A trip down the Irrawaddy River – Part 5 – Bhammo to Katha

On the morning of February 18th, we got up early to catch a boat to Katha. The Kiwi (James) and the German (Burghardt) decided to fly out of Bhammo so they stayed behind, leaving me and the two Austrians named Chris (who didn’t know each other until a few minutes before I met them in Myitkyina) to continue on our journey.

We first climbed into a boat with only a couple of seats, which took about half an hour to take us to the boat that would take us the rest of the way.

This second boat, with plenty of seating, was bright yellow and relatively comfortable for a Burmese river boat. There were a couple of Burmese soldiers on board and they were happy to let me take a photo of them. I feel it’s important to remember that the Burmese military is a terrible institution which carries out unbelievable acts against both Burmans and minority ethnic groups in Burma, but that doesn’t mean that every individual soldier is a bad person. These two may have blood on their hands, or they may not. Most people who join the Burmese military do so because it gives them a somewhat stable source of income and provides a bit of protection to their family.

As usual, I took lots of photos from the boat as we zipped down the river:

These are three Burmese army trucks, part of a larger convoy of trucks carrying troops and supplies from one place to another:

Buddhist monks bathing at the side of the river:

Our boat’s engine cut out during one of our stops, and it took about an hour to get it running again. It cut out again as evening approached at another stop, not far from our final destination, Katha. They couldn’t get it going again, so they unloaded the new motorcycles on board and some boys drove them off to the town with a message to send another boat back for us.

While we waited, I took a few photos on the shore:

Our stranded boat:

Cows eating hay outside the small family hut where we broke down:

The rescue boat arrives:

Both boats have been tied together, so the blue boat can lead both boats to Katha:

Dusk as seen from the roof of the blue ‘rescue’ boat:

We arrived in Katha in the dark, checked out several guesthouses, settled on a fairly shabby place, went out for food and a walk around town, then headed to sleep.

A trip down the Irrawaddy River – Part 4 – Bhammo, Kachin State, Burma

Our trip from Sinbo to Bhammo went fine, even though we did get stuck a few times on sandbars along the way. We quickly caught a tuk-tuk from the pier to the budget hotel we’d heard about, cleaned ourselves up, ate supper at a restaurant, and went to bed.

In the morning, I went cycling with one of the two Austrians who were both named Chris. He had brought along his mountain bike from Europe and was using it to get around towns and occasionally to get from place to place when the bus/train/boat schedules didn’t suit him. I rented a single speed bicycle from the hotel for about two dollars and off we went!

We wanted to head to one particular place, but we missed the turn and decided to just continue straight on and see what adventures we’d find along the way. The first thing we found was a military band drill. The music wasn’t very good, but it was hilarious to watch them doing some sort of choreographed dancing with their huge instruments, in full uniform in 30-plus heat.

We continued cycling out of town farther and farther into the countryside and some time later, rounding a bend in the road, we came across a small shrine of some sort where a number of famous images have been recreated in miniature (they were still big, just not as big as the real things) on a big boulder.

It was a really nice location to relax for a few minutes. This is my cycling partner looking over farmers’ fields toward the Irrawaddy River:

After cycling 20km out of town on really, really poor roads (no problem for Chris on his mountain bike with gel seat and cycle shorts, but a big problem for me on my single-speed bike that was far too small for me and had a hard plastic seat), we stopped at a small shack for lunch. Having finished our noodles, we walked back to our bikes but some local villagers asked us in for tea so we had to oblige. It was really nice even though we couldn’t communicate much.

Chris joking around with the ladies, wearing a hat borrowed from one of them:

As we cycled back toward town, we came across a small lean-to with a couple of people sitting, selling bananas, so we stopped to chat in the shade and get some potassium. One of them actually spoke a manageable amount of English, which he learned from the US Rangers stationed in his village when he was 7 years old, after the Japanese had pulled out of Burma in WWII. It was great learning a bit about the local village history and finding out about his personal life and family.

I arrived back in Bhammo, fairly sunburnt, with a very sore butt, but happy that I had gone out on such a rewarding adventure.

The last photo from our day’s stay in Bhammo was taken from a small pedestrian bridge that allows people to pass over a swamp sitting in the centre of town. Houses are built backing onto the swamp, and you can see the lilypads and other swamp weeds growing below. The reason I took this photo, however, is to show the outhouse on the righthand side. Imagine trying to leap that gap from the house to the outhouse every time you need to relieve yourself! I wonder if the walkway from the house broke on its own or if someone was on it at the time!