Tin Win and I made a trip to Bagan, taking the old colonial rail from Yangon to the ancient temple city. The train creaked and clattered. The challenge was to stand up and walk, as the sway of the train made it difficult to keep your balance. Several times during the trip, the lurch of the train sent a hurling body down the narrow corridor.
After a few hours, the train drew into a station. Vendors walked by our carriage, selling loose cigarettes, boxes of matches and banana-leaf packets. A man with a quid of betel nut stuffed in his mouth passed a bag of nuts through the window to a woman in exchange for a few kyats. After all the passengers had clambered aboard the train, we left the dusty market town.
Soon we were again in the countryside, rolling by grazing water buffaloes and women hoeing their gardens
We arrived at Bagan station in the afternoon. Men hauled burlap sacks of rice from a rear carriage and carried them to a wooden storefront just outside the station entrance. Nearby, chickens pecked at invisible grains and pigs snuffled at the ground.
We left the station in a bullock cart and headed to old Bagan, a cloud of dust rising behind us.
After we’d checked into a cheap rest house, I sat on the bed under a slow-moving ceiling fan. It was a relief to have finally made it to a calm room and a comfortable bed after the long, jarring ride on the train. I went to the bathroom sink to wash my hands. When I turned on the faucet, there was a sputter of tannic brown water. A trail of dark discoloration, where the water had stained the ceramic, showed that this was a permanent condition. Wanting to wash the dust off my body, I took a dribbling shower, which didn’t leave me feeling refreshed or even any cleaner.
Later we ate a lunch of mohinga at a spacious restaurant with plastic chairs.
Tin Win washed the rice noodle and fish soup down with some sugared tea and I drank a luke-warm glass of orange Tang.
After lunch, we rented some bikes and cycled the dusty roads around the temples. We rode by numerous jumbled heaps of bricks in the overgrown grass. Biking the temple plains along the Irrawaddy, we came past an old river boat tied up to the bank.
A couple of men were walking along the same road, so I jangled my bike bell to get their attention and move over a bit before we passed. When we came to a heavy sandy area, we got off and pushed the bikes.