For me, the most impressive part of the journey was spent in Mandalay – not really a visual tourist highlight, but a very interesting place nonetheless. I’d like to come back, because the 3 days we spent there were not enough to see even half of it.
Through Mandalay runs the river Ayarwaddy – a wide, brown waterway, that determines the life of the people living at its riverbanks. During the dry season, nomads settle down and live in bamboo huts (often no more than tents). Environmental concerns are not at the forefront of their thoughts, the monsoon will take all the trash away. Some of the bamboo huts are on rafts and will float until the monsoon is over and the hut can settle down again. The houses at the slopes are on stilts, often in better shape, and sometimes even made of brick. Some houses now have solar energy – this energy source will make a huge difference to people’s lifes in the years to come.
The river is the home of the people – this is where they bath, brush their teeth, get their cooking water, wash their dishes, it’s their trade route and their street and provides the rhythm of life. The pictures aren’t pretty and they are not supposed to be – it’s worthwhile to think about the living circumstances of these people for a while.
Rudyard Kipling has written a poem – The Road to Mandalay – meaning the river Ayarwaddy and beginning as follows (Robbie Williams has also written a song „Road to Mandalay“, but I don’t think there’s a connection):
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the Temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!