Monday, 22 February 2010

The Mandalay Express

At 12:15pm the train we were on slowly crept away from the station and our coach seemed to bounce after the wheels had rolled over each joint in the sleepers. This brought back great memories of the Jalalabad Express that we caught in Bangladesh last year. The only difference was this inexplicable sensation of security that we experienced this time round. We steamed through rice paddies, cabbage patches, banana plantations and gazed at the incredible houses on stilts that were composed of jute. Grazing water buffalo was very much part of the scenery and many were bathing in water-filled trenches to escape the scorching effect of the sun.
The excitement peaked as we were united with food-wallahs who were selling all kinds of weird and wonderful bites! Jon, with his incurable craving for sweet sticky rice, could have sworn that he saw exactly this being sold in a huge banana leaf. He called over the sales girl and got himself one of the mystery packages: opening it was like opening a surprise on Christmas Day. However, this little present was vile! It was indeed rice, but it had banana inside and it smelled like rotting corpse. Out the window it went without the girl noticing, but they sheer enjoyment of opening up the leaf to see what was inside was worth every kyat!
As the sun dipped slowly behind some hills, the layers of mountains in the distance became highlighted in various shades of oranges and had somewhat formed an artistic collage. It was only about half an hour or so later that the extending plains had been left in the darkness of night. The only lights at this point were those emitted from the flickering flames of controlled fires and cooking hobs that would appear every so often outside the stations and the jute houses.
After about twelve hours on the train in the bottom class carriage, we managed to barge our way out onto the platform at Thazi, where we were to wait for a change of train to take us to Kalaw after another five hours waiting. We splurged on fifteen pence each to hire a collapsible bed each and we slept outside amongst monks and other passengers. We felt like we had become Burmese ourselves!

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