I was finally headed to Mrauk U (pronounced “Mraw Oo”) after a failed attempt in February 2014. This ancient royal city had been on my travel map since my first trip to Burma in 2011. Founded in 1430 A.D. it was the seat of the Rakhine kingdom for more than 300 years. It sits about 45 miles north of Sittwe on the Kaladan river.
You can travel overland by bus but the boat ride from Sittwe is the best way to get there and worth the trip alone. I felt like I was on a National Geographic highlight reel; water buffalo grazing along the banks of the delta river, thousands of migrating birds moving in large groups, even a pair of large almost ostrich-like birds called the sarus crane made an appearance. Add in the picture postcard fisherman paddling in his cutout canoe and boats filled with colorful umbrella-clad passengers and you get the idea.
The first thing that struck me about Mrauk U is that every corner you turn contains another view of a pagoda, a ruin of some sort or a majestic temple. Upon arrival and after a rest, I headed out with my camera in hand to scout out a good place for sunset. Not surprisingly I found a large pagoda high on a hill five minutes walk from my hotel. I had it all to myself as I walked up the almost crumbling steps. Although not the best spot for sunset, I knew where I would be going for sunrise.
As I wandered through some of the neighborhoods, I noticed a number of community watering holes or small lakes with kids playing on the banks and others gathering water. In other parts of the city I saw numerous concrete circular wells about three-yards wide with buckets attached to ropes. Each morning, women arrived at the well just as the sun breaks to drop the buckets and gather their water, pouring this precious liquid into their silver water jugs. I saw some carry these containers balanced on top of their heads as they do with other things as well.
Travel gives you a chance to experience other cultures and see life from a different perspective, to put yourself in other’s shoes and bring some of that perspective home. It was a reminder that water is a way of life here in Mrauk U, not only for daily consumption, but also as a source for food, namely fish, for transportation and, back in the reign of the ancient kingdom, as a natural defense mechanism.
Water is a precious resource that they don’t take for granted in Mrauk U. It is also a more and more precious resource throughout Burma as climate change impacts the country, changing the monsoon season and bringing hotter temperatures, bringing floods to low lying plains and drought to others. It was a good reminder as I return home to a drought stricken California despite a promising El Nino winter of 2015-16.
As Burma continues its quest for democratic reform, more tourists will come to see what all the fuss is about. No doubt they will discover the beautiful, mystical and magical place called Mrauk U.
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