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Irrawaddy In Focus

Irrawaddy In Focus

For centuries the beauty and mystery of Myanmar has fascinated travellers to this land, formerly known as Burma. European writers from Rudyard Kipling to Somerset Maugham have all tried to capture in words the embarrassment of bewildering beauty that imbues this enigmatic country.

A cruise along the meandering Irrawaddy River is one of travel’s most rewarding experiences. Shaper of Myanmar’s history and economic lifeblood, this fabled river offers a tableau of yoked oxen ploughing narrow strips of fertile soil exposed by the decreasing levels of the dynamic river; children swimming as their mothers go about their ablutions before pounding their laundered clothes on the rocks; young men in their longyis searching for fish climb aboard canoes that resemble ancient coracles. The ever-present forests reveal inviolate golden stupas; tall palms hardly ripple in the soporific air; decrepit cargo boats putter alongside the riverbank conveying their wares from one tiny hamlet to another. At every turn of the river a mist-shrouded temple appears, as if to reaffirm these are reverent people for whom their religion is all important.

Such a time-worn scene would be instantly recognisable to George Orwell who wrote ‘Burmese Days’, not to mention former Burmese kings. But it is modernising and the pace of change is fast, so now is the perfect time to turn the clock back and head east to join the increasingly large armada of luxurious river vessels that are offering cruises along this waterway that was immortalised in Kipling’s poem of 1890 ‘The Road to Mandalay’.

Indeed most cruises sail between Mandalay and Bagan - former capital of the Burmese empire and spiritual heart of Myanmar. From the 11th century until its rapid decline at the end of the 13th century, devout Burmese monarchs built over 4,000 temples across a 20 square-mile swathe of a parched-earth plain at Bagan. Though many of the original pagodas have crumbled into oblivion, there are still thousands rising from the dusky-red terrain. In this ghost city, slim, white temples contrast with stocky, red-brick monuments; some soaring 180 feet high, with elaborate terraces, porticos and bas-reliefs.

The former royal capital of Mandalay is still regarded as the most Burmese of the cities. King Mindon, who ruled from 1853 to 1878, originally named the city Yadanapon, which translates to ‘City of Gems’. Mandalay itself offers a captivating pastiche of thatch and woven bamboo dwellings raised from the low-lying banks on stilts. Irrawaddy river cruise brochures promise ‘a corner of earth, touched by heaven’ – and for once the purple prose is true. To find out more about cruises on the Irrawaddy speak to our experienced team on 0800 484 0370

  • 17th May 2017