The road to Mandalay


“On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flying fishes play,
And the dawn comes up like thunder out of China ‘cross the Bay!”

Rudyard Kipling, excerpted from Mandalay

I’ve often puzzled over this. Mandalay is on a river, so there are no flying fishes as far as I know, nor is there a Bay. And China is a thousand kilometres away. Mr. Kipling must’ve been taking some poetic license, because he only spent about three days total in Burma. Still, the metre is good.

And the road we’re taking is actually the┬áIrrawaddy River. Awoke at the crack of pre-dawn (3:45 AM) to take a boat – the good ship Nmai Hka – from Pagan to Mandalay, an eleven-hour trip (the slow boat takes two days.) After snoozing for a couple of hours on board, turns out this is a good way to go. A fairly modern boat, uncrowded and comfortable. Just us, a handful of Burmese, and a German tour group.

Forgot to mention a Zen moment: heading up the muddy river, comfortable seated in the shade, and listening to the Beatles on my IPhone. Can life get any better than this?

Some riverside scenes along the way:

Of course, no journey is without its crisis. We had mechanical problems midway, so we self-beached on a sandbar while the crew went overboard and fixed something that was fouling the screws. (That’s nautical talk for ‘plugging up the propellers’.)

Maria follows events with great interest.

Eventually, our delay was so long that the boat company ordered a bus to meet us at a town a few hours away from Mandalay, where we left our crippled vessel.

I disembark from our doomed ship.

Luckily, there were people around to unload the tour groups’ substantial luggage.

So we enjoyed the last few hours of travel to Mandalay in a comfy bus.