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Between land and sea - The Irrawaddy Delta

Pandaw's latest adventure is a voyage to the heart of the Irrawaddy Delta, one of Burma's most colourful and distinctive corners. As well as fulfilling a long-held ambition of the company, this exciting new expedition marks the 10thanniversary of Pandaw's widely-acclaimed humanitarian intervention in the aftermath of 2008's Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the region.

Plans are already well advanced to bring you the best of this watery heartland, home of the ancient Mon race, the rice basket of Burma, now sadly known as the scene of one of the worst natural disasters in living memory.

As well as appreciating the unique and picturesque cultural and natural qualities of this ancient wetland civilisation, passengers will see plenty of evidence of the enduring spirit of the Burmese and how they have rebuilt their communities in the face of devastation and tragedy.

The Irrawaddy Delta, which comprises nine main tributaries and a capillary system of smaller creeks and waterways, stretches over 10,000 square kilometres. Heavily populated (the Delta is home to around 3.5 million people), this water-logged maze has played a major part in Burmese history. In ancient times, it changed hands frequently between the Bamar and Mon kingdoms and also been settled by the Karen. In the modern era, it was the key toe-hold in the 1750s for the East India Company, forerunner of the British Raj, which fought crucial engagements here in the 1824-1826 to win the First Anglo-Burmese War.

Since then, life in the Delta has seen no great dramatic changes, although British civil engineering increased the cultivatable land through dykes and barriers, and connected the Delta via the 22-mile Twante Canal to the Yangon River, on which sits Rangoon, the country's former capital and main port, our point of departure and return destination. In the heyday of the Raj, the Delta's rice production fed vast swathes of the British Empire via Rangoon's docks.

The Irrawaddy Delta River Cruises

Some picturesque vestiges of that era remain, alongside the marketplaces, temples, churches and mosques of this vibrant and varied landscape. Deep in the Delta, pretty riverine towns bustle amidst the islets and creeks, which are strewn with salt-tolerant mangrove (heavily threatened by deforestation) and nipa palm. These flatlands comprise mineral rich soil, still producing high yields of rice. On the waterways themselves, fishermen and turtle egg hunters ply their ancient business, while exotic migratory water birds paddle in the shallows. Experienced travellers will be reminded of the waterways around Kerala, or the Louisiana Bayou.

But as many Pandaw passengers are aware, this primordial scene of peace and serenity was brutally disturbed on 2 May 2008 when Cyclone Nargis, the worst disaster in the long history of Burma made landfall, causing a storm surge tidal wave 40km inland, a wall of water which, along with the destructive fury of the winds, was responsible for an estimated 138,000 deaths.

Pandaw's forthcoming trip will show plenty of evidence of damage wrought by that catastrophe, but also of the complex process of rebuilding ten years on. Pandaw is proud to have played a leading part in that effort through our floating clinics and emergency relief packages (see "Nargis - our finest hour"  pp193-202 The Pandaw Story), and we continue to support the people of the Delta through the work of the Pandaw Charity.

Offering close encounters with a unique habitat, flora and fauna (potentially including the famous Irrawaddy dolphin and salt water crocodiles) and redolent of the triumph of the human spirit over disaster, our Delta adventure promises to be one of our very best yet.



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