Candacraig House BurmaBurma Candacraig House
The writer Paul Theroux traveled to Myanmar in the 1970s and collected materials for the Great Railway Bazaar. This is how Paul Theroux's 1975 The Great Railway Bazaar begins. Thirty from London to Paris, crosses the Asiatic region and ends in Moscow after leaving the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Thiroux and I shared a passion for engines and we both grown up near railways. Theroux was brought up near a mythical train, a house in which I was brought up on a urine-smelling stretch between the Kent and London coastline, covered in condoms. Not that it has diminished my passion for railways.
All over the globe, the calming movement of the trains is much more fun than on the roads. Each and every tale I heard about Myanmar's rail journey was about an unwieldy and sluggish one. As I was reading Theroux's work at a point when the administration was thinking about improving the country's creaky railways, I chose to go in his shoes.
"French built the Transindochinois line to Hanoi, Russians had taken the Trans-Siberians almost to Vladivostok, the British had tracked to the end of the Khyber Pass, and Burma's railroads were thought to stretch in one way to the Assam-Bengal line and the other way to China's railways," Theroux writes.
Today Myanmar's long stretch of railroad ends in a heap of rubbish and long weed near Lashio in Shan State, but the most northern end station is Myitkyina in Kachin State. Regulatory enhancements include enhancements to train terminals across the nation, with Yangon National. She can' t recall how long she was living in the house she and her late wife from a small town in the centre of Myanmar went to.
Only a few month ago, the local government informed her that she and her subsidiary would soon have to move to make way for the renovation of the trainhof. Their neighbor Daw Thein Myint had a similar tale. She has had a 15 year old railroad career with her husband and her mother, who also has a boy who works for the railroad.
During Theroux' voyage, the only grade was "the third grade equivalent". Since it can take between 12 and 16hrs to get from Yangon to Mandalay - three officers said three different arrivals - I payed for the K1,500 upgrad. In 30 min. we were outside the town and into the shallow rice paddies that would rule the countryside almost as far as Mandalay.
There were only a few stations on the way "because the trains are simpler than the buses". Living near the rails, they used the trains for almost all transport tasks. Few of the inconvenient irregularities I had expected and I swayed softly to the beat of the procession and slipped into and out of my slumber, what Theroux termed the depressing warmth "that makes the rail passengers think they are going to disappear into Burma's esophagus".
From Yangon at 21.30 - fifteen and a half hour after we left - we rode to Mandalay. I was supposed to depart for Pyin Oo Lwin the next morning at 4am, so I went to check into a low-cost motel near the railway terminal, breaking my unwritten rules, "never to have bright food" and went to school.
For Mandalay, the best way to get from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin is "to go riding with two horses and an ox car.... the trip can easily be made in two days," George W. Bird in Wandering in Burma, written in 1897. Fortunately it is much simpler today and the scenic ascent to the Shan Mountains lasts four hour by trains.
At Pyin Oo Lwin, a mountain terminal known as Maymyo during Britain's empire, Theroux lived at the Candacraig Hotel, a large villa of scarlet bricks located on a mountain crest on the eastern side of the city. Candacraig once was a small-time small-time chatty for single Bombay-Burma Trading Company officer. Teroux was enjoying a nice time at the Candacraig and was kind enough to write from his boss Stewart.
When, years later, he came back to Eastern Star exploring the ghost trains, he said he was hugged by the steward's cubs. "This was the kind of meeting I had been hoping for when I wanted to rejoin my journey," he commented. Later I was informed that the Candacraig was expanded into a shopkeeper' s establishment by multinational investment.
Luckily I was looking for the Pyin Oo Lwin house of Eric Arthur Blair, better known under his pseudonym George Orwell. Many years later, Orwell in Homage to Catalonia said that the Pyin Oo Lwin wind could be "that of England, and everywhere you are verdant weed, eagle fern, pine tree and hillside woman with rose cheek that sell strawberry cages.
Luckily I met a Myanmar hotel owner with impressing information about Pyin Oo Lwin, who said that Orwell had been living in one of three homes on the eastern side of the city, near the Candacraig. At one time the three reddish brickwork buildings were the same, but in different condition.
There were nailed up the house window on the leftside and no tile or landscaped gardens. When I tried to get into the house on the leftside, a growling hound alerted me, so I turned my attentions to the house in the centre. He imagined himself as U Soe Win and said that he spent most of the year in Yangon, but travelled with his wife and daughter three to four trips a year to Pyin Oo Lwin to get away from the former capital's smoulder.
Its had been a house for families for generations, so it was not possible that Orwell had been living in it, he said. Theroux's final stage of his Myanmar voyage took him further eastwards to the Gokteik viaduct, a "monster of silvery geometries in all that rough rocks and jungle". The massive scaffolding was the highest railroad viaduct in the whole wide open when it was finished in 1900.
I made friends on Pyin Oo Lwin's platoon with a mom and her daughters who travelled to Lashio.