For our final day in Myanmar, we’re being guided around the city by the neurologist/amateur historian Tin Maung Kyi. None of your usual dynastic stories here – what we’re getting is stuff that’s off the tourist track.
KS: The idea is to continue our exploration of small histories, private/past worlds which are made by individuals, obscure histories which are no longer remembered.
Mandalay, it seems, has evolved as a border town despite not really being on the border. Manifold communities have washed up here, via conquest, immigration, exile.

Thence, this is where you’ll find the tomb of the 1760s Thai king Uthamporn (named after the unseasonal flowering of the fig tree), who was taken alive here with 30,000 prisoners when the Burmese attacked Ayutthaya. This led to a scattering of Thai settlements all around the area, which was still jungle then – Mandalay the city didn’t yet exist. Uthamporn, now ordained as a monk, would visit each of these settlements to offer comfort and solace.
The tomb now lies in a cemetery on the site of the former city of Amarnapura. Beside the marker is a monument in the shape of the sacred Buddhist world-mountain Mount Meru. Less atmospherically, the area is full of broken graves, dusty plastic bags and pigshit.

Dr Tin learned the tomb was there from an old photo in a British Library volume that went on display. He told us about his mission to locate it.
Dr Ting: It was an adventure. In 1987, I went into that cemetery. It was covered by bushes and vines. What was underneath I did not know. My foot slipped, and there are risks. And finally I found it. 

There are no inscriptions saying these are the old tombs. But the old folks know. There was one lady 102 years old, and she testified that since childhood they know this is the Thai king’s tomb.
Now it’s become a pilgrimage site for Thai tourists, who come to weep over their deceased monarch (as if they don’t have a perfectly good one who’s alive). But the Myanmar government has plans to bulldoze the site – they *say* they’ll be developing it into a park.

Dr Tin is protesting, but the best he’s been able to accomplish is calling in Thai archaeologists to excavate the site. His own government demands proof – and he doesn’t have hard evidence that the king’s in there, just circumstantial stuff, oral histories.

Meanwhile, the Thais wanna take the ruin, tear it apart and rebuild it on the site of Ayutthaya like a jigsaw puzzle. One valuable item of Myanmar’s intercultural history, deported.
Dr Ting: Of course, we were enemies back then. But those enemies on both sides have gone, and we have to establish friendly relations. As long as the tomb is here it is a landmark to let two countries know about the past and to progress together for continued security and development. But our government’s view is not like this.
Truth is, the bones of Asian kings are all over the place. India has two kings buried in Myanmar: the last Mughal king, Bahadur Shah II, and a Sikh king, whose grave was only located recently at the southernmost tip of Burma by Sikh pilgrims who were combing the country. Myanmar’s last king, Thibaw, has his ashes in India – those, too, are being repatriated (in spite of the fact that no-one actually thinks highly of the guy). 

Those of us who’ve visited Mahamuni Temple will also have seen the bronze Cambodian statues brought over from Siem Reap when Amarnapura triumphed over Angkor. There were originally 25 of them, but now there are just six left. Dr Ting has a story about this too.
Dr Tin: When these bronze images were taken to Amarnapura, they were taken by sea. And one bronze of a lion fell into the sea. And the officer in charge was so afraid of punishment that as soon as he got to Amarnapura he instantly made another lion head, Amarnapura style. So you will see a lion with Amarnapura head and Cambodian body. I was the first to notice this. 

But there are no [other] bronze lion heads surviving from Amarapura period. This is the only example. So we have to thank him.
 


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