Saturday, October 17, 2009

Irrawaddy Riverbank Life

Compared to Yangon, Mandalay is laid back and peaceful. However, to see some organized chaos, you have but to wander down to the river.
The sandy banks are practically overrun with bamboo huts. I'm tempted
to call them makeshift, but many of them have a feel of semi-permanence
about them. I'm sure a lot of them survive the wet season when the
Irrawaddy swells. Others are rebuilt year after year.

The banks of the Irrawaddy are lined with boats for as far as the eye
can see. There are no dock facilities, no jetty, just boats pressed
against the shore - and to each other.

While quite a few are used as informal houseboats, most are in the process of unloading cargo.

Finished goods arrive from Yangon while raw materials, mainly wood, travel downriver from various places. When it's time to unload the vessels, everyone pitches in. Baskets are the prefered way of moving smaller items.

Here a family loads a local truck with bamboo brought from up river. The riverbank has quite an industry cutting and preparing these poles.

The early morning light makes for gorgeous photos. On the top of the bank, along the roadside, I tried to get a group of kids to pose as they sat on the stone wall, but they were surprisingly shy. These two girls, working at a tea shop, happily volunteered.

Just about everything of potential value is reused on the riverbank. These oil drums, for example, have been battered, beaten and repaired countless times.

The storage areas on shore also provide excellent photo opportunities.

One of the more unusual raw materials arriving at Mandalay is one that is in abundance along the river: sand. Construction projects continue in the city and sand is a vital component of the concrete. The sand from the many islands in the middle of the river are best since they are free of organic matter (unlike that on the shore where I stood). Most of the small boat operators haul the sand to the bank by the basket load, but the more technologically advanced use a water pump to draw the sand through heavy hoses. It provides the local kids an opportune place to play.

Just a bit upriver from the "commercial bank," an inlet acts a bit of a harbor. It's not deep enough to let the larger boats in, but it makes a fine place to organize an prepare floating materials such as these logs.

People walk across the log rafts as they would a sidewalk. It is quite common to see people fishing from them and it's the ideal location to wash your clothes or whatever else needs a good scrubbing.

The most interesting thing about these log rafts is that not only do people work on them, they actually live on them. I saw numerous lean-to and hut dwellings, complete with cooking fires.

There's a small village on the other side of the inlet. Several boats ply between the shores, taking people to work and kids to school. The rowers use a peculiar crossed oar method to power their boats.

As the sun sets on the other side of the Irrawaddy, I'm given one more beautiful vista to enjoy.

See the full size photos here.

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