A trip down the Irrawaddy River – Part 6 – Burmese Days in Katha, the final leg to Mandalay

On February 19th, we three Chris’s woke up in our guesthouse by the water in Katha, ready for another day of potential adventures. The Chris who had cycled with me outside Bhammo decided to take off on his bicycle for a 70km ride to another town after breakfast, so we said our goodbyes and wished him well. The other Austrian Chris spent the day walking around town with me before we caught a boat to continue our journey downriver.

At one point, we walked past a primary school during recess – as soon as one child spotted two caucasians walking nearby, he sounded the alarm and they all rushed to line the fence to say hello. This photo does no justice to the situation with which we were faced: hundreds of children lining this fence all the way along, giggling and screaming and wanting to shake our hands and say hello:

We also passed the local prison, which is one of the buildings apparently mentioned in George Orwell’s book, Burmese Days, which he wrote while he was stationed in Katha:

After a walk through the market looking for a cap to protect my head against the sun, we stopped for tea with some older gentlemen, one of whom spoke a little English from his schoolboy days. This is one of his circle of friends, who spoke no English but was really friendly and photogenic:

After spending the day walking around town, eating, and drinking tea, we headed to the ferry ticket office and bought tickets for the 3 day boat ride down the Irrawaddy to Mandalay. I splurged on a cabin room ($50 for 3 days), and Austrian Chris paid for a deck space ($7 for 3 days, sleeping on the outside deck with your own sleeping bag, etc). I spent a lot of time with him out there, but whenever I got really tired or if the bugs were attacking, I headed to my cabin to sleep or relax in privacy.

This little boy had terrific eyes which I couldn’t quite capture with my camera. His parents were really friendly too:

Three typical views from the boat:

One nice surprise on this trip was seeing, on two separate occasions, the nearly extinct Irrawaddy River Dolphin. In recent years, locals have been taught not to harm this rare small dolphin, which they call a big fish, but their numbers are still ridiculously low. This photo is a bit spotty as it’s enlarged from a shot taken at a fair distance:

At one stop, we were able to disembark on wooden planks to buy some food from these local cooks:

A couple more typical views from the boat:

One interesting thing I had never seen until I spent time in Burma are these big logjams floating downriver with people living on them. These are not the floating villages that you find on lakes in other parts of Burma and the world, but a means of transporting timber downriver. Still, they have a number of people on each one, small shacks, and sometimes livestock on board:

At one point on our journey downriver, we slowed down at what seemed to be an arbitrary point along the riverbank and the skipper ‘crashed’ the corner of the ferry into the land. I got up to see what had happened and realised he had done it on purpose, to let a few people off with their stuff:

As we approached Mandalay on the final day of our three day trip from Katha on this ferry, we passed the famed Mingun Paya, which would have stood over 150 metres high if it had been completed. Note the massive crack running down close to the left side, from an 1838 earthquake:

Pulling into Mandalay, people were drying laundry on the cement riverbank:

And this is what I looked like after roughly 5 weeks of not shaving, with my new cap and glasses to protect against the sun – yikes!

We pulled into Mandalay on February 21st around 1pm. I spent the day walking around town again, using the internet, and trying to find a bookstore selling English books. That evening I caught a small overnight bus from Mandalay to Bagan, arriving there in the early morning. Bagan is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been – as such, in a couple of days I’ll be posting 42 photos from my day and a half stay there…

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.