About Me

My photo
I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Irrawaddy, the Road From Mandalay

Travel Date 20th November 2012.
Click on any picture to see a larger version.  

There are many times when I am glad that modern fast aeroplanes have shrunk the world to allow Australians, far away from friends and relatives overseas, to visit and be visited with relative ease. But once I reach my destination I prefer slow travel most of the time. In Myanmar that is an easy wish to grant, with horse carts, slow boats and slower trains. 

Rudyard Kipling is one of my favourite authors. I started reading him when I was a Cub aged 8, enthralled by the stories of  Mowgli in the Jungle Book, and I've enjoyed reading and re-reading his stories ever since. He also wrote this famous poem about Burma: 
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!

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat — jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen,
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
    Bloomin' idol made o'mud —
    Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd —
    Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!
    On the road to Mandalay . . .

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,
She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "~Kulla-lo-lo!~"
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin' my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an' the ~hathis~ pilin' teak.
    Elephints a-pilin' teak
    In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
    Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!
    On the road to Mandalay . . .

But that's all shove be'ind me — long ago an' fur away,
An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;
An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else."
    No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
    But them spicy garlic smells,
    An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;
    On the road to Mandalay . . .

I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?
    Beefy face an' grubby 'and —
    Law! wot do they understand?
    I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
    On the road to Mandalay . . .

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be —
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
    On the road to Mandalay,
    Where the old Flotilla lay,
    With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
    On the road to Mandalay,
    Where the flyin'-fishes play,
    An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

The first and last verses became a song, possibly some of the middle verses were a little racy for early 20th century radio and recording studios. This is the version by Peter Dawson from the mid 30s:

The road Kipling referred to was the Irrawaddy River. The Myanmar Government now refers to it as the Ayeyarwady, as do some but not all of the locals. For ease of pronunciation I'll stick to the old version here.

I took the “road from Mandalay” downriver to Nyaung U, the village just upriver from Old Bagan.

The Irrawaddy is as vital to Myanmar as the Nile is to Egypt or the Indus is to Pakistan. For centuries it has provided life-giving water and fertile floodplains, carried most of the nation's goods, and more recently provided hydro-electric power and irrigation dams.

The river height varies enormously between dry and monsoon seasons. For example, at Mandalay it can rise over 11.5 m (37'). 

source: wiki

In addition to existing hydro dams seven new dams are planned to be built upstream using Chinese and Japanese companies, with the intention of creating sufficient power to export the surplus to neighbouring countries. There are concerns about the environmental impact of some of these dams, particularly the one planned at the confluence of the two major tributaries. 

The new dams will provide much-needed power and may reduce that variation but they will also reduce the addition of fertile soil from flood sediment and have other effects on the river downstream. Some protests are having an effect; read more on that here: Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam

I booked the ticket through the 7 Diamonds agency for US$40. At about 7 to 9 hours for the trip this was the fast boat; the slow boat takes 12 hours and is much cheaper. There are two fast boats; I chose the Shwe Keinnery but nearly ended up on the Malikha when my driver took me to the wrong wharf. Luckily I knew what mine looked like from a reconnaissance the day before.

Sadly for the operators the boat was almost empty. I'm not sure why, because it was reasonably clean, service was good and so was the on-board food in the basic restaurant. The meal below was lunch; all I ordered was chicken and vegetables and the beer. In Myamnar that automatically includes a bowl of chicken soup and a range of side condiments, mostly chili or pickles in various forms.

We left at 6am; I was pleased to find I could get eggs for breakfast on board.  After breakfast I spent most of my time on the uncrowded restaurant deck, catching up with writing and glancing up occasionally to watch the villages, towns, barges, occasional fishing boats and other craft pass slowly by as we smoothly cruised down the majestic Irrawaddy.

There are few more relaxing pleasures than gliding down a great river, enjoying the slow procession of towns and villages, boats and barges

With an occasional beer or tea it was a very pleasant way to pass the day.


The boat only stopped three or four times to collect or disembark local passengers. The boat's foghorn would be sounded as it approached the village and passengers would collect at the bow and on shore. The ladies in the water were happy and smiling and threw bananas up to the passengers; I'm not sure what message the man on the left was trying to give us.


There were no wharves at those stops, possibly because of the difficulty of building wharves with several levels for the different seasons of the year. Instead it nosed into the bank and the master held it there using the engines while a gangplank was run ashore from the nose. 

The agility of the oxen getting down to the water to drink was surprising.

The final stop at Nyaung U was the first wharf we used after leaving Mandalay.

Cheers, Alan

No comments:

Post a Comment