And we continued on, having started last night in the foothills of the Himalayas. By dawn we moved through the countryside and smaller towns, soon we were close to the urban sprawl that is Delhi.
India is incredible, just the concept of 1.2 billion people boggles the mind. As a photographer it is exhausting. There are people to shoot everywhere; it takes time to digest the noise, the heat, and more people than you can imagine. Everywhere.
There are about ten different classes of Indian trains - the long haul buses are pretty much the same - and there are wikipedia articles to help you work out what is what. For the trains, if you have air conditioning then 1st or 2nd class is just a question of comfort. We were traveling non-ac on our first trip. As I said, the seats were filthy when we got on the train, the toilets were unspeakable, and it was a 14-hour trip. I loved it.
One of my wife Ainlay’s biggest fears before this trip was that I wouldn’t be able to deal with roughing it after years of traveling for business. She had a point. I like my comforts as much as the next, but nothing happens in business class just as nothing happens in the AC trains. Everyone reads their papers and plays with their smart phones. Here we were a world away from that, everyone was interested in us, we were exotic and they were exotic to us. They loved to be photographed, to see themselves on the small screen on the back of my camera. I took a lot of photos on that journey. Here are some of them.
We arrived in India late in the evening from Lumbini, Nepal where we had visited the site where Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha, founder of Buddhism was born. The border was a jam of trucks, cars, motorbikes and just about every other vehicle you can imagine, everyone honking their horns and squeezing together in a vain effort to stop the traffic altogether.
At the railway station people were lying everywhere. We lugged our bags up stairs and down again to platform 5 only to be told that the platform had changed. It hadn’t, but we didn’t find out until we lugged bags back up stairs and down to the information window. Queues as we know them do not exist in India. Everyone just squeezes in, generally leading to chaos. It takes getting used to. You wait and people push in front of you, if there is one person in front of you, you politely wait behind and just as your turn comes, a group will push in front and take your place as if you didn’t exist. We established that the platform was correct but now it seemed that the train to Dehli would be 2 hours late and leave at 1.30 am. This is exactly the type of situation that makes me really nervous, as I am convinced that at 1.30am we will be told the train left from another platform two hours ago…Trains come and go and everyone was getting very tired.
At about 2 am our train finally arrived and we boarded to find people asleep in our bunks. We are in 2nd class non AC and it is filthy. I wiped down all the bunks quickly before the kids saw them and we put our shoes above the fans like everyone else does. Exhausted, we quickly fall asleep. When I wake up I will get some great photos.
We came back to Rangoon before leaving Myanmar and visited the Schwedagon Pagoda, the holiest place in the country.
The Way Of The Successful.
1. One shall work for a long time
2. One shall work without cessation
3. One shall work without arrears
4. One shall work respectfully
5. One shall work happy
After the photos at the well, I took my last photo in Mrauk U: a young monk doing a handstand before we all headed back to Sittwe by slow boat. We arrived late in the afternoon and I immediately headed out.
The light was already low but I got two portraits before it got too dark. Here they are. You can see from the blur that I am using a very low shutter speed (1/6th of a second for the technically minded).
You see friendly children all the time in Myanmar. That is because for the most part they are not at school. Myanmar spends less of its GDP on education than any other country and it has a lot of competition to hold that dubious honor. Spending on health care is probably not much better. Mrauk U has only one doctor and you see lots of skin and eye diseases that look easily treatable if facilities existed. Hopefully with the economy opening up and increased tourism this will become a priority for the government.
It is very picturesque to see children herding cattle or off getting water at the local well, but I’m sure that they would love to be off learning and have running water like the rest of us.
Most people avoid Myanmar and the other countries of Indochina in March as it is getting hotter and it is the time when brush is burned off before the wet season and a thick haze covers everything. I’m not crazy about the heat but I love the haze as it softens the light.
I took this photo outside The Shittaung Pagoda (Temple of 80 000 Buddas) in Mrauk U which was built in 1513-1553 by King Minbin. Not to be outdone his son built a Pagoda nearby with 90 000 Buddas.
I found that monks in Myanmar usually did not like having their photo taken. Here they did not mind but didn’t want individual portraits. A few days later in Rangoon just before we left for the airport I got two lovely portraits of Monks at breakfast.
We are still in Mrauk U. Just after leaving the young monks I came across this beautiful lady, perfectly carrying bundles of what looked like grass or bamboo, framed by three goats. As she left, a mother and daughter came along. I had to shoot them four times as the daughter with her heavy sack was anxious to move on so moved in every photo. This was the last shot. She stopped, smiled, I got it, and they rushed away.
I moved on past a man herding cattle and on to a well where I shot a series of the local children coming for water, which I will show you tomorrow.