Mandalay Hill is a 240 metre (790 ft) hill that is located to the northeast of the city centre of Mandalay in Burma. The city took its name from the hill. Mandalay Hill is known for its abundance of pagodas and monasteries, and has been a major pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists for nearly two centuries.
At the top of the hill is the Sutaungpyei (literally wish-fulfilling) Pagoda. A panoramic view of Mandalay from the top of Mandalay Hill alone makes it worthwhile to attempt a climb up its stairways. There are four covered stairways called saungdan leading up the hill from the south, southeast, west and north, and convenient seats of masonry work line these stairways all the way up.
A one-way motor road today saves time and also makes it accessible for those who are unable to climb up the stairs, leading to an escalator and a lift to the pagoda at the summit.
For those who are fit to make the climb, it is considered a rewarding experience and a meritorious deed at the same time. Two gigantic chinthes or leogryphs (stylised lion figures) stand guard at the southern and main approach at the foot of the hill, popularly known as the Chinthe hnakaung atet (two chinthes ascent).
It is a gentle climb and there are many stops along the way, most importantly the hermit U Khanti’s dazaung or hall where the Peshawar Relics ( three fragments of bone of the Gautama Buddha) were kept from 1923 until after the Second World War when they were moved to a building at the foot of the hill and no longer on display.
Leaving U Khanti’s dazaung is by way of a tunnel lined by Hnakyeik shissu or the 28 Buddhas of the past and present worlds, or alternatively up a steep flight of steps next to the tunnel. Climbers will see plenty of stalls selling flowers, paper streamers, miniature pennants and umbrellas for the Buddha, and food and refreshment for visitors and pilgrims.
All the dazaungs have frieze paintings, most of them from the late Konbaung dynasty period; there is one depicting ‘Awizi ngayè (Avici Hell) in gory detail.Farther up near the summit, a gigantic standing image of the Buddha called the Shweyattaw (literally standing) or Byadeippay (prophesying) Buddha with his right hand pointing towards the city.
Legend has it that the Buddha once visited the place and prophesied that in the year 2400 of the Buddhist Era a great city would be built at the foot of the hill where his teachings would flourish. One curiosity that belongs to the myth surrounding the ancient kingdom of Bagan is the so-called ‘Kyanzittha’s spear mark’ near the top of the hill. He was supposed to have executed a miraculous pole vault using his spear across the Irrawaddy!