Caucasus Silk RoadExplore the natural, cultural, and religious heritage of the Caucasus region.
I can’t recall when I first heard Rudyard Kiplings epic poem ‘The Road to Mandalay’ but bits of it still leap to mind whenever I hear that place mentioned. Kipling never set foot in Mandalay or anywhere nearer than Moulmine on the Bay of Bengal but his poem captured the fascination that English had for their empire in the ‘east’. These days there are no paddles clunkin where the old flotilla lay, no flying fish playing and no dawn coming up like thunder outer China acrost the bay. The English, Dutch, Germans and us have arrived in Mandalay by air. It is just a short 25 minute hop from Bagan or Inle lake and is usually the last stop on the tourist ‘loop’. Mandalay is a big town so apart from one or two sites we wont be rubbing shoulders with the crowd from Studiosus or Viking.
There are a lot of interesting things to see around Mandalay so our small group of travellers will be staying two nights. For starters the region has been the site of three Royal capitals at Ava, Amapura and Sagaing. At Mandalay itself the last King Thibaw and his Queen Supayalat were unceremoniously bundled off to exile in India by the British in November 1885. A replica of the Royal Palace and its imposing walls has been built to replace the original which was looted and partially burned down by the British then completely destroyed by Allied bombs diring WWII. We climbed the original watchtower from where Queen Supayalat had looked out to the Ayeyarwaddy River and seen the ‘old flotilla’ its paddle wheels a clunking as the British disembarked.
Thibaw was a very religious man who endowed Mandalay with many monuments and pagodas. Several are on the tourist circuit and all are impressive but for us it was the artisan district in old Mandalay that took our interest. Here there are streets of carvers in teak wood and marble, bronze casters and sharp eyed delicate fingered ladies stitching intricate tapestries. It is a crafty little backwater in an otherwise big and self important commercial city at the geographical heart of Myanmar at the crossroads between China and India. Today we are heading west across the Ayeyarwaddy River to Monywa and beyond to Imphal in India. The border to India is only recently opened to foreign travellers and we have an expectation for adventure away from the madding crowd.