Power supply is off and on in the border town. Sometime in the night the power supply went off and got back to life at 5 am. I found that my roaming data sim had also changed to Myanmar time, which is an hour ahead of that in India at +6.30 GMT. Despite the fan powered off the laundered clothes had dried and I folded them as soon as I woke up. Though it had been hot last evening the night air was nippy and the water in the tap was quite cold. Fortunately the geyser worked and I had hot water to shave and wash. I got ready by 7.30 am and moved the luggage to the car. The guest house charges paid I moved out in search of some place to have breakfast. I found the Dyna Tea Centre not too far away. Four oily puris and watery dal for Rs. 30 set up my meeting for exportation formalities.
When I reached the Land Customs Station it was closed. I was apprehensive about the 8 am appointment. I located a couple of security staff who said that the Station would open at 10 am. I rang up Bobby to inform him of the situation. Mobile phone signals are almost non-existent in the place. Miraculously I got the call through to Bobby and the signals blanked out. I waited, for that is all I could do. In a short while two youngsters sauntered in and asked me if I was taking the car to Myanmar. They happened to be manning the Customs and Immigration functions. In less than a half hour all paperwork was done, despite the poor network connectivity. By 8.45 am I drove on to the Friendship Bridge, on the right side of the road, as that is the appropriate one in Myanmar. As I neared the border control on the Myanmar control I found a lungi-clad gentleman step forward. I knew it was the guide, Tun Tun.
Lifestyle Services in Delhi, headed by Shrey, have done a competent job with facilitating the South East Asian Odyssey. When I met with the Myanmar Consul in Kolkata last December he had suggested that I make use of Silver Hills to facilitate the travel through Myanmar. The tour company is headed by a former diplomat and hence, would be able to arrange permits and so on quickly, he said. I had passed on the contact to Shrey and accordingly he had arranged the guide and government official to accompany me – a government stipulation – throughout my stay in Myanmar, to and fro as per my itinerary. The stipulation also said that I am at all times to be accompanied by the officials, wherever I went The arrangement is expensive as I have to pay for the flight charges, food and accommodation of the two accompanying persons, in addition to the temporary licence plate and driving permit. Last night Shrey called up to say that a third member would accompany me in the car! I was told that recently a Chinese self-driving team had met with an accident and therefore, the government had stipulated that a member to monitor the driving should also be part of the group. Thus, one tourist was to be accompanied by three officials through the tour of Myanmar. The more the merrier, it is said, but not when costs go up considerably and available room is compromised. A double decker bus would have suited the journey rather than the Ford Endeavour!!
I mentioned this to Myo Min, Director of Silver Hills, Tun Tun, the guide and Myint Sang, liaison officer of the Hotel and Tourism department, who were to accompany me for the next seven days. The work in Immigration was done. They did not have a clue where the Customs paperwork was to be done. It was crucial for me because the Carnet had to be entered in. we did a few rounds before the correct office was located. Once again, the formalities were gone through smoothly. I did not mind a lit extra time because I was able to get full signal to upload material to Facbook. After that was done, we went to the hotel where the officials stayed overnight. The amount of luggage they loaded into the car confirmed that they were also here on ‘shopping’ duty.
I was quite surprised by the road from Tamu to Kalay. It is a two lane highway, but neither potholed nor poorly surfaced. Before we started from the border the guide had ‘educated’ me about the courtesies of motoring in Myanmar. Speed, he said, is not a problem. However, the large number of two-wheelers on the road would be a challenge, he said. So also kids playing beside the road. Hence, he asked me to use the horn liberally to warn them. Along the 140 km drive we stopped twice; first was to take a few pictures near the concrete signboard which indicated that the Tropic of Cancer passed through there and the second was for a pork-rice lunch at the Dragon Hotel.
We reached the Tuang Zalat Hotel by 2.15 pm. I was given a special room, nothing fancy though. I was overjoyed to be told that the hotel offered free WiFi. Once the connection was made I knew it was only cosmetic; the speed was so pathetic that I steered clear of it after some time. Since our arrival to the hotel in the afternoon power supply to it has been through generator. Most of the places, other than the major cities in Myanmar, depend on diesel generator sets. En route to Kalay, in some small villages, I saw old type power generation using wooden water wheels.
Tun Tun, the guide, promised me good food at a thai restaurant. On the way I saw a catholic church of the Immaculate Conception. I spent a few minutes inside in prayer where young girls had assembled for choir practice. As a prelude to the chicken fried rice and a vegetable dish – could not quite get the name – I had a bottle of Myanmar beer. The food was served with clear soup. I had experienced in China on the last trip, thanks to Yingchu, that fried rice tastes a lot better with clear soup. I tried it again today and loved it. Watermelon and papaya were served as dessert.
When I got back to the hotel the net connection had improved quite a bit. I spent some time uploading the blog posts. Tun Tun has set the departure time tomorrow for 7.30 am after breakfast in the hotel.