Known as Moulmein in colonial times, Mawlamyine became the capital of British Lower Burma when it was ceded by the Konbaungs as part of the Treaty of Yandabo, following the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824–6. Strategically sited at the mouth of the Thanlwin (Salween) River, the town pro- vided a convenient harbor for steamers traveling between the cities of Calcutta (India) and Singapore, and on to the Straits Settlements and the Pacific. Among the legions of linen-suited passengers to have admired its gilded hilltop pagodas en route to more dis- tant corners of the empire was Rudyard Kipling, who immortal- ized it in his popular 1892 poem “Mandalay.” George Orwell was also briefly a resi dent of the town in 1926, while he was serving as a police officer in Burma. It is believed that he drew on an experience he had here for his famous 1936 essay “Shooting an Elephant.” Dramatic limestone outcrop housing the Kyauktalon Kyaung pagoda, offering superb views of the surrounding countryside 192 MYANMAR AREA BY AREA Since Independence, the town has become the capital of Mon State, and is one of the largest cities of Myanmar. The sizable Anglo-Burmese community for which Mawlamyine was once known dispersed long ago, but the old quarter over looking the river front retains plenty of faded charm. Dominating its low-rise, tin-roofed skyline from atop Pagoda Hill inland is the huge Kyaikthanlan Pagoda, a classic Mon-style stupa founded in the 9th century, but enlarged several times since. A fancily decorated elevator leads to its terrace, a popular spot for a sun- set stroll from where the views across the Thanlwin are glorious.
Farther north along the hill stands the equally grand Mahamuni Temple, whose glittering central shrine houses a much-revered replica of Mandalay’s Mahamuni, donated by Mibayagyi, one of Mindon’s queens. During the British annexation of Upper Burma, after Thibaw was deposed and the court exiled in 1885, she is said to have pined for her beloved Mahamuni statue, and commissioned this replica image in 1904.
Flowing 1,749 miles (2,825 km) from the Tibetan Plateau to its mouth in the Gulf of Mottama (Martaban), the Thanlwin (Salween) is one of the world’s longest free-flowing rivers – as yet, not a single dam blocks its route to the sea. Appropriately enough, the great bridge spanning the estuary at Mawlamyine, where the river meets the Andaman Sea, is the longest in Myanmar and carries both the highway and main rail line north
. Overlooking the coastal transport artery from a hilltop inland is the Nwa-la-bon Taung Pagoda, a golden boulder temple much less well known than the one at Kyaiktiyo. It consists of three gilded rocks balanced on top of each other. A fleet of 4WD trucks, with wooden slats in the rear for passengers, waits to shuttle pilgrims to the summit, which offers fabulous views of the coastal plain and river-mouth
On a scrub-covered hillside south of Mawlamyine, just off the main highway at Yadana Taung, reclines a huge, red- robed Buddha, Win Sein Taw Ya, depicted at the moment of parinirvana, or attaining free- dom from the cycle of rebirth. Measuring 600 ft (180 m) in length, it is the largest statue of its kind anywhere in the world and, like the one at Bodhi Tataung near the town of Monywa (see p158), is hollow. Pilgrims may venture inside to see dioramas depicting scenes from moral tales and the life of the Buddha.
Rising sheer from the rice paddies across the National Highway from Win Sein Taw Ya, a dramatic outcrop of lime- stone is the site of a small but spectacularly located pagoda called the Kyauktalon Kyaung. A flight of whitewashed steps leads to the summit of the rock, from where the views across the surrounding fields to the river are superb.