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Travelers following the inland route between Bagan and Mandalay, rather than the slower journey by river, generally pass through the lakeside town of Meiktila, at the head of the Sittaung Valley. Its  strategic position as the gate- way to Upper Burma made it  the scene of an epic battle in 1944, when the Allies took it from the Japanese, and were then promptly surrounded by the enemy. Two months of bitter fighting ensued before the siege could be broken. A legacy of the conflict is the large air base on the city’s outskirts, which ensures a high­profile military presence. Tatmadaw troops have taken to the streets several times in recent years to quell outbreaks of communal violence, including in March 2013, when dozens of people were killed and around 12,000 displaced in mob attacks by Buddhists on Muslims.

The city itself holds no sights worthy of a special detour. With time to kill, however, the path around the lake makes for a pleasant cycle ride, passing the  picturesque Phaung Daw U Pagoda, a floating shrine made in the shape of a gilded karaweik bird. Among the old British­era mansions on its western shore is the one where NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her husband Michael Aris spent their honeymoon.

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