How many days will you stay i Srinagar ?
The Kashmiri policemans face goes blank as I form a circle with my fingers : " Zero"
So : Delhi to a subzero Kargil in just over 26 hours : stepped off the nigh train in Jammu and found myself in a shared 4WD cab in five minutes , chatted up some telecom guys in a traffic jam a few hours later, and swapped vehicles even before reaching Srinagar. Loaded up equipment there , unloaded equipment and telecommers in Drass ( shattering their illusions of "the worlds coldest place " enroute). Alone with Rigchen , the Ladakhi driver to Kargil , arriving before midnight.
Next day : Ladakhi breakfast ( including chang ! ) in Shergol , winding up in Phey with skiyu at last. Slept like a baby on 125 mg of Diamox.
Srinagar was stil mildly depressing on a pass through only : too much continous time being watched by men with guns from the roofs etc. Drive in instructions to one of the cantonments :
* Dead slow
* No headlights
* Cabin lights on
Yesterday I had two tasks planned : arranging a room in Bangkok , and going out on a pop culture hunt in Yangons street markets. First part failed miserably , again and again. Finally on a third site the reason came up : apparently I´m a minion of the dark forces in the world
Despite these efforts I managed to find a bed near the railway station in Bangkok after arriving : the world is no longer safe.
Market report : rusty Zenit camera and a Pentax knockoff ("Pentarex K100") , book tables that paint Burmas history ,loads of pictures of a very popular officer ( Aung San , Aung San Suu Kyi´s father that was murdered in the 40´s ) and a box of DVD wonders : Vittorio de Sica´s The Bicycle Thief , Soylent Green, Marcello Mastroiani , Volker Schlöndorf, Charlie Chan, Jerry Lewis as The Geisha Boy ... alll starting with me finding a copy of The Lady , Michelle Yeoh is always cool
Repeat experience in talking with two locals : " Sweden ... aaah ! Lacquer loaf ! Not bread with varnish : Selma Lagerlöf.
Okay , that was one thing I definitely wouldn´t have made without the driver , who also had his moments of doubts. The bus station is a fair way away from the Sule pagoda area where I stay , and ends in a maze of muddy lanes with buses. I have the very last ticket , or so I thought for a moment until the plastic kiddy chairs are distributed in the mid aisle. During the first half hour of waiting we are served with edifying videos of heavily gilded boats being rowed by Very Serious men , religious processions etc , as soon as the bus starts the rhytm changes : burmese pop and a series of videos of he coming generation in Myanmar. He is stupid/sullen/jealous ( the later obviously with some reason at times ) , she is sulking or cruel.Her hair is always shampoo commercial material ( that does not seem far from reality , actually ) . In the end they start being nice to each other. The jeans/longyi ratio is beyond irrational : all boys on the screen wear jeans , in the bus I´m the only one in the last three or four rows who wears pants. I´m also the only foreigner.
Arrive in the wee hours at the dropping point for Bagan. Stretch out at last in the horse cart , which weaves on and off the road in the darkness. Sandy trails , a bitter/lemonish smell and a few lit up pagodas on the way. Lots of bigger stuff sensed , not seen. Then the horizon becomes visible , giving ...aaah.
( photos to come )
I look over the shoulder : who is really coming , now that someone leaps up to open the door?
No one appears. Surely this must be a joke though.
So : at the last moment I caved in and booked a hotel room the first night in Yangon. The taxi takes me past a long row of shipping containers and turns down a dry dusty lane before locked gates . One guard , and one door leaper. It would be easy to write about this in a ironic way .. actually I´m not above that. There are uniforms. On the bed the tols are folded in a for me unseen way , making me feel apologetic about mucking them up with a shower. A minibar. A friendly reminder from the hotel management. And a view to match a back alley in Pahar Ganj or a seedy section of Havanna. In the dining room tea is easily managed , even green tea. Then I carried away and order a juice : blank disbelief. Ju... fruit names in english and hindi , pantomines of plucking and pressing in to a glass .... at last all three waiters reach a Manuel-like state and exclaim : aaah ! ...juice !
The second layer though : retrack the shipping containers to their end , and there is a school (?) building - and next to that the pagoda of the second hair , one of the most important religious sites in Yangon. On the other side of the road : first the Strand Hotel - really , no irony - and immediately after that a man rolls in a big mirror under a car : the British Embassy. All within a few blocks.