“I love the Burman with the blind favouritism born of first impression. When I die I will be a Burman … and I will always walk about with a pretty almond-coloured girl who shall laugh and jest too, as a young maiden ought. She shall not pull a sari over her head when a man looks at her and glare suggestively from behind it, nor shall she tramp behind me when I walk: for these are the customs of India. She shall look all the world between the eyes, in honesty and good fellowship, and I will teach her not to defile her pretty mouth with chopped tobacco in a cabbage leaf, but to inhale good cigarettes of Egypt’s best brand.”
– Rudyard Kipling, 1890
Some things in Myanmar have changed little since Kipling’s time.
The Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy or Ayeyarwady) River, the country’s largest and most important waterway, remains a major transport artery. Numerous wooden boats still ply their trade up and down the “Road to Mandalay” – although the paddle steamers of Kipling’s day have mostly been replaced by noisy diesel and gas motors.
There was much that Kipling would have found familiar.
The most famous attraction in Mingun is the beautiful Hsinbyume or Myatheindan Pagoda – built in 1816 and dedicated to the memory of Princess Hsinbyume (Lady of the White Elephant) who died in childbirth – to which I devoted a post to recently. As impressive as Hsinbyume Pagoda is, it is the people on the walk leading to and from it which are the real burmese treasures.
You can’t visit Mingun without a look at the Mingun Bell. Weighing in at 90 tons, and built between 1808 and 1810 by the same King Bodawpaya who started the giant stupa, it is one of the largest functioning bells in the world.
“This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about.”
– Rudyard Kipling, Letters from the East (1898)
It is a beautiful place, with beautiful people… I hope it stays that way!Pictures: 12 September2012