“On the road to Mandalay, Where the flyin’-fishes play, An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outa China ‘crost the Bay!”
“Hit me? Hit me! Hit me! … On the road to Mandalay … over the hills and far away.”
Burma’s second city, Mandalay, was founded in 1857 in the shadow of Mandalay Hill. It holds a dreamy place in any wannabe traveller’s heart. In my case, having left school when Ian Dury’s Blockheads released their song on the album People of Kampuchea, I was easily drawn to the fabled chilled charm of the former royal capital over the hills and far away. I first visited the town’s exciting blend of enchanting Buddhist temples, mosques, monasteries and bustling markets 35 years ago in 1984.
Memories of this visit are of long, lazy days talking to countless friendly students desperate to practise their English and hear stories of a world beyond their military-junta dominated country. The pace of life to this day appears to run in sync with the gentle flow of the Irrawaddy River that links Mandalay and the Temples of Bagan.
The city’s character has upped its energy since my first visit, enthusiastically embracing modern technology (motor-bikes, sound-systems and neon-lights) and welcoming outside influences (Chinese Yunnan immigrants, commercialisation and tourism) but there remains a charmingly slow ambience to the place.
Whether gazing down across the lush Irrawaddy River from Mandalay Hill or ducking and diving through the countless range of temples, the pace of life feels as endearing as the memory of Supi-yuw-lat, the cockney soldier’s ‘Burma girl’ so famously yearned for in Kipling’s Ballad.
As these recent photos show, the strong Buddhist influence seeps deep throughout Mandalay’s modern day society. A sea of temples, pagodas and Buddhas are all to be found just a stone’s throw from U Bein Bridge and its world-famous views of iridescent sunsets.