The Taung Za Lat Hotel is bang opposite the Kale airfield, which operates ATRs and choppers. I have stayed at the hotel twice during the South East Asian Expedition. Both the times they had given me their premier room and this time too it was no different. It is a comfortable room with a private bath. But the hotel is entirely run on diesel genset, all 24 hours. I do not know how they manage. The constant whirr of the genset can be quite a nuisance at times. However, I was happy that the Wifi worked slightly better early in the morning for me do some uploads. I could not complete what I wanted to, but I was at least half way through. Nevertheless, I had had enough time since last evening to complete all the documentation, including the blog. That was a matter of great relief.
Breakfast was to be served at 7 am and Htoo promptly came over for a shout. The buffet had been laid out, mostly with local fare. Htoo and Hnin explained what they all were. The major item seemed to be a large portion of rice noodle, made out like the idiyappam, which was to be had with fish soup. I was more than apprehensive about the fish soup that had banana stem, pounded bean dumpling and other vegetables. Sworn to trying out local delicacies I ‘braved’ to move the portion to my table. I told my self that toast and jam and some bajjis were on standby in case I didn’t find the taste agreeable. More than the taste I was worried about its effect on the tummy as I had about 10 hours on the road ahead of me. I needlessly worried. The noodle and fish soup was so yummy that had it not been for the drive I would certainly had a second helping. The local dishes are devoid of masala and oil and that makes it easier on the stomach. Besides the noodle soup I had a couple of toasts and an egg with two glasses of orange juice. Oh yes, also a couple of bajjis made of onion and gourd. With that I was ready to start the second week of the expedition. In the past seven days I have done over 3600 km through India and a leg in Myanmar.
As I had mentioned yesterday I had decided to take the longer route to Monywa because of the better road conditions. In retrospect it turned out to be a good decision. The route which I had opted for has two major mountains to get through. We stopped at the base of the first mountain road, the tougher one, for refreshments and restroom use. The roads are narrow but in decent condition. I found that most of the bridges that were under construction last year were completed and commissioned. This route takes the majority of freight transportation in multi axle vehicles. The disciplined road use ensures that there are no traffic snarls.
Htoo suggested that we have lunch at Yay Myat Ni, which was a popular place for rest and food. The going was good till we were about 15 km short of the lunch halt. Suddenly there was a long row of trucks and other passenger transport lined up in front of us. It was raining too. As I maneuvered over a muddy path to get behind another car the Champion swayed from side to side, and almost dangerously. That was a clear indication that the soil was clayey and without a four wheel drive it would be impossible to negotiate such tracks. Htoo got out of the car to find out the reason for the hold up. He almost slipped and fell at a couple of places because of the clay. It was impossible to even walk on the soil, let alone drive! Htoo came back with the news that the bridge ahead was under maintenance and that a fuel bowser had got stuck in the river bed that served as the diverted route. It was not known when the situation would be remedied. A couple of vehicles had been stuck at the location for more than a day! With this information Pyae and I suggested that we turn back and head via the shorter route. Htoo was not for it because that would mean a humungous diversion from where we were. Nevertheless, I decided to turn back.
And that’s when the major trouble started. In the effort to turn the car it got caught in the slush. It would not move forward. Whatever I did the car kept sliding and skidding. The only option was to find a truck that could tow us out of the morass. Hnin and Pyae got out of the car and walked to the other vehicles asking for help. None of them seemed to have a rope. I always carry a rope that my uncle GK Abraham insisted I carry since my London trip. However, this time when I went to collect it from him he could not recollect where he had kept it. Whenever I had the rope I didn’t have to use it. This time when I didn’t have it the situation arose to point out the deficiency!
Eventually, it skidded into a small ditch on the left side of the road that served as a drainage. I was stuck and despite all sorts of instructions from well-intentioned truckers I was unable to get out of the messy goo without help. Fortunately, the congestion got cleared and vehicles started moving. A heavy truck in the rear came astride and asked Htoo what the problem was. He had a rope on him and with Htoo assisting the cleaner of the truck they made four loops of the rope and hooked under the bumper of the Champion. I was given firm instructions about my role behind the wheel when the truck would pull. It took less than five minutes to get out on to the tarred road. Htoo compensated the crew for the assistance and told him that we would stay behind in case of further assistance till the diverted mud tracks were over. Fortunately, from thereon the Champion, wiser from the previous experience, tackled the mud tracks without a problem. There was another diversion due to an unserviceable bridge before we reached the intended lunch destination. Once the rains begin anything can happen in these parts. And delays could stretch on for days!
Lunch was a set menu that consisted of pork, chicken, soup and a host of veggies. I stuck to a small portion of rice and chicken. The preparation of country chicken was very tasty. After lunch Htoo wanted me to try the Sientalone mango, which is considered to be the king among mangoes in Myanmar. Sient means diamond and the fruit is supposed to taste like a diamond!
The smaller mountain was done in quick time after lunch but it was dark by the time we reached Hotel Monywa, the night halt destination. We had hoped to reach Monywa in about ten hours when we left Kale. Due the dislocation and delays we reached two hours late. The distance done was 344 km. The Champion needed a makeover due to the extreme slushy conditions and incessant rain. Htoo arranged for it and personally supervised the cleaning as even the inside of the car had to be cleaned up.
It had been a long day and the best way to wind down is with a bottle of beer and good food. Myanmar beer, fish in cashew nuts, rice and mangoes served that purpose. I had got some of the uploading work done in Hotel Taung Za Lat in Kale. The rest I hoped to do in Monywa after dinner. The kind man at the reception smiled apologetically while handing over the password for the Wifi and said, “Sorry Sir, Wifi slowly working”!