|12 December 2007
My sister-in-law Ma Htar Htar Thu and her brother Ko Aung Zin Ko Ko hired a car with driver in Yangon (the former capital of Myanmar) for three days: one day to travel from Yangon to Pyay, one day to visit the degree confluence and one day to travel further from Pyay to Bagan, our final destination.
In the early morning we left the hotel in Pyay and drove by car on the road to Taungdwingyi. After an hour we took a left turn to a fertilizer factory situated near the Ayeyarwady River. The degree confluence was northwest of Pyay on the other side of the river between the villages Kama and Pyindaung. We arranged a boat to cross the river and sailed upstream to Kama Village.
After half an hour we arrived at the opposite side in Kama Village. An immigration officer was curious why this foreigner came to this side of the river. Since World War Two, no Western foreigner has ever visited his village. He studied my passport and also the identity cards of my assistants for a long time. I did not tell him the real purpose of our visit: afraid he would not understand and stop me from leaving Kama Village. I kept my intentions a little vague, telling him I only like to make some photos halfway the road to Pyindaung Village, which in a way was true. After a lengthy discussion with my sister-in-law he said it was okay.
Our car driver arranged some men with motorbikes to bring us halfway to Pyindaung Village. But at the moment of departure a policeman turned up on the road and asked many questions about our destination and purpose of our visit. At the same time that the policeman stopped us, the men with their motorbikes disappeared; afraid they get in trouble. If something would happen to me, like a motorbike accident, they would be in big trouble… One way or another, my sister-in-law convinced the policeman that our goal was to make some photos halfway the road to Pyindaung Village. Reluctantly he let us through, but he did not allow us to travel by motorbike. Luckily, out of sight of the policeman, a local restaurant owner named U Htay Lwin arranged other men with motorbikes just outside the village. They were willing to take the risk for transporting a foreigner in return for the money they earned.
After one hour of negotiating with the local authorities we finally left Kama Village on the backseat of the motorbikes heading for Pyindaung Village. Guided by my GPS receiver we took a turn to a dirt track halfway the road and headed into the hills. We stopped near a footpath, left the men with the motorbikes behind and started walking.
A degree confluence hunt is always an exciting expedition. Especially because that time the most detailed maps available were only low resolution satellite images and the confluence was not visited before. I was uncertain about being able to reach the exact location or what to find on the spot. Although it was pretty warm in the sun, the hike was easy. While U Htay Lwin acted as our local guide, the footpath more or less headed straight to the degree confluence.
After less then an hour of pleasant walking along some rice and vegetable fields, we finally arrived at the degree confluence on the top of a hill called Lé Pin. It almost seemed that this footpath was specially made to visit the spot. Relieved that we succeeded once more in reaching an unvisited degree confluence, I took photos of the confluence, my GPS receiver display and my assistants and of the surrounding landscape.
On the view to the east from the degree confluence photo you can see trees of which the bark is cut around. This has nothing to do with marking the degree confluence, but is done by locals to produce timber by killing the tree and let it dry before they cut it down. You can also see such a dead tree on the view to the north from the degree confluence photo.
We went the same route back to the dirt track where the men with the motorbikes were waiting for us. When we returned in Kama village we had our lunch in U Htay Lwin’s restaurant. While we were enjoying our lunch, the motorbike drivers were questioned at the police station about the foreigner: where I went and what I did...
After we had finished our lunch we were ordered to pay a visit to the immigration office. The head of the immigration office gave my sister-in-law an authoritarian lecture about properly registering a foreigner when arriving in Kama village. She replied that we did register (although not voluntarily) with an immigration officer.
Late in the afternoon we went back to the riverbank where our boat was waiting and crossed the river to the fertilizer factory where the car was parked. Driving back to Pyay we arrived after dark in the hotel, happy with the photos of another degree confluence visit in my camera.
Technically it was an easy to reach degree confluence. But without the negotiating skills of my sister-in-law and the help of the local restaurant owner U Htay Lwin we were not able to travel to the degree confluence on that side of the Ayeyarwady River.