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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The hay harvest and other rural scenes

Posted in Kyaikhto, Myanmar, Thaton by folkestonejack on January 12, 2017

The afternoon saw us take our time on the line beyond Kyaikhto, heading towards Thaton. After our departure at 1.42pm we headed through Mayangon (with a brief stop from 3.25 to 3.35pm to allow the diesel to be re-attached to the front of the train to speed our progress) and Taungzun (with a brief stop at 4.10pm to detach the diesel) before reaching Hnin Pale (5.20pm).

Gathering hay near Mayangon

Gathering hay near Mayangon

This stretch of countryside gave us some stunning views and equally marvellous runpasts. The most memorable would have to be the opportunity to capture an authentic rural scene with workers gathering hay near to Mayangon. However, once we clambered out of our boxcars we couldn’t help but notice two empty ox carts approaching and a plan soon came together for an enhanced version of this slice of real rural life! One of the approaching cart drivers was only too happy to complete our scene and soon began to receive bundles of hay scooped up by pitchfork…

Two runpasts with our carefully arranged cart and workers was followed by another timeless shot of YD964 approaching the cart crossing where our adventures began. The fact that we had to cross a bamboo bridge to reach the spot just added to the magic.

A little further on, at Taungzun, we headed for a lovely shot of YD964 crossing the river but then marvelled at the sight of a herd of water buffalo heading for the same spot. Unfortunately, the herd were only just slipping into the water by the time of the first runpast and were heading back for dry land before the loco could make a second run (the loco had some problems with the oil burner). Arghhh!

The scene before our runpast

The scene before our runpast

Thankfully, the herdsman was very amenable to persuading his charge to return to the water for a bonus swim. Sadly, the shot didn’t really come off as we might have hoped. The water buffalo seemed to be disturbed by the sound of the approaching loco and swam back towards the shore as it crossed the bridge. I guess the days of animals being used to the sound of steam have long gone here! It will have to join the album of shots that got away…

Anyway, it was great fun – if a little tense – trying to get the shot. We had to keep one eye on the herd and the other on the train, then move around to try and keep both in shot. whilst not getting in each others way. There was no chance for a third attempt as we were already delaying a train following us.

The herd of water buffalo head for the exit as our train crosses the river at Taungzun

The herd of water buffalo head for the exit as our train crosses the river at Taungzun

On our arrival at Hnin Pale we transferred to our buses for the 45 minute drive to Thaton, enjoying a tasty meal at a restaurant in the city centre before heading to our rather eclectic, colonial-ish styled hotel. It woulb be a struggle to say it was a welcoming place but apparently it was a vast improvement on the options that had been available the last time tours were run here!

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Winter fog in Mokpalin

Posted in Kyaikhto, Myanmar by folkestonejack on January 12, 2017

The guide books might have promised wall to wall sunshine for this time of year but after two days of mixed weather we already had reason to doubt this. Now, waking up to thick fog, we started to wonder whether there was any hope of conditions returning to their seasonal norm. However, the ‘atmospheric’ conditions did offer an interesting variation for the start of our day’s photographic endeavours.

Two monks look on as YD964 hauls our train out of Mokpalin

Two monks look on as YD964 hauls our train out of Mokpalin

Three false departures got us underway with a little assistance from some passers by who were only to happy to provide a little local colour. It was rather lovely to see how much the locals got into the spirit of our little adjustments to the scene, with one chap transformed from bemused bystander into director of photography! Fortunately we were able to correct the instructions he gave his models on how to stand and where to look before our train passed through…

We boarded a box-car on our train and headed away from Mokpalin at 8.10am. The morning continued to offer some splendid vignettes of rural life, including a marvellous scene with an ox and cart, as well as the daily sight of monks lining up to receive their donations of rice. As ever, what you see in the picture is not always an absolutely accurate reflection of life – for example, you won’t see shots that show the many kids or farm workers wearing premier league football shirts.

An ox and cart driver looks on as our train heads towards Kyaikkathr

An ox and cart driver looks on as our train heads towards Kyaikkathr

Our train took us on to Kyaikkathr, where we tried a few runpasts around the station and the town sign a little farther on (9.45-10.05am) before continuing on to Boyagyi (10.40am) where we stopped for half an hour to allow an express to pass through. The express turned up on schedule (10.55am) hauled by DF2023 (a CKD7 diesel electric locomotive built by CNR Dalian Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co., China) and we continued on our way fifteen minutes later.

The stop at Boyagyi gave us a chance to buy refreshments from the small stalls surrounding the station but it also
offered up one of the unexpected highlights of the day when our casual wander brought us to the local pagoda. It was a magnificent construction for what appeared to be just a small village. Although I had long since stopped photographing every stupa that we passed (having realised that there are far too many of them and that this was as absurd as photographing every parish church on a drive in England!) I couldn’t resist taking a few snaps of this place.

The splendid pagoda in Boyagyi

The splendid pagoda in Boyagyi

One of the oddities of our itinerary saw us stay overnight in Kyaikhto (Thuwunna Bumi Mountain View Resort), take an early bus to Mokpalin and then complete the circle by returning to Kyaikhto by train at midday. A longish lunch stop was a necessity here as express trains were due in both directions, allowing us time enough to soak up the atmosphere and take a few extra shots.

The station was a bit smarter than most we have seen in these parts, probably reflecting its importance as a jumping off point for trips to the golden rock. Having said that, just a handful of tourists got off the train here and I only saw a handful of westerners on the train heading south. I suspect the full force of the tourist invasion has yet to hit Mon State, which is not so surprising as it is some way off the main tourist circuit of Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay.

A rather splendid health and safety poster at the station reminds ox and cart drivers to look out for trains

A rather splendid health and safety poster at the station reminds ox and cart drivers to look out for trains

It was fascinating to watch the scene at the station, from the locals sitting on the rails waiting for the arrival of the express to the hawkers on the platforms readying their wares for the arrival of the expresses. The first to arrive was the late running train 89 from Yangon to Mawlamyine, hauled by DF1332, whilst the second was train 90 running from Mawlamyine to Yangon.

Incredibly, the next scheduled express passenger train after these had passed would be the 11.17pm service to Dawei Port. Thankfully, our charter train would be on its way long before then!

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