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BurmaNet News: November 20, 2000

______________ THE BURMANET NEWS ______________
        An on-line newspaper covering Burma 
________November 20, 2000   Issue # 1665__________

NOTED IN PASSING: ?Last week the 175-member International Labor 
Organization took the unusual step of condemning the junta's use of 
forced labor and invited member countries to impose sanctions. A good 
start would be restricting trade and investment in areas of the economy 
that profit from forced labor.?

New York Times editorial.  See New York Times: The Ruin of Myanmar

*AFP: Suu Kyi to be allowed out for court hearing 
*Radio Myanmar: Burma rejects International Labour Organization 
resolution, ceases to cooperate 
*DVB: Burma: Anti-insurgent group levies poppy cultivation tax in Shan 

*Bangkok Post: Burma has offered to host the annual Asean army 
commanders' meeting in 2002, an army source said
*DPA: Myanmar dissidents again hit out at Maung visit to India 

*Daily Star (Bangladesh): Myanmar shrugs off economic effects of ILO-led 
*Press Trust of India: Myanmar Dy PM calls for better economic ties 
*New York Times: The Ruin of Myanmar
*Boston Globe: Penalizing Burma 
*NY Times: Letter--Burmese Rice

OTHER _______
*The Ottawa Citizen: : Road to Mandalay: Luxury cruise offers a timeless 
peek at pagodas, temples, royal palaces and into the spiritual heart of 
Buddhist life

The BurmaNet News is viewable online at:

__________________ INSIDE BURMA ____________________

AFP: Suu Kyi to be allowed out for court hearing 

Nov. 20, 2000

YANGON: Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to emerge 
briefly from house arrest on Tuesday if she chooses to attend a court 
hearing over her brother's claim on her Yangon home, a Junta spokesman 

If Aung San Suu Kyi chooses to answer the summons in person, it will be 
her first public appearance since September 22 when the Junta laid down 
the restrictions after she attempted to travel outside the capital 

The Nobel laureate was subpoenaed to appear in Yangon divisional court 
after her brother Aung San Oo filed for half-ownership of the house 
which belonged to their late mother Khin Kyi. 

Colonel Than Tun, the military liaison between the National League for 
Democracy (NLD) and the military regime, said Aung San Suu Kyi and other 
detained party leaders were allowed leave for medical check-ups, 
religious ceremonies and other important functions. 

"We are not preventing them from going out if there is a legitimate 
reason", Than Tun told AFP. "Since there is this provision, we have no 
reason to bar Aung San Suu Kyi from attending or responding to the court 
summons if she wishes to go". 

Aung San Oo's legal move comes a month before the statute of limitations 
expires on the 12th anniversary of his mother's death. 

The US-based businessman has never played a political role in Myanmar 
but makes regular low-key personal trips here and has escorted groups of 
potential US investors to the country.(AFP)


Radio Myanmar: Burma rejects International Labour Organization 
resolution, ceases to cooperate 

Radio Myanmar, Rangoon, in Burmese 1330 gmt 17 Nov 00 

Text of report by Burmese radio on 17th November 

At its 279th session in Geneva, Switzerland on 16th November 2000, the 
governing body of the International Labour Organization ILO decided to 
activate the measures against Myanmar Burma stipulated in the resolution 
adopted at the 88th session of the International Labour Conference. This 
decision was made despite concrete and detailed legislative, executive, 
and administrative measures taken by Myanmar in accordance with the ILO 
Convention No.29 on forced labour. 

The so-called issue of forced labour in Myanmar arose from arbitrary 
judgment based on misinformation. The allegations against Myanmar 
emanates from elements opposed to the government, insurgent groups, and 
self-proclaimed workers' organizations that are more 
politically-motivated than dedicated to promoting the interests of 
workers. Regrettably, some western governments also joined in as they 
would like to put political pressure on Myanmar. 

Although Myanmar has dissociated itself from the relevant ILO 
resolution, it has tried to cooperate with ILO in finding solution to 
the problem, and even invited ILO Technical Cooperation Mission to 
Myanmar twice, during which very fruitful discussions took place. 
However, the ILO and the governing body in particular have turned a 
blind eye to the comprehensive framework of legislative, executive, and 
administrative measures put in place in Myanmar. This decision by the 
governing body is most regrettable and contrary to the wishes of many of 
its member states who would like to see a more prudent approach rather 
than a path of confrontation and coercion. Myanmar also wish to put on 
record its sincere thanks and appreciation to many friends and 
like-minded countries who took a principled stand against this 
unwarranted and unjustified action by the governing body. 

Today, Myanmar is singled out for punitive action. Tomorrow it may be 
another developing country. This decision sets a most dangerous 
precedence in which the big powers can use the pretext of labour rights 
and unfounded allegations to exert pressure and interfere in the 
internal affairs of developing nations. This decision will no doubt 
place the credibility, integrity, and reputation of the governing body 
and the ILO in question, as the effect of this decision would have the 
negative impact on the very people it purports to protect and serve. 

The action by the governing body is most unfair, most unreasonable, and 
most unjust. Myanmar therefore totally and categorically rejects the 
governing body resolution and dissociates itself from it and any 
activities and effects connected with it. As such, Myanmar will cease to 
cooperate with the International Labour Organization in relation to the 
ILO Convention 29 and any activity connected with it. The present 
situation arose out of the attempts of some western nations to impose 
their will on Myanmar. Myanmar will never be shaken by such pressure 
tactics and will never accept such attempts. As a national commitment, 
Myanmar has already taken the necessary legislative, executive, and 
administrative steps to prohibit the use of forced labour. Despite the 
negative decision of the ILO governing body, Myanmar will continue to 
adhere and implement these positive measures in the interest of the 
entire people. 


DVB: Burma: Anti-insurgent group levies poppy cultivation tax in Shan 

SOURCE: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1245 gmt 16 Nov 00 

Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 16th November 

The Kachin Democratic Army, KDA, is levying opium tax on farmers who 
grow poppies in northern Shan State's Kutkai Township. A tax of 6,500 
kyat Burmese currency unit is levied on a poppy field planted near and 
around Nanwin Village in Mu-se Township. As the KDA has issued an order 
stating that poppy could not be cultivated without paying tax, the 
villagers have been giving tax since 1st November. The KDA is a Kachin 
armed group that signed a cease-fire agreement with the SPDCState Peace 
and Development Council and is allowed to hold weapons. 

Furthermore, during October the anti-insurgent group formed under the 
auspices of the SPDC levied a poppy tax of kyat 14,000 per household on 
poppy farmers in Namhkam Township, northern Shan State. Besides, a poppy 
growing household has to pay 2,000 kyat per household for the Namphat 
Khan Village Tract fund. DVB Democratic Voice of Burma correspondent Myo 
Min Thant filed this report. 

___________________ REGIONAL/INTERNATIONAL___________________

Bangkok Post: Burma has offered to host the annual Asean army 
commanders' meeting in 2002, an army source said

Nov. 20

Singapore and Vietnam had earlier put in bids for the meeting.

Burma's representatives made their proposal at the shooting competition 
which precedes the first military chiefs meeting in Cha-am, Prachuap 
Khiri Khan, from Nov 21-22.

Burmese army chief Gen Maung Aye turned down an invitation to attend 
this year's meeting. Next year's meeting is in the Philippines. "Burma 
wants to make amends for Gen Maung Aye's not attending this year's 
meeting, because he was unhappy Thailand invited US army chief of staff 
Gen Eric Shinseki to be the guest speaker," the source said. "However, 
Gen Maung Aye still wants to tighten relations with Asean army leaders 
and he has offered to host the meeting in 2002."Sharpshooters from all 
10 Asean nations, including 40 from Burma, are competing in this year's 
shooting competition, which began on Friday at the infantry centre, 
Prachuap Khiri Khan. On Nov 22, army commanders of eight Asean countries 
will test their shooting skills at the closing ceremony.

The source said Burma had paid eight million baht to a Thai firm for an 
automated target system which would be used in the 2002 shooting event.



DPA: Myanmar dissidents again hit out at Maung visit to India 

Deutsche Presse Agentur

New Delhi 

Nov 18, 2000 

Myanmar dissidents in India again hit out Saturday at the visit of 
Burmese general Maung Aye to India. 

"India is a great democratic country. It should not align itself with 
the Burmese (Myanmar)junta which is a most cruel regime," Kyan Thaw, 
president of the All Burma Students League said. 

Thaw told Deutsche Presse Agentur dpa that India, as leader of third 
world countries, should have taken a lead in keeping away from the 
military regime. 

"But now it looks like India has changed its policy towards the 
democratic movement in Myanmar" Thaw said. 

He said even if India trying to get close to Myanmar to get its help in 
fighting insurgency in the northeastern areas, support to a brutal junta 
cannot be condoned. 

Thaw said the dissidents in Delhi had already organized protests against 
the visit on November 15, when some were arrested by local police and 
detained for few hours. He said they were planning more protests but did 
not give details. 

Thaw's organization operates from the house of Indian Defence Minister 
George Fernandes who has decided to stay away from the functions with 
Myang Aye and his team. 

The Asian Age newspaper reported - quoting the minister's office - that 
Fernandes, a staunch supporter of democratic movement in Myanmar, also 
had no intention of meeting Aye, who is vice-chairman of the ruling 
Peace and Development Council. 

General Aye arrived in New Delhi Friday accompanied by his wife, Daw Mya 
Mya San and a high-powered delegation. He is to hold talks with the 
Indian leaders including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during his 
five-day visit. 

India is Myanmar's biggest export market. It exported goods worth 141.14 
million dollars during the fiscal 1999-2000 while imports from Myanmar 
were worth 75.36 million dollars. 

India and Myanmar are scheduled to sign a 15-million dollar credit 
agreement for the purchase of Indian goods by Yangon, officials said. 

Aye, the second most important member of the ruling military junta in 
Yangon, is visiting at the invitation of Indian Vice-President Krishna 

The Myanmar team arrived in Delhi late Thursday after visiting Bodh Gaya 
in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, to pray at the site where Buddha 
is said to have attained enlightenment. 

This is Aye's second visit to India this year and a clear sign of closer 
ties between the world's most populous democracy and one of Asia's most 
notorious pariahs, criticised internationally for its poor human rights 
record and suppression of pro-democracy movement. 

There has been criticism in the Indian newspapers in the past days over 
Delhi giving a red carpet treatment to the visiting leader. 

Aye's trip is being treated by India with all the pomp usually 
associated with visit of a head of state. 

Replying to criticism, Indian Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani said 
India had weighed the pros and cons of the visit. "We have to deal with 
all kinds of governments but at the same time we are keeping in view our 
national interests," he said. 

Senior Indian officials say that the high profile welcome is mainly on 
account of India's recognition that Myanmar's strategic location is 
central for promoting Delhi's "look east" policy. 

"We no longer look at south east Asia as an extended neighbourhood. It 
is indeed our neighbourhood as endowed by geography which we have failed 
to recognise over the years," officials said on condition of anonymity. 

Sandwiched between south and southeast Asia, Myanmar is a natural "land 
bridge" linking the regions. India is keen to exploit this location by 
building cross-border roads into Myanmar. India proposes to use this 
link to get connected to southeast Asian heartland and beyond. 

India is already building a road which will link the Indian far- eastern 
state of Manipur with Myanmar, and will be part of the trans- Asian 
highway. This highway network will terminate at the Myanmar 
communication hub of Kalemyo. 

India also plans to tap Myanmar's energy potential. Talks between 
technical teams of two countries on the possible transfer of natural gas 
from Myanmar to India via Bangladesh are already being held. 

India also recognises Myanmar's importance in strengthening its natural 
security in the far-flung north eastern regions. Delhi is looking for 
joint operations with Yangon to curb an insurgency in the area - the 
insurgents have found safe havens in Myanmar's jungles - officials said. 

Aye was due Saturday to begin a two-day visit to Agra to see the Taj 
Mahal, the 17th century monument of love built by Moghul Emperor Shah 
Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. 

He will meet Vajpayee and Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh on 
Monday. He leaves for home on Tuesday. dpa mvb sc 

_______________ ECONOMY AND BUSINESS _______________

Daily Star (Bangladesh): Myanmar shrugs off economic effects of ILO-led 

YANGON, Nov 18: Myanmar Saturday downplayed the economic effects of an 
International Labour Organisation (ILO) decision to recommend its 
members impose sanctions over the issue of forced labour, reports AFP. 

"The resolution cannot hurt us too much as it does not carry much weight 
and individual countries are not obliged to comply with ILO's urgings," 
Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win told a press conference. 

"Trade patterns are mostly with neighbouring countries who are not 
obliged to follow the resolution," he said. 

In an unprecedented move, the ILO Thursday urged its member states and 
organisations to reonsider their relations with Myanmar because of its 
"widespread" use of forced labour. 

A majority of the 56 members of the ILO's governing body voted in favour 
of imposing sactions, despite the opposition of several Asian countries 
including China, India, Japan, Malaysia and Pakistan. 

Thailand refused to join in a united Association of Southeast Asia 
Nations (ASEAN) defence of Myanmar, which joine the bloc in 1997. 

Myanmar's foreign affairs ministry Friday said the decision was "most 
unfair" and ignored Yangon's efforts to cooperate with the ILO in 
stamping out forced labour. 

"The effects of this decision would have the negative impact on he very 
people it purports to protect and serve," it said in a statement. 

Khin Maung Win said the ILO decision was a political move by a small 
group of hostile Western countries intent on decrying its efforts to 
deal with the issue of forced labour. 

Myanmar's home ministry announced a new law banning forced labour in 
October after an ILO mission visited the country. The decree was 
reinforced on November 1 by a military directive. 

But the ILO judged the measures were "too little too late". 

Myanmar has been in the organisation's sights since 1998, when a 
commission of inquiry found the use of forced labour to be "widespread 
and systematic." 

According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions 
(ICFTU) nearly one million people are currently subjected to forced 
labour in Myanmar, particularly in building roads, railways and military 

The army has been singled out as a main offender, due to its practice of 
using villagers as "porters". 

The ICFTU on Friday urged tour operators and multinationals working in 
Myanmar to apply the recommendations of the ILO. 

Any new sanctions, on top of those already imposed by the United States 
and the European Union, may seal the fate of the tottering Myanmar 


Press Trust of India: Myanmar Dy PM calls for better economic ties 

Nov 20

PUNE: The vast potential for trade and investment in the industrial and 
service sector in Myanmar needs to be tapped by Indian industrialists, 
deputy prime minister of Myanmar Lt Gen Tin Hla has said. 

Addressing the members of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) 
here Saturday night, he said, "there exist immense possibilities for 
collaboration between the two countries, both in the public and private 

Lt Gen Hla said economic and technical cooperation between India and 
Myanmar has increased since the bilateral trade agreement in 1994. Even 
after this positive development the volume of trade and investment 
between the two countries remained 'disproportionately low' in relation 
to the potential that exists, he added. 

He said Myanmar has adopted a market oriented economic system in 1988 
abandoning the centrally planned system and the Union of Myanmar Foreign 
Investment Law (FIL) was promulgated the same year. The law provides for 
a number of incentives and guarantees to foreign direct investors and 
prepares an investment-friendly environment, he added. 

He said FIL provides for investment in the form of 100 per cent foreign 
ownership or a joint venture with a Myanmar partner, from private, 
cooperative or state sectors. The state-owned economic enterprise law 
prevents private sector in 12 economic activities but these could be 
allotted to the private sector if deemed beneficial for the state, he 

Hla said the law provides for tax holiday of three years which could be 
extended. Foreign investors could lease land and immovable property from 
the government initially for 30 years and extend it for three terms of 
five years, he added. 

He said Myanmar possesses vast land areas for cultivation and priority 
has been given for the development of agro-based industry. Rich marine 
resources, availability of metallic and non-metallic minerals along with 
the forestry and energy sector provide vast opportunities for foreign 
investment, he added. 

He said Myanmar has a comparative wage advantage with availability of a 
literate labour force. The foreign investment law guarantees that the 
foreign investment under this law is not nationalised and allows 
repatriation of capital and net profit, he added. 

In a joint venture, foreign participation should not be less than 35 per 
cent of the total equity capital. The minimum amount of foreign capital 
stipulated for each investment is $500,000 for manufacturing and 
$300,000 for services, he added. 

He expressed hope that his visit would strengthen the bonds of 
friendship between the two countries. (PTI)


New York Times: The Ruin of Myanmar 

November 19, 2000, Sunday, Late Edition - Final 

The Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar is a case study in repression and 
misgovernment. For 12 years a secretive military junta has ground down 
the liberties and living standards of 50 million people. By banning most 
contact with the outside world and buying off the leadership of restive 
ethnic minorities, the junta has deflected serious challenges to its 
rule, despite the dismal failure of its economic policies and spreading 
social ills. 

The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962, when it was known as Burma. 
After the violent suppression of a democracy movement in 1988, an even 
more ruthless set of generals took charge. They permitted elections in 
1990, then ignored the results when democratic forces led by Daw Aung 
Sang Suu Kyi won an overwhelming victory. She has spent 6 of the past 11 
years under house arrest. Other leaders of her party have been 
relentlessly persecuted, university students have been relocated from 
the cities, and unions and civic associations have been prohibited. The 
junta has banned computer modems, e-mail and the Internet and made it a 
crime for people to invite foreigners into their homes. 

The Times's Blaine Harden recently reported that Myanmar, which a 
half-century ago had one of Asia's best health care systems and highest 
literacy rates, is now near the bottom in these and many other measures 
of development as government spending has been diverted from schools and 
health care to the military. Most people now live on less than a dollar 
a day. Drug smuggling and AIDS have grown explosively and threaten to 
spill over to neighboring countries like China and Thailand. 

The United States has led international efforts to isolate Myanmar 
through economic sanctions, including a ban on new investment. But other 
Asian countries have been reluctant to apply pressure. China, in 
particular, has helped sustain the junta through military aid. But an 
increasing number of countries are losing patience. Last week the 
175-member International Labor Organization took the unusual step of 
condemning the junta's use of forced labor and invited member countries 
to impose sanctions. A good start would be restricting trade and 
investment in areas of the economy that profit from forced labor. 
Washington too should consider additional steps like encouraging 
disinvestment by American companies. Myanmar's people deserve 
international support in their struggle against a destructive tyranny.   


Boston Globe: Penalizing Burma 

Nov 19, 2000

TOO LITTLE ATTENTION has been paid to a showdown this past week in 
Geneva, where the Governing Body of the International Labor Organization 
debated punitive measures against the military junta in Burma for what 
an ILO Commission of Inquiry called ''widespread and systematic'' use of 
forced labor.

The ILO's decision to impose sanctions on the junta represents a 
principled stand by the oldest UN agency against the horrific human 
rights violations perpetrated by the illegitimate regime in Rangoon. The 
ILO's Commission of Inquiry reported in 1998 that forced labor ''on the 
scale practiced in Burma, amounted to a crime against humanity.''

Because of the international composition of the ILO, the decision to ask 
its members - labor groups and employers as well as governments - to 
punish the Burmese junta becomes a paradigm for multilateral sanctions. 

It was to prevent such a precedent that certain countries, anxious to 
protect their own right to abuse their peoples or to invest anywhere, 
sought to delay any definitive action by the ILO. With Malaysia in the 
lead, China, India, Russia, and Japan backed a dilatory amendment. But 
to no avail. The junta had been given five months to cooperate with the 
ILO but did nothing in that time to change its laws or cease its 
practice of dragooning villagers into unpaid and hazardous labor. 

In Geneva, Andrew Samet, the undersecretary for international affairs at 
the US Department of Labor, noted that the junta had not complied with 
an ultimatum that the ILO issued last June. To make his point vividly, 
Samet described the human meaning of forced labor under the Burmese 
military rulers. 

''Workers are subject to frequent beatings or physical abuse by 
soldiers,'' he said. ''Some are killed. Women who perform compulsory 
labor are raped. Deaths, rapes, and beatings - there are no harsher 
measures than these.''

This is the first time in its 81-year history that the ILO had to invoke 
its Forced Labor Convention against a member (Burma ratified the 
Convention in 1955). Henceforth, the unions, employers, and governments 
that are the ILO's constituents must review their relations with the 
Burmese dictatorship to make certain they are not taking any action that 
might contribute to forced labor in Burma.

Thailand in particular deserves praise for vetoing an effort by its 
neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to oppose ILO 
sanctions against the junta. A million victims of the Burmese junta have 
fled into Thailand. The Thais have suffered corollary damage from the 
Burmese inferno. Thanks to the ILO's just action, the rest of the world 
may come to understand that all peoples have a stake in helping protect 
the people of Burma.

This story ran on page C06 of the Boston Globe on 11/19/2000. 


NY Times: Letter--Burmese Rice

November 19, 2000

To tthe Editor:

"For Burmese, Repression, AIDS and Denial" (front page, Nov. 14) shed 
some much needed light on the lamentable situation in Myanmar. Although 
Myanmar probably produces enough rice to feed its people, a sizable 
portion is taken from the farmers as taxes and exported by the State 
Peace and Development Council in order to earn hard currency. The 
farmers' taxes are so exorbitantly high, sometimes more than half the 
crop during a bad year, that many can barely grow enough rice to sustain 

The widespread use of forced labor in Myanmar remains a major problem 
and is to be addressed on Nov. 30 by the International Labor 
Organization, which has in effect already expelled the country from the 


_____________________ OTHER  ______________________

The Ottawa Citizen: : Road to Mandalay: Luxury cruise offers a timeless 
peek at pagodas, temples, royal palaces and into the spiritual heart of 
Buddhist life 

November 18, 2000 Saturday FINAL EDITION 

Bob Riche 

MANDALAY, Myanmar - From the western bank of the Ayeyarwady River, 
looking down and across the surprisingly clean, flowing expanse of 
Burma's longest waterway, time seems to stand still. 

Only a short distance up the river, lean, bare-torsoed dock workers 
shoulder 45-kilogram bags of rice from a decrepit-looking riverboat 
moored at the bankside -- as they have for hundreds of years. 

Across the water, a steep hill studded with what look like gleaming 
sharp-edged jewels in a jade background rises up to meet the sky. 

The jewel-like objects are Burmese pagodas crowding one upon another, 
where monks and nuns and common folk have come to worship Buddha for 
almost a thousand years. 

Directly below the riverbank, at the bottom of a steep incline of stone 
steps, the gleaming white hull of the luxury riverboat Road to Mandalay 
is moored, a welcoming crew in starched, white naval uniform waiting to 
greet passengers as they board. 

The 100-metre-long ship will serve as a floating hotel for the next 
three days and nights, as the captain navigates through the sandy shoals 
and swirling depths of the Ayeyarwady River between Mandalay and Bagan, 
200 kilometres to the south in this country now known as Myanmar 
(formerly Burma). 

Along the way, knowledgeable guides will accompany passengers ashore to 
visit some of the most famous and glorious Buddhist temples and 
monasteries in all of Asia, as well as local villages where the families 
eke out a slim living by fishing, agriculture, local crafts and, of 
course, the visits of tourists. 

Although Myanmar has recently taken steps to open up the country, it has 
a long history of isolation from the western world. As a result, it is 
one of the few countries of the world completely unspoiled by tourism 

This cruise from Mandalay to Bagan is a three-night trip. 

The usual itinerary is to fly to Bangkok, Thailand; allow for a day or 
two to recover from jet lag, then fly to Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the 
capital of Myanmar. 

The mighty Ayeyarwady River originates in the very north of Myanmar, fed 
by the melting snows of the Himalayas. 

It flows down through the length of the country, reaching its delta on 
the Bay of Bengal. 

The northern reaches of the river are unnavigable, but the current flows 
smoothly and rapidly from Mandalay onward. 

Because the river can rise and fall as much as 7.5 metres in one season 
of monsoon rainfall, it takes a special kind of boat to navigate the 

Its engines must be powerful enough to buck strong currents during 
high-water season, and yet must be built with a draught shallow enough 
to glide over portions of the river that at times may be only two metres 
deep during the dry season. 

Incredibly, the boat that seemed to best fulfill both of these 
requirements was one that was built in 1964 and was found by the Orient 
Express organization plying the waters of the Rhine River. The 
reconditioned ship was given the new romantic name of Road to Mandalay 
for service on the Ayeyarwady. 

And truly a romantic adventure is in store for its passengers. From the 
spacious staterooms, one looks out upon the river scene -- passing 
timber rafts laden with enormous teak logs, crowded double-deck 
passenger boats, and barges transporting vegetables and fruits, cement, 
fertilizer, and glazed pots. 

Local fishermen fling nets from homemade wooden boats and along the high 
sandy banks of the river, whole families camp in tents, their campfires 
flickering in the dark at night. In the daytime, the people work their 
cornfields and peanut plantations, rice paddies, vegetable patches and 
fruit orchards. 

With four passenger decks, the Road to Mandalay offers its guests every 

The shore excursions are among the highlights of the trip. On the first 
day aboard, passengers disembark for a tour of Mandalay, visiting a 
partial reconstruction of the former Royal palace, a walled square 
compound built at the direction of King Mindon in the mid-19th century. 
Surrounded by a moat protecting the "forbidden palace," the compound was 
designed to be the jewel of Burma's capital, a symbol of royal peace and 

Constructed entirely of teak and decorated lavishly with gold leaf and 
lacquer, the palace was surrounded by an elaborate arrangement of teak 
pavilions, throne rooms and halls. The original compound was bombed by 
the British during the Second World War in an attempt to rout the 
Japanese who had made it their headquarters. 

The tour continues to nearby Amarapura to the shallow Taungthaman Lake, 
which is traversed by U Bein's bridge, the longest wooden-planked bridge 
in the world, almost a mile in length, constructed two centuries ago. It 
is still a busy pedestrian thoroughfare, with hundreds of villagers, 
monks and nuns moving across it, with the sun, blood red on the horizon, 
settling behind. 

For those who are up for it, there is an early breakfast call the next 
morning to motor to a nearby village, where monks line up for their 
daily acceptance of alms. The monks, each holding a black lacquered 
bowl, pass in line for portions of rice and Burmese breakfast delicacies 
donated by the ship's staff. It is a ritual of the Buddhist religion for 
monks to go from house to house on regular rounds during each day of the 
week to collect food and other contributions, and it is no way viewed by 
the Burmese as begging. 

The monks do not offer thanks as they accept their gifts; on the 
contrary, it is those who give who feel thanks that they are able to do 
so. The monks range in age from 80 to six years old, and only the 
littlest fellows seem willing to offer a shy smile as they receive their 

Visits to other villages are similarly intriguing. One village is 
devoted almost entirely to carving stonework from limestone, beautifully 
rendered sculptures of Buddha and various mythical creatures. Most of 
the statues, some of them weighing as much as 10 tonnes, are shipped 
overland to China, and comprise a flourishing industry for the 

Before weighing anchor from Mandalay, there is a visit to Sagaing, the 
hillside site directly across the river, and a spiritual centre of 
Buddhist life. Some 20,000 monks and 5,000 Buddhist nuns reside here in 
500 monasteries and nunneries. Religious heart of the region is the 
Mahamuni pagoda, dating from the 14th century. It houses the most 
venerated Buddha statue in Mandalay. 

A highlight of the visit to Sagaing is the opportunity to observe the 
inside of one of the nunneries. The nuns wear beautiful lavender robes 
(contrasting favourably with the saffron yellow of the monks). Like the 
monks, their heads are shaved. They are mostly slender and quite 
beautiful in their serenity. Their lives, like that of the monks, are 
spent in studying and meditation. 

The Road to Mandalay moves smoothly down the river and after a day of 
river cruising, it reaches its destination city, Bagan, capital of the 
first Burmese empire that flourished from the 11th century until its 
defeat by the armies of Kublai Khan in 1287. Calm and serene, it has 
been designated by the UN as a World Heritage Site. 

Of 13,000 pagodas that existed at that time, only 2,000 remain today. As 
a result, the fields in and around the city are filled with ruins dating 
from the 11th century, abandoned remains that are somehow still 
impressive, awesome, mysterious and sometimes even grotesque. 

But of the 2,000 pagodas that remain today, perhaps 100 are 
world-ranking monuments, rivalled in southeast Asia as architectural 
masterpieces only by Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia. 

Chief among them are the imposing whitewashed 13th century Ananda, 
considered to be the masterpiece of Mon (early Buddhist) architecture, 
and the imposing Shwezigon pagoda with its enormous gold-leafed dome. 



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