Tuesday 31st August 2010
The Programme offers: "Experience a train journey to Naba through the majestic teak forests. Visit a small rural village and discover the lifestyle at the crossroads of Upper and Lower Myanmar."
Can you imagine? 'Road to Mandalay' wants to take its guests by train, so they arrange a private charter and have three better-quality passenger coaches brought up from Mandalay to form the service.
I asked Sammy what the chances of a cab ride were and she said 'No problem', asking Mai to make the arrangements. We were transferred to the landing place at Katha by Fast Boat but, this time, a long line of horse drawn taxis were waiting for the longer journey to the railway station. Here were were each issued with a pasteboard ticket for the journey before moving onto the platform. The 3-coach plus Luggage Van train looked very smart in red and cream livery but the diesel locomotive at the head of the train was the usual beat-up specimen I'd seen elsewhere.
Mai went up to what I took to be the driver, sitting on a platform bench like drivers everywhere. Her face clouded over so I went over to see what the problem was. She said there's a belief that it's bad luck to have a woman in the cab. I had one card up my sleeve - a postcard actually - showing me on the footplate of Peak Rail's 'Austerity'. 'Not a woman - an Engine Driver' I countered, presenting the driver with the postcard. Oddly enough, the driver accepted this argument and said I could come.
So I had a fascinating, if none-too-comfortable cab ride to Naba, where we had a long walk looking at village life. By the time we got back to the station, the train was ready for the return journey. I said to Mai that I was quite happy to travel in the train if the driver preferred, but he indicated that I was welcome in the cab.
I've put the technical railway stuff on the outward ride here and there's a link there to a separate post on the return journey, too.