Sunday, 3 May 2015

Mandalay to Yangon

Events of Sunday, 3rd May 2015

I know I've yet to tell you about part of the Mon State trip, part of the Putao trip and Saturday in Mandalay. I'll go back and fill in the gaps when I can.

I had a decent breakfast at the Sedona and discussed with the staff the possibility of taking a local train somewhere. But I also needed to be ready to leave for the airport at 3 p.m. and there didn't seem to be a feasible trip. Instead, I decided to have a walk to the station to look around.

I left the hotel about 08:00 and the day was already hotting-up with bright sunshine. I deliberately chose a slow gait along the pavement next to the Royal Palace Moat. Walking gives the chance of spotting things of interest and taking photographs. It took me about 45 minutes to reach the station (it is a fair distance). On the way, I saw that Mandalay City Development Committee are having a new steel-framed building put in on their front lawn. It might be some sort of arena with seating. In various places, I saw new reinforced concrete structures being built, generally up to five stories high although a few are much taller. I found one piece of grafitti with the wish "To be peaceful, Motherland". I'm afraid peaceful co-existence of the various ethnic groups and satisfaction with the pace of political change towards a recognisable full democracy still eludes this marvellous country. I passed red brick Methodist and Anglican churches before turning left onto 78th Street. This important street has three lanes in each direction but usually the lane nearest the kerb is avoided by through traffic and it's usually occupied by pedestrians, who normally keep their back to approaching traffic, motor cycles and bicycles going the wrong way, parked vehicles and tradesmen offering various goods to approaching vehicles.

I arrived safely at the impressive station building and went upstairs to look at the two booking offices. All the signs and most of the timetables were in Burmese. The English timetable I located confirmed what the hotel had said. There were supposed to be bi-lingual Burmese/English electronic displays, but I didn't find one working. I decided to have a good walk around the platforms and then circumnavigate the station using public roads. This provided information not only on Myanma Railways but also on the lives of the people.

I saw one long express train from the south arrive, hauled by 1300 h.p. diesel electric locomotive DF.1342. This class comprises refurbished 'YDM4' locomotives from India. As the train rolled into the platform, a series of men jumped onto the train, one to each door. I assumed they were self-employed porters trying to secure clients before the train had even stopped.

Rejoining 78th Street, I continued south, passing the 'Great Wall Shopping Centre' on the opposite side of the street. Then, I took a side street on the right hoping to reach the west side of the station. The street turned left so as to avoid the railway but lots of pedestrians were simply walking across the tracks as if there were a level crossing at that point so I copied their example and, having crossed the tracks, then turned right so that I was heading north on the street to the west of the station. I was definitely on the 'wrong side of the tracks' and the lifestyles of some of the people explained why Buddhists believe that "life is suffering". Numerous people spoke to me, none in an unfriendly manner and nobody tried to sell me anything. At one place, I saw a petrol-driven air compressor and a sheet of plastic rigged over bamboo poles - bingo, instant tyre repair shop. Nearby, a pile of rubbish dumped in the street was being sorted, presumably for reclamation, by a man and woman squatting beside what appeared to be an 'official' council lorry. A group of children were playing beside an open drain full of cloudy water. I passed a couple of concrete cisterns full of water which I assume is the only water supply available to these 'people of the streets'. Some people were washing clothes whilst others were carrying out there personal ablutions.

By the time I'd watched Kawasaki-built 500 h.p. diesel shunter D.512 perform a few shunting moves at the north end of the station, I'd completed my circumnavigation of the station but I was very tired, having been walking in the sun for two and a half hours. As I walked towards the yard in front of the station where I'd have a choice of hiring various forms of transport back to the hotel, a motor cycle taxi pulled up alongside me and offered his services. I think he expected the brush-off, because he looked quite surprised when I asked for a quote. Lady pillion passengers usually (or perhaps invariably) ride side saddle in Myanmar and I was, as usual, wearing a longyi so I had to decide whether I thought I could balance side saddle. The driver kitted me out with a crash helmet (he was already wearing one) and we set off into the traffic. Well, he took it fairly gently and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride back to the Sedona.

I was able to take it easy for a while before getting ready to be picked up at 15:00 for transfer to the airport for the Air Bagan flight to Yangon with an intermediate stop at Nyaung Oo, which I think they've started to call 'Bagan'. The flight was on time, my bag appeared promptly at Yangon Domestic Terminal and a driver was waiting holding a sign with my name. As usual, traffic was heavy but, on arrival at the Strand Hotel, I received the usual warm welcome.

All my posts on this trip to Myanmar can be found here.