FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Chasing water buffalo

Posted in Kyaikhto, Myanmar by folkestonejack on January 16, 2017

The leisurely lunch stop at Hnin Pale was timed perfectly for the crossing of regular passenger trains in both directions – one an express towards Mawlamyine and the other a mixed passenger towards Bago (comprised of a diesel locomotive, three passenger coaches, one tank wagon, two open wagons, one box car and one combined brake van/passenger coach).

Mixed passenger train no. 86  arrives at Hnin Pale

Mixed passenger train no. 86 arrives at Hnin Pale

Our stationary train complicated the normal arrangements and necessitated a little train shuffle – the mixed passenger had to line up behind our train whilst the southbound express took the platform and only once that had passed through could the mixed passenger reverse and take the platform itself.

The mixed passenger really is a lovely train, with some rather remarkable coaches that have been converted from freight cars. However, it was so lightly loaded that I thought it was a train of empties at first. A handful of passengers does not make a successful railway.

A passenger coach fashioned from a freight car

A passenger coach fashioned from a freight car

As terrific as our steam tour has been I have to keep reminding myself to appreciate the railway system as it stands today and the mixed passenger is a good example of that. It is probably something that will disappear within the next decade – someone joked that we will be back in a decade to try and re-create such trains!

Our afternoon’s work began with our departure from Hnin Pale at 2.27pm. We made our first stop at a level crossing only a short distance from our starting point to try and make a shot with some water buffalo being herded through a water channel running parallel with the railway. It was a moment that captured the utter madness and enjoyability of these trips with the kind assistance of a herdsman who was most willing to get his charges into the right spot for the runpast (around 3pm).

We had taken up a vantage point on a ridge overlooking the water channel and from here Bernd shouted directions which our guides translated into Burmese for the herdsman to follow. The shot looked pretty amazing as it was but better was to follow after the runpast with the water buffalo stood in the foreground of our static train (better not to ask about the wisdom of lying down in front of water buffalo…). Simply amazing – probably the standout moment of the trip for me.

Water buffalo at Hnin Pale

Water buffalo at Hnin Pale

A little farther on, near Taungzun, we stopped for a shot of a river bridge that we reached by working our way carefully around the perimeter of a field of sweetcorn. We arrived at Taungzun itself shortly after this (4pm) and then stopped briefly at Mayangon (4.30-4.35pm) to allow a train bound for Mawlamyine to cross. Finally, we picked a spot at a bridge a short way out from Kyaikhto for our sunset stand – enjoying about five or six runpasts until the light was well and truly gone.

Our train reached Kyaikhto station at 6pm and before we boarded the buses there was time for some speeches to thank the railway crew for their superb efforts throughout the tour. I can honestly say that I have never seen a steam photo charter that has run quite as smoothly as this so they really deserved all the praise and applause. Of course it wasn’t the end of the day for the crew – they still had to get the train back to Bago whilst we had the luxury of sitting back in our buses for the two hour drive to our hotel in Bago.

The last light of the day

The last light of the day

It has been a superb day with terrific weather and superb photographic opportunities. It felt hotter than any of the days so far but running around trying to position ourselves in front of the moving bovine target probably didn’t help! Still, I wouldn’t change a thing. If we wore ourselves out a little bit more then that was fine with a quieter day ahead of us.

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