Over the weekend I travelled from Yangon to Bagan. The glorious town which has more Phayas shattered across the landscape is a sight to watch. That’s a story for as soon as I get back to Yangon. Today I want to attempt something different -a story..One that will end in Mandalay. Perhaps the land of the Glass Palace, where I currently am now has inspired me?
Since it is a story, there are few photographs. But I hope the story keeps you entertained enough not to mind the lack of pictures.
The wait is long. And a bit unnerving. Sometimes travel is best done without much preparation. The more you do, the more you remember things that you didn’t.
I have checked my tickets multiple times. My remaining cash -dollars and kyats have been fingered through enough for their smell to leave a faint trace on my fingers. All in order, if only the pick – up would arrive to relieve my impatient wait.
Finding a good ticket from Bagan to Mandalay wasn’t easy. That’s not what they tell you on the websites. Note to self- your research wasn’t thorough enough.
Or perhaps, says the niggly brain- it isn’t tourist season, the demand is low and those who want to do it can fly.
Hmmm.. I’d rather not fly. The airplanes here as as rickety as the ones in Nepal, aren’t they?
Niggly brain interferes again -Who told you that?
Well, I did hear. Perhaps it’s the unreliable monsoon weather?
Ha, goes the brain. You thought there was no hot air ballooning either, didn’t you? Didn’t that gentleman just arrange for a photographer to click images of his girlfriend and him as they soared in one tomorrow?
Well..oh ok..it’s because I want to see Myanmar and not just zip in and out? Argument won. Settled. Me one, niggly brain -zero.
At precisely 4.15pm, the pick – up arrives. The excitement welling in my heart seeps out like air out of a pin – pricked balloon. It’s an open on three sides pick – up. The seats look padded. Small mercies. Oh well, it’s a free pick – up. Don’t be too hoity, sneers niggly brain.
I clamber on – board. A bit clumsy. But what the heck. No one is judging my grace. And we set off. At the first bump in the road, my backpack does a perfect somersault to land on the other side of the pick – up. I barely escape ending up on the floor beside my luggage. One hand on the grip above, the other through my bags I decide to survive the journey.
Four pick – ups later, we are at what looks like an abandoned market. Oh well I’m not alone and it’s Sunday. Sane people are at their homes. Not half way across the world bumping to their death in rickety pick – ups. Niggly brain- one (aaah no..that wasn’t a debate. So I’m still in the lead!)
The bus that’s to take us to Mandalay is a 20 – seater. A mini – bus if you may, unlike the fancy tourist bus that got me from Yangon to Bagan. Oh wells continue….I just need to reach Mandalay. The goal- focus on the goal not the frills.
No space for my backpack inside the bus. Then again, there aren’t too many passengers. So I sidle over from my allocated single seat into the two seats across. The bus begins and with it the squeak. As it rises in crescendo, I realise it is the springs in my seat signalling their protest against the unauthorised occupation. The niggly brain giggles. I shush it and move my baggage to the window and settle on the right. This seat is amenable. A little less padded but the springs are silent.
For the next four hours, the bus hurtles through an unlit countryside. In the fading light, the palms look ominous. Flickering lights of small villages are our pitstops. The spare seats in the bus are all claimed. The bright longyis of the women, their faces heavily caked with tanaka designs, the aroma of the flowers in their hair combine heavily with the odour of steady chewing of pan by the men.
There’s no room for silence on the bus. A few attempts to sleep the journey out is thoroughly defeated. If it wasn’t the leaps and jumps of the hurtling bus, it was the loud chatter in Burmese by the women on the bus. The mobile phone is handy for them to keep an eye on the home too. And putting it on speaker phone ensures they don’t miss any bit of the conversation from the other side. Uhhhh..don’t you mind that we are all listening? Not really, her eyes communicate silently. You are welcome to eavesdrop.
On the far corner by the door is a plastic disposable water bottle, quarter filled with a red dye. Wonder what it’s used for, niggly brain is back in action . Ahhhh..the brain continues its soliloquy. Look at the man chewing the pan closely. He spits into a plastic cover and hangs it over the bottle. So some other soul had made the bottle into a spitoon. And he just added his freshly produced red dye to a plastic cover. His aim might be suffering in the heavily jolting bus, jokes the niggler. I join in with a smile for once. The camaraderie is rare. But what the heck.
It’s pitch dark outside. Over three and a half hours later, niggly brain and I see bright lights at the same time. Ahhhh…Mandalay the heart sings. The sore back and ass cry for relief. Soon, consoles niggly brain.
The bus stop is an assortment of motley shacks and an oldish building. I’ll be dropped at my hotel. OK ok signs the young boy manning the door when I mouth Hotel Yadanarbon with a question in the tone.
The bus now seems to be on a drop off mission. It’s late. Much later than I have been out lately. My city isn’t the safest for women at night, or so says grizzly statistics. Why tempt fate, play safe is the family’s motto. I acquiesce willingly. Now late hours make niggly brain niggle more.
I know my hotel is just fifteen minutes from the bus stop. It’s over twenty five and there is no sign of anything resembling the pictures I’d memorised of my hotel. I open the Maps on my phone, sending a silent prayer for the wisdom to take a local SIM card. I can always phone for help if I’m stranded, can’t I? ?
The Maps struggles to find a GPS – just what I need. Fifteen minutes quickly pass. No sign of the hotel. I look hopefully at the boy. There’s no one left on the bus. I’m the last passenger.
Soo soo ote yadanabo coami
Uhhhh…Niggly brain decipher…aaahhh…soon soon, hotel yadanarbon coming.
The bus pulls up outside one. Aaahhh I see Hotel…I see Yadanarbon. Relief. I’m in Mandalay. Safe and sound.
Thank yous and a few assorted bows of gratitude later, I step into what looks straight out of my worst booking nightmare. Can photos look so different from reality? How did I fail to see the electric blue fountain by the Reception and that giant pink teddy bear wrapped in cellophane that leers at me.
It’s too late to think, says my sore body. These bus rides need to stop soon. Plane it is, next time. You didn’t see much of the landscape anyways did you, sneers the niggler. Oh..and the point tally Niggly brain -Two Me – One ( a bonus point for my failure to book a good room!)
Can I survive in this dingy room in a lodge like hotel? Is this what I paid for? Well..the room is neat. I’ll figure it out once my body and brain inhabit the same space tomorrow.
Just as I mentally retire, there’s a knock on the door. Mada plizope.. Mada plizope.
I open the door a bit and see a frazzled receptionist outside. Mada, ote wong.
Uhhhh. .This is Ote roya yadanabo. You boo Ote differ. You boo Ote Yadanabo Mandalay.
Ohhhh. .the heart perks up. The brain begins it’s niggly worry beat.
Your ote fifeen mini way. Taxi boo fo you? You lus money. Thi ote tha ote differ owna. Do wowy. I Co taxi
Ohhh..the brain translates. It’s a different hotel. Fifteen minutes away. Similar names but different. Don’t worry. I’ll call you a taxi.
Five thanks and twenty minutes later…I’m back on the road. It’s past ten. The streets are winding down for the night. My driver barely speaks English. But he smiles his small toothed smile and calls me sister. Offers to take me sightseeing tomorrow. Soyi. .I Lil Engli. ..he keeps muttering with his smile.
We are at the hotel. The foyer looks familiar. Ahhhh..its one from the photo. It’s what I booked. Alls well alls well. Sings the heart.
Mingalaabaa Mandalay. Helllooooo Mandalay… Quite an introduction we have had. Solo travel is funnn….
Let’s begin the real adventure shall we???