FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The Zingyaik duck shoot

Posted in Myanmar, Thaton by folkestonejack on January 15, 2017

On our re-union with the other half of the tour group we began an afternoon of photography between Zingyaik and Yinnyein, but not before a snack lunch in the shelter of Zingyaik station on what must be the hottest day so far. It sounded as though the other group got some good shots at Mottama shed (including a rather surprising wartime armoured vehicle with a rotating turret that is still in use as a permanent way vehicle) and found plenty of interest in Mawlamyine.

Station sign at Zingyaik

Station sign at Zingyaik

The modest station at Zingyaik, located by a stone yard, was rather older than it seemed at first – the steel beams holding up the roof were stamped with Barrow Steel 1/1892. As with most stations the copious signage included a directive to ‘Warmly welcome and take care of tourists’ as well as a reminder that the public chewing and spitting out of betel nut chew was forbidden (probably to avoid the unsightly red blotches that you see everywhere here, rather than to break the national addiction to this carcinogenic narcotic).

After a leisurely start, we began our photography with a demonstration of how stone was traditionally loaded onto these trains, given that in the last days of real steam this was the most likely cargo to be transported. It was a slightly odd moment of hard labour for tourists! As the railways would not allow us to run with loaded trains the stone had to be removed before our departure at 1.33pm.

The stationary duck shot

The stationary duck shot

Only a short way up the line we stopped at a spot where a water channel with a duck farm runs parallel to the line and proceeded to have great fun trying to get our moving targets in the same shot as the approaching loco on a runpast. Ironically, some of the best shots came from the stationary loco after our tour leader, Bernd, called for some smoke. It looks good if you ignore the tell tale signs that the train isn’t actually moving!

The next stop up the line delivered perhaps the most haphazard bridge we have seen on this trip, featuring logs rather loosely tied together. After about two-thirds of the group had crossed it started to fall apart and the locals had to repair it before everyone could return!

A bridge beyond Zingyaik

A bridge beyond Zingyaik

At this point our train returned to Zingyaik (arriving at 2.45pm) where we waited 35 minutes for train 89 to Mawlamyine to cross before we could resume our journey up the line towards Yinnyein (setting off for the second time at 3.40pm). Once again we found ourselves crossing a bridge over the water channel into the fields – this time a bridge made of pipes – before a half hour session with four runpasts (4-4.35pm).

Finally, we made it to Yinnyein. As the pagoda by the river shot here is quite tight we split the group into two and each had the opportunity to try the shot from the optimum position. I joined the second attempt around 5.20pm. Unfortunately, the loco produced too much smoke and completely obscured the pagoda. Too much smoke is rarely a problem, but here it most definetly was!

Sunset at Yinnyein

Sunset at Yinnyein

After finishing the day with some sunset shots in the fields we boarded our buses at Yinnyein around 6.30pm and drove on to Thaton for the night. I welcomed the return to the local restaurant we had tried a few nights back and enjoyed the re-acquaintance with one of the most flavoursome dishes we have tried here (a dish of spiced pork, egg and onion was quite incredible). A good end to an enjoyable afternoon in the sun.

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A morning in Thaton

Posted in Myanmar, Thaton by folkestonejack on January 14, 2017

A beautiful sunrise over Thaton seemed like a promising start to our expedition to the golden rock, but first there was time to enjoy a walk to Shwe Saw Yan Pagoda. The cluttered and dusty streets surrounding the pagoda make quite a contrast with the gleaming golden stupa and many beautiful temple buildings that surround it.

Sunrise over Thaton

Sunrise over Thaton

There are signs that the tourist dollar has now reached Thaton, with the opening of the first four star hotel a few weeks ago, but it hasn’t really made much difference at street level yet. Mind you, the modest town of today is probably equally far removed from the fast developing modern cities of South East Asia as it is from the thriving ocean port and city-state that Thaton was one thousand years ago!

In common with many other places that I have seen here the pavements outside the pagoda present an assortment of obstacles, crumbling concrete and the occasional hole. Inevitably, a pack of malnourished dogs was never very far away. Somehow, in spite of all this, the Burma that I love shines through and everyone I encountered along the way was incredibly friendly.

The street scene around the pagoda

The street scene around the pagoda

The first Shwe Saw Yan Pagoda is supposed to have been built around 5BC but all trace of that has long since disappeared and the only indication of its long hitory has come from the discovery of seven historic tablets on the site.

A wander around the complex showed that it has plenty to fascinate beyond the golden stupa at its centre. Amongst the side attractions are the inevitable chinthe gate guardians, an ornate temple at the centre of a colourful display of floor tiles, a white tiled dome stupa (and pigeon magnet) and a rather splendid diorama which I assume shows the many pagodas on the hills around Thaton (perhaps historically, rather than in the present?). A good view across the complex is also available from the upper terrace of the temple at the very back of the site.

One of the temples around the central stupa

One of the temples around the central stupa

Smaller pagodas are scattered throughout the town and I stopped off at one of these on my way back. The keyholder was pleased to have a visitor to show around and eagerly unlocked a room on the site filled with small statues of Buddha that he was keen to show me.

If I had a little more time it would have been interesting to climb the hillside to reach the pagoda of Mya Thapaint that was so marvelously depicted in the diorama. However, it was time for us to continue on our drive to the golden rock.

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Lineside temple-spotting in Thaton and Yinnyein

Posted in Myanmar, Thaton by folkestonejack on January 13, 2017

A beautiful morning tempted us out of our hotel for an early morning trip to capture sunrise at Thaton, starting with a runpast in the mist at 6.45am. After the sunrise we had to return our train to the station by 8am to avoid disrupting the regular services, heading back to the hotel for breakfast. A short lived but spectacular session, delivering more good pictures in an hour or so than on many a day.

A storming start at Thaton

A storming start at Thaton

Our drive back through Thaton highlighted the many beautiful sights in the city, including many delightful smaller stupas. I was tempted to walk back along the road to photograph one of the more unusual of these until it was pointed out that there was a prison on the other side of the road. Waving a camera around there might attract the wrong attention! As it was, our tour guides had been up all night answering questions from the police and explaining to the authorities what we were doing in the area.

With a few hours to kill I returned to my massive room, said hello to the geckos I was sharing with (I’m not sure which of us was more startled when I pulled back the curtains) and once again marvelled at the strange interior design (odd wooden furniture, garden trellis, ultra-fake wood vinyl, towels shaped like swans and a rusting external door into the bathroom!). Later, a few of us gathered in the hallway to watch an exciting drama about a man stealing rice from a monk and his pathway to redemption.

YD964 passes a lineside temple at Thaton

YD964 passes a lineside temple at Thaton

Our afternoon began with the departure of our train at 2.31pm, backing out towards Bago. The first runpasts (3 to 3.15pm) gave us a wonderful combination of a temple by the lineside, semaphore signals and a stupa on the hills beyond. The spectacle caught the attention of the locals and one couple sat down in the fields in front of me, sheltering under an umbrella to watch the second runpast.

After getting the shots we set off back towards Thaton, grabbing another shot with kids looking on in amazement at our train (it’s quite unlikely they would ever have seen a steam locomotive before, as even the short-lived attempt to run tourist trains a few years back ran only five times and in a completely different part of the country).

A local couple watch the steam spectacle

A local couple watch the steam spectacle

We reached Yinnyein just in time to get a shot of the train passing the stupa before the light came off the line (indeed, it was already a little in shadow) and then dashed back over the bridge for a shot with the river. I had been so tentative crossing the bridge in the first place but knowing that time was short didn’t want to be responsible for delaying the second run (as it was the train was still pushing back as I reached the other side).

I had no idea where I was going as I ran down the street but a local kindly pointed the way down an alley and into a riverside back garden with a tight view of the bridge (where the rest had gathered in two clusters). Two local children swung their feet off a small pier as they watched the unusual entertainment. At 5.29pm we re-boarded our train, headed a little farther down the line to try some silhouette shots and then returned to our buses at a nearby level crossing.

Catching the glint at Yinnyein

Catching the glint at Yinnyein

The group is splitting into two here – with one group heading back to Thaton ahead of a trip to the golden rock tomorrow whilst the other will be going to Mawlamyine to take a look around the depot at Mottama and see our loco turned ready for the return to Bago. I thought it was an almost impossible choice but opted for the golden rock to see a little more culture before it gets too much altered by the oncoming tourist onslaught! For the crew it will be a well earned rest day.

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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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