The road to Mandalay carries the heavy weight of romantic expectation but in reality you wouldn’t want to travel too far on it. So it’s serendipitous that Mandalay sits on the mighty Irrawaddy – or Ayeyarwady – River, a waterway which is so much more than just a fast-moving body of water. Daily, the Irrawaddy is jam-packed with an array of vessels carrying just about anything you’d find heading down a super highway in a bus, car or semi-trailer. Livestock, timber, machinery, workers, tourists – there are boats to transport them all.
Our trusty vessel, Malikha 6.
Novice Buddhist nuns on their early morning rounds seeking alms, Mandalay Harbour.
We pass the important religious and monastic Sagaing division which boasts 600 nunneries and monasteries and 6000 monks and nuns.
Like other great Southeast Asian rivers such as the Mekong, the Irrawaddy is truly a lifeblood channel. Apart from a transport route, albeit dependant on fluctuating water levels, the river is a source of fish, provides water for drinking and bathing while the banks and sandbanks transform to lush garden beds for a multiplicity of crops after yearly monsoon floods. It’s also a great spot to pan for alluvial gold.
So what better way to get from Mandalay to the archaeological wonder of Bagan than by a leisurely day on the river in a passenger ferry watching the daily life of Burma pass by? Setting out from Mandalay harbour in the early-morning mist – and the ever-present smoke from unregulated incineration – we selected our armchairs on the deck and settled back to enjoy the 10-hour cruise. Much more romantic than yet another air flight!
Traveling companions settle back and enjoy a leisurely day on the river.
Timber takes the river route.