By train to Bagan


I’m not sure what time it was, but I woke up with a start. The cold night wind, blowing at whatever-miles-per-hour, had slapped me hard in the face.

But it wasn’t the wind that was moving. It was our train, the #120 to Bagan, a rickety, rolling machine on wheels which should’ve been sent to a train graveyard ages ago. It was shaking violently from side to side and back and forth, making me feel like a rag doll at times. To top it off, I couldn’t close the window and the night air was blasting in.

On my left, R was stretched out and fast asleep, all six feet of him. Across the aisle, a tall Hungarian was snoring and gurgling away like there was no tomorrow. Snoring. What it is about men and their ability to sleep anywhere?

This was our third day in Myanmar but already our second train ride. You know you’re in for an interesting ride when your ticket costs US$10, your seats are described as ‘Upper Class’, it’s an eight-hour overnight journey and there are no sleeping berths. There’s something wrong somewhere, and you know it.

Our first train- from Yangon to Mandalay- was a slightly better one with overnight berths, although it shook and rattled just as much. Or maybe that was worse. Or perhaps this one? I couldn’t decide.

I took out my notebook to write but got bored after five minutes and ended up looking out of the window.

I must have dozed off though because when I came to, the train had stopped moving.

It was 2am and we were at a small train station. I could make out the outline of a single-storey wooden building in the pitch-black darkness, the building itself completely unlit. Outside, I heard faint voices. Flashes of light darted up and down, giving me glimpses of the railway tracks as people carried torchlights to see their way.

And then a man came into view, right outside my window. His white shirt bounced in the dark as he ran on the railway tracks, trying desperately to get on board.

The train, which had hardly been at the station for five minutes, was already getting ready to leave. This distressed me greatly- I’ve missed a flight before so I know what it’s like to miss a ride- but we were already picking up speed and there was no way I could help him up. He was slowly falling behind. Run! RUN!! I wanted to help him, but I couldn’t.

When the train finally rattled past the station, the poor man, who was still struggling to keep up, looked up helplessly and caught my eye. I’m so sorry, I tried to tell him.

He was in his late 40s, I think, although of course I couldn’t be sure.  “I’ll try another day,” his eyes told me in the dim light, and he disappeared in the darkness.

To my left, my friend stirred in his sleep and across the aisle, the Hungarian snored contently.


© 2013 – 2014, Anis. All rights reserved.

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8 Responses

  1. Iain Mallory says:

    Really great piece of prose and love the atmospheric B&W shot.

    Shame about the guy who missed the train 🙁

  2. Nisha says:

    What a lovely story, Anis!
    Very well narrated. And the photo in B&W just enhances it manifolds.

    Keep it up. 🙂

  3. Chin Yon Kong says:

    I was on the 9pm train to Bagan from Mandalay on Oct 23, 2012. It was my first train journey in Myanmar and what an experience it was. It felt like you were on a roller coaster ride, and I was quite sure the train would derail for sure. But we arrived safely and right on time having also departed almost on the minute!

  4. Abd Rahman bin Abd Ghani says:

    In 2011 I took the train from Mandalay to Yangoon.I shared with a drunkard…..terrible,but he dozed off later in the night.