Our first stop in Mandalay was the township of Amarapura. Amarapura was the capital of Burma twice in the past, in the 1700's-1800's (Burma has changed capital a number of times in its history). It's quite a large city and it's famed for its traditional silk and cotton weaving, as well as bronze casting. It also houses a number of monasteries, including Mahar Gandar Yone, a large complex housing hundreds of monks and novices. When we arrived the monks had just come back from their food collection throughout the city.
The monastery also houses a school for kids which we had a chance to visit. We got to meet some of the children during recess, and though most were initially a little shy, they soon opened up and were showing us some of their games.
Amarapura is also renowned for its traditional silk and cotton weaving workshops. The methods they use are still very manual. As a matter of fact, the clanking of a loom was a fairly common sound I heard when walking through the streets of Amarapura and other Burmese towns and cities, and many times it would be coming out of the windows of private residences, not just established businesses. The Burmese are very skilled and they produce some really beautiful garments, with intricate and colourful patterns.
While in Mandalay I met for the first time some Thilashins, Buddhist nuns. The image of the male Buddhist monk is so prevalent over the world many people are not aware that there is such a thing as Buddhist nuns. One of the ways in which Burmese Thilashins differ from their male counterparts is in their robes, which are not red but bright pink.
Mandalay also has a very busy marble carving industry, most of which seems to be devoted to producing a continuous stream of Buddha statues. If you take a walk through the marble carving market near Mahamuni Buddha temple and try to count the number of Buddha statues displayed or being carved there you'll soon give up, but it's easy to see they number in the thousands. A small legion of sculptors, carvers and polishers work away, covered in marble powder to the point where sometimes they appear to have become the very thing they are making.
So that's a small slice of Mandalay.