Occupying a sliver of lush coastal land, Arakan – precursor of modern Rakhine State – was in the 16th century the hub of a trade network in spices and slaves that extended from south India to Indonesia, and brought fabu lous riches to the Arakanese kings. The grandeur of their capital, Mrauk U, was renowned across Asia. Merchants from Persia, Afghanistan, Abyssinia, China, Japan, Portugal, and Holland settled here. The arts flourished, and the markets were full of precious stones and perfumes. However, after the Burmese sacked the city in 1784, the population of 16,000 fled and it fell into ruins. Now only a scattering of stupas and temples remain, rising from a carpet of bleached grass and scrub – a sight that is especially beautiful in the mist of early morning.