Stories

Remote Kachin State slowly opens up

by Thomas Buechler - 2 years, 9 months ago

It all starts in the huge Mandalay train station, at 4.30h in the morning.We just woke up in a downtown guesthouse and had an early morning taxi ride to the railway station.But there was no train in sight."Delayed", said a employee."much delayed". but how long?"about 5 hours".The Burmese passengers just continued sleeping on their colourful straw mats, and us, we went back to our guesthouse! The train finally made with a delay of 7 hours, on 11.30h.Packed to the last seat, we booked Upper class, soft chairs with neat white covers and the cabins are fan cooled.The locals call it the "Chinese train".Supposedly it's faster and more luxurious than the Burmese one.Food is being served to the seat, if the waiters had a uniform, it would be a plane like experience! but then the scenery outside is quite different: the hawkers in Shwebo station carry huge loads of fresh food and thanakha (the famous sandalwood-like logs that is used as Burmeses skin moisturiser, especially with girls).The train moves on and at times it can get very bumpy, a little scary, I m seriously thinking of a train derailment happening, the tracks must be in serious condition.After a long 12 hours ride, we arrive in Naba and transfer to a pick up truck bringing us to Katha.One dozen passengers sqeezed together like sardines in the can!The road feels really rough.Halfway, the truck breaks down and we are stranded in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.It can not be fixed, and luckily here comes a tricycle where we can jump on, and move on to a lousy cockroach invested guesthouse, along Katha's riverbank! After a few hours sleep, we take the 9.00am ferry to Shwegu in Kachin state.While we drink bottled water, the 2 Burmese guys next to us are already busy with the Whiskey bottle."High Class" is the seducing name.Foreigners are still only allowed to travel on the fast ferries that dont stop in the so many local villages along the river, but just in the bigger ones.Breakfast with fresh river prawns is now being served from a Floating Market that suddenly connects to our boat.Burmese ladies with the thanakha in their face, are shouting out their products loudly: the Dailin beer, the Caijun drinking water and the Lychee juice all come from nearby China.After 4 hours on the almighty Ayeyarwady river, we arrive at our destination, the rural village of Shwegu in Kachin state.Not really a top tourist destination, in fact there is very little English spoken in town, and the Mya Myint Mo hotel has not much competition.We take a room there and promise to the owner not to use the aircon.In return we get a heafty 50% discount on the room rate.Electricity must be expensive in Shwegu! Sunset comes closer and we decide to rent a small outrigger boat that brings us to the temple island of Shwe Baw Kyune. Some travel books describe it as a place where 'stupas have been suffocated for years by foliage', Angkor Wat style.While it is true that Unesco has not contributed any funds for reparation of this beautiful monastery (in fact Myanmar does as of 2014 not have any sites inscribed on the official World Heritage list, but the country has some sites on the Tentative List).7000 buddhas in all sizes and colours, ancient and modern ones, are on display here.Supposedly, an Indian prince turned up with seven holy bone fragments of the Buddha that now became the monastery's main treasure.The whole temple compound is a truly photogenic place.But one has to go barefoot, and there are quite some small stones and thorns on the path.Before sunset, we go back to Shwegu, passing happy village folk taking a bath in the refreshing waters of the Ayeyarwady.


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