The scenic 240-meter high Mandalay Hill is a top tourist spot in Myanmar. Located to the northeast of the city of Mandalay, it is a piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle called “Myanmar” consisting of hundreds of beautiful natural resources and thousands of ancient temples. For about two centuries already, the hill has been an important pilgrimage site for many Burmese Buddhists for its pagodas and monasteries. Yet, it is not just a place to “reach” the heavens but also to behold the stunning view below. The hill offers a panoramic view of the city of Mandalay, which was the ancient capital of the Konbaung Dynasty.
Pilgrims and tourists take a hike on the hill’s four covered stairways leading to Sutaungpyei Pagoda on top. “Sutaungpyei” literally means “to fulfill a wish”. The four stairways, called “saungdan” climb from the south, southeast, west and north. There is also a one-way motor road, which consists of an escalator and a lift for those who cannot physically climb the stairways. This allows the elderly, very young children, and incapacitated to see the pagoda and panoramic view.
Those who are physically fit to take the stairways must not hesitate to do so. It is considered a meritorious deed and it is a very rewarding experience, if only for the experience of climbing along with hundreds of other tourists and religious pilgrims. The main stairway is the one on the southern side and hikers taking this route are welcomed by two huge mythical lions called chintes or leogryphs. These two mythical guards are also known as the “Clinthe Hnakaung Atet” or “Two Clinthes Ascent”. It is an easy climb through many stops, one of which is the U Khanti Hall (or Dazaung). This is not just any other stops since it used to hold the three bone fragments of Gautama Buddha, which are called the Peshawar Relics. They were kept here from 1923 until it was moved to a shrine at the foot of the hill after World War II. They are no longer on display to guarantee their safety and reverence.
All the dazaungs or halls display paintings, mostly from the late Kaonbang Dynasty. There is one painting that shows a gory representation of hell or “Awizi Ngaye”.
From the U Khanti Hall, hikers then pass through a tunnel with 28 Buddha images lined up. They represent the past and present world of the Buddha. Along the way are lines of stalls selling food and refreshments, as well as items that may be offered to the Buddha such as flowers, paper streamers, umbrellas and miniature pennants. Nearer the summit, hikers see a huge standing image of the Buddha with his right hand pointing to the city below. The image is called “Shweyattaw” (“standing”) or “Byadeippay” (“prophesying”). According to beliefs, the Buddha has once visited Mandalay and prophesied that in the year 2400, his teachings and doctrines will flourish in a great city that would be built at that foot of this hill. Another interesting site near the summit is a spear mark that was supposed to be the mark where the ancient Bagan king, King Kyanzittha, performed a miraculous pole vault using his spear to cross the Ayeryawady River.
The last stop on Mandalay Hill just before reaching the pagoda is a small stupa with the image of Sanda Muhki, an ogress, making an offering to the Buddha. She offered her own breasts, and for this amazing act of dedication, the Buddha predicted that she would be reborn as a great king who will rule that great city to be built at the foot of this hill in 2400.