Rising 240 metres (790ft) above the city and its surrounding plains, Mandalay Hill (daily 8am–5pm; charge) has been an important pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists since King Mindon sited his palace around its foot in the mid-19th century. Aside from the meritorious ascent of its sacred stairways to reach the hilltop’s richly decorated shrines, the main reason to make the climb is for the spellbinding views from the summit, which extend for many kilometres in every direction.
What to remember
Remember to take off your shoes at the bottom. The most frequented southern route comprises 1,729 steps, shaded by a roof that keeps the stone cool and protects visitors from the sun while still allowing fresh air to circulate. Along the way, astrologers and souvenir peddlers ply their trades, while monks, nuns and Burmese pilgrims (often smoking hugecheroots) scale the steps. About halfway up you’ll encounter the first large temple, which contains three bones of the Buddha originally unearthed in Peshawar, Pakistan.
The view of Mandalay Hill
The four different stairways converge two-thirds of the way up the hill on the gold-plated Shweyattaw Buddha, his outstretched hand pointing to the spot where the Royal Palace was built. This stance is unique in the Theravada world, symbolising Gautama Buddha’s prophecy which King Mindon realised in 1857 when he moved his capital to Mandalay.
Further up the steps rests another unusual statue – that of a woman kneeling in front of the Buddha, offering him her two severed breasts. According to legend, Sanda Moke Khit was an ogress who was so overwhelmed by the Master’s teachings that she decided to devote the rest of her life to following him. As a sign of humility, she cut off her breasts. When the ogress’s brother asked the Buddha why he smiled as he accepted the gift, he replied that Sanda Moke Khit had collected so many merits that in a future life she would be reborn Min Done (Mindon), the King of Mandalay.
The view from the summit, reached after 40–45 minutes, is phenomenal. To the west lies the Ayeyarwady and beyond that, crowned with pagodas and temples, the Sagaing and Mingun hills. To the north, the Ayeyarwady rice country extends into the distance. The purple Shan Plateau can be seen in the east. To the south, in the midst of this vast plain, lies the city of Mandalay and the palace complex.