

The Glass Palace, inside Mandala Royal Palace. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

The Glass Palace, inside the grounds of mandalay Royal Palace. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

The Glass palace, Mandalay Royal Palace. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

The Shwe Nandaw Temple, Mandalay. photo Credit: Silvia Muda

The Shwe Nandaw Temple, Mandalay. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

The Shwe Nandaw Temple, Mandalay. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Sandamuni Pagoda, Mandalay. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Sandamuni Pagoda, Mandalay. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Sandamuni Pagoda, Mandalay. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Sandamuni Pagoda, Mandalay. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Mahamuni Pagoda, Mandalay. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Mahamuni Pagoda, Mandalay. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Mahamuni Pagoda, Mandalay. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

…After having been touring a wet Mandalay for the first two days, it was time for the other capitals. We would start visiting Ava, the furthest city to the west, at only 28 km, followed by Sagain and Amanarapura. What means that in those 28 kilometres are seated the last four royal capitals of the last four kingdoms of Upper Burma: Ava, Sagain, Amanarapura and Mandalay…

Yadana Hsemee Pagoda, Ava. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Yadana Hsemee Pagoda, Ava. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Yadana Hsemee Pagoda, Ava. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Yadana Hsemee Pagoda, Ava. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Yadana Hsemee Pagoda, Ava. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Bagaya Kyaung Monastery , Ava. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Bagaya Kyaung Monastery , Ava. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Bagaya Kyaung Monastery , Ava. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Maha Aungmye Monastery also known as Ok Kyanung Monastery, Ava. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Maha Aungmye Monastery also known as Ok Kyanung Monastery, Ava. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Maha Aungmye Monastery also known as Ok Kyanung Monastery, Ava. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

After Ava, we went to  Sagain…

Sun U Ponya Shin Pagoda, Mingun. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Sun U Ponya Shin Pagoda. From this temple , on Sagain Hill, we could see Amanarapura and in the distance, incredibly, Mandalay. Sagain, . Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Looking toward west, from we just had come, we could see Ava . Sun U Ponya Shin Pagoda, Sagain Hill . Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Sun U Ponya Shin Pagoda , Sagain. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

U Min Thonze Pagoda

U Min Thonze Pagoda

U Min Thonze Pagoda

U Min Thonze Pagoda

Thanks to our driver’s suggestion, we visited Mingun city. Just incredible.

Hsinbyume or Myatheindan Pagoda, Mingun. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Hsinbyume or Myatheindan Pagoda, Mingun. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Hsinbyume or Myatheindan Pagoda, Mingun. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Hsinbyume or Myatheindan Pagoda, Mingun. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

We Arrived in time for enjoying a fantastic sunset over the U Bein bridge at Amanarapura. One thing is to read about it. Another completely different, is to see it, to be there. Just extraordinary…

U Bein bridge , Amanarapura. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

U Bein bridge , Amanarapura. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

U Bein bridge , Amanarapura. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

U Bein bridge , Amanarapura. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

U Bein bridge , Amanarapura. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

U Bein bridge , Amanarapura. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

U Bein bridge , Amanarapura. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

…The following day, early in the morning, a boat would take us to Bagan, the fifth, but the first in time, of  Burma’s last five Royal capitals. The Majestic capital.The jewel. A gift…

Shwezigon Pagoda, Nyaung U city, close to Old Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Shwezigon Pagoda, Nyaung U city, close to Old Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Shwezigon Pagoda, Nyaung U city, close to Old Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Shwezigon Pagoda, Nyaung U city, close to Old Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Shwezigon Pagoda, Nyaung city, close to Old Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Dhammayangy Temple, Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Htilomlo Pagoda, Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Htilomlo Pagoda, Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Htilomlo Pagoda, Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Ananda Pagoda, Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Ananda Pagoda, Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Ananda Pagoda, Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Ananda Pagoda, Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Ananda Pagoda, Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Ananda Pagoda, Bagan. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

We stayed six days  in Burma, nowadays Myanmar. We visited six cities, five  royal capitals among them. We  navigated the Irrawaddy River, as Rudyard Kipling’s soldier has done before us, only in the opposite direction. We went back in time following Burma’s history and stories.Could  we have asked for more?
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Argentine, civil engineer by profession, ex-city planner by choice, amateur photographer and travel writer by chance; without speaking any English, I moved into Pattaya because of my husband's job in March 2003, along with our fifteen -years old son. With great conviction, will power and a great group of friends, those hard times are part of the past. Slowly, I started to find my own space, to recognize and feel Pattaya as my own city, I started to have a ...home, so far from Home.

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