MAWLAMYINE, Myanmar (AP) — On the stairway rising to Moulmein's great Buddhist shrine, the visiting British writer Rudyard Kipling was inspired to pen one of the most anthologized poems of the English language.
"By the old Moulmein pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea/There's a Burma girl a-settin,' and I know she thinks o' me.," go the opening lines of "Mandalay," verses imbued with nostalgia for the wind-swept palms and twinkling temple bells the young poet left behind for the gray skies of England.
Today, 128 years later after Kipling's infatuation, the Kyaik Than Lan pagoda remains a prime attraction for pilgrims and tourists. Its soaring, gilded stupa gleams on a ridge overlooking a city of greenery and watery expanses which has retained links to the British colonial past that Kipling chronicled. The Burmese women he noticed can be seen there too, some wearing the traditional sarongs long discarded in most of Asia, some chatting on smartphones as they circumambulate the stupa in proper Buddhist fashion.
Despite the intrusions of modern technology and being Myanmar's fourth largest city, Mawlamyine (as Moulmein is now officially spelled) still maintains an air of distance from the world's mainstreams, in part because of its geography. It's a long, 300-kilometer (186-mile) road journey from Myanmar's international gateway of Yangon, the other options being a rickety train ride or sporadic flights.