Phase One. The Journey.
“O the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay”.
Did you know ‘The Road to Mandalay’ as described in Kipling’s poem is not a road at all… it is in fact the Irrawaddy River!!
Legend has it that in the beginning of time the Great Creator Spirit took a cup of gold in his right hand and a cup of silver in his left. He then scooped water from the great ocean many miles away and poured it on to the high northern mountains, the water from the gold cup became the male Mai Kha River with the female Mali Kha River flowing out of the silver cup. The differing personalities, Mai Kha bringing the sunlight, happy chuckles, but also fast, aggressive and loud compared to the Mali Kha that was seen as deep, silent, dark, slow, mysterious and dangerous joined in confluence to form a river that would be the spine of Myanmar originally named the Ayeyarwady.
In reality the actual source of the Irrawaddy is the melting snow from the Himalayan Glaciers of upper Burma (significantly the 19,316 foot Himalayan peak Hkakaborazi).
However, I shall be ignoring the truth and facts as to turn such a great dit into fiction with them would be criminal.
The Sparrow fart 0345 start for the 0430 boat had left us slightly groggy. Thankfully mother nature stepped in with one of her more special moments in the form of the sunrising under a crescent moon, as starts to the day go this was up there with Sergio Scalon’s place in Montanita (Ecuador) and we were set fair.
Easing slowly away from what passed as a jetty, the chilled morning air gave way to the kind of breeze that is unique to travelling by boat. Cooling enough to counter the heat from the high, bright sun, enabling us to spend the whole day, just sitting on the top deck watching river life on The Irrawaddy unfold (although we did take a smalley nap after lunch to avoid the mid day heat).
Sally getting into a photographic and battery life speed wobble as her finger and camera struggled to capture the overwhelming number of image opportunities that presented themselves. The chugging momentum of the boat, gentle sway and talking travel with the intrepid and rather wonderful Stuart Graves, an American from Utah (USA) combined to make us more relaxed than a relaxed thing by the time we hit Mandalay.
At 20 km to go the ancient religious capital of Sagaing crept slowly into view. A large ridge line of rolling hills topped with hundreds of golden pagodas reflecting the sun and massive Buddha statues that towered over the river. Hitting a meander, Mother Nature played one of her tricks as almost immediately the gleaming vista turned to silhouette as she closed out what was one of our more memorable days.
A short 15 mins later the 13 hour journey was completed by way of a rickety narrow gangplank and we were immediately mobbed by touting Tuk Tuk drivers and young children all on the riverside. Quite overwhelmed by the frenetic neon lights, big city assault on the senses it was hotel, shower, sleep time. Stand fast Mandalay we will deal with you tomorrow.
Phase Two. The Destination.
Mandalay, built mainly in 1847-49 by King Mindon to replace Amarapura as his capital was the last capital of the Myanmar Kingdom, falling to us Brit’s in November 1885 in our chinning the world phase. The nights sleep did nothing to help us take in the absurd paradox of the previous day, a huge crowded, chaotic, frantic Asian city slap around the chops. We took breakfast overlooking a very different vista and set a plan to get the most out of our stay.
A few small snags, starting with the heat, drinking 6 litres of water and not peeing was a mildly concerning Defcon 4. The Defcon state remained when the wife (on purpose) mixed up my underpants, the lack of post unrination dribble negating the sniff test to put them back in their correct order of wear/laundry. However a serious escalation to Defcon 2 and rising comes in the form of Sally’s HRT patches melting, then falling off with the 40+ temperature. Interesting to see how this one turns out……..
We missed out climbing Mandalay Hill due to the 40 degree heat but has great views over the city and is well worth a visit we are told. U-Bein Bridge is the worlds longest teak footbridge in the world. It was packed full of tourists when we went. Day excursions to Mingun and Sagaing were really interesting but a definite struggle in the heat.
Trips of interest cracked and out of the way it was gym time with my grumbling knees needing some exercise put through them. Range of movement returning onwards to chance a haircut, massage, beer station, tea shop, find some decent Shan noodles, people watching and crack out some admin.
The most touristy place so far, and on a slightly sad note we had the first tuk tuk scammer try it on (god I hate them) but that takes absolutely nothing away from the genuine warmth, kindness and friendliness of the people coming through to elevate Mandalay way above, and far beyond being just another big generic city in Asia. Their smiles are truly infectious.
“To live would be an awfully big adventure”. Peter Pan.