Auckland & all that . . .

 

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We anchored off Auckland and I could see the lights of the city as I stood my watch from 8.00 pm to midnight. We finally berthed at 6.30 am and worked cargo all day.
Everyone on board knew that Maureen was flying out to see me, and they thought that she was from a very wealthy family to be able to fly around the world for a weekend.
In the end I couldn’t let my shipboard friends believe that she was anything but a normal Liverpool girl, who was fortunate to work for an airline, which allowed her to take advantage of discounted tickets.

The following day I stood my deck watch and late afternoon raced out to the airport to meet Maureen. The aircraft was an hour and a half late!
I’d booked her in to a small hotel in the city, because the ship didn’t have accommodation for visitors. The following day I introduced her to my friends and it was party time!

The day after I managed time off and Maureen & I went sightseeing around Auckland.

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I don’t know what Mount Wellington looks like now, but in 1966 it was a beautiful park and with great views across Auckland from One Tree Hill.

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We also visited Albert Park, plenty of time to talk as we walked. The large flower ‘clock’ that always gave the correct time.

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Flower Clock Albert Park, Auckland

All too soon our short time together was over, and Maureen had to fly back to Melbourne.

At that time Auckland didn’t have aero-bridges to board the aircraft. One had to walk to the plane and hoped it wasn’t raining.

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Maureen about to board her Qantas flight.

For those who are interested, the aircraft is Qantas’ first L-188C Electra (Lockheed), which arrived in Sydney in 1959 for the Qantas fleet.

After I left the sea I worked for TNT in Australia, and this aircraft was chartered by TNT to carry freight from Stansted to Cologne in 1994.
In 1998 the aircraft was sent to Coventry for a major overhaul, but was found to require too much work, which was uneconomical, so she was broken up for spares and completely scrapped in 2002.

In all Bankura was in Auckland for ten days, after which we sailed for Brisbane, followed by Singapore via the Great Barrier Reef, Port Swettenham, Penang and finally Calcutta.

In Calcutta, after discharging our cargo we went in to dry dock.

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The above is a picture of Khidipore Dock, taken a few years ago – as you see there is a smallish vessel in the dock.

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The above gives you a better idea of how Bankura would have looked – the ship above is not the Bankura.

We had four days in dry dock and various job were allocated by our captain – I was given the responsibility of about two hundred workers who were to scrape the ship’s hull below the waterline and remove all traces of sea life (barnacles etc) and seaweed.
The work went on twenty four hours a day, and the workers were ‘challenging’.

All our crew were Indians or Goanese, and I had great respect for them and their work ethic, but I must admit the labour supplied to clean & paint the ship were a very different type of Indian worker.
One of my biggest gripes was to make sure they didn’t steal everything that was not too heavy to move, or screwed down.
Paint brushes, tins of paint, cleaning tools and so on – I wouldn’t have minded if it wasn’t so obvious, but most of the labour only wore shorts or a small lungi (a type of sarong) and sandels, which had few places to hide a five gallon tin of paint!

It was an experience, and at the end of the four days I wasn’t really sure if I’d won or they had . . .

At least once the paint was dry we were able to flood the dock, so making sure that they didn’t steal the ship.

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We moved out in to the river (the Hooghly)  to load cargo. The two ships in the photograph are British India Steam Nav. Co vessels, the same company as Bankura.
The white one is a liner and the other a cargo ship.

As you see the river is used for everything, and along the banks there were ghats.

A ghat is a set of steps that lead down to the river allowing people to either wash themselves, their clothes, or if the steps are in front of a temple for religious purposes.

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Ahilya Ghat by the Ganges.

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Taken about a hundred years ago, so little had changed by the time I visited Calcutta.

I enjoyed my time in India, having visited several cities including Calcutta, (now Kolkata) Bombay, (now Mumbai), Madras, (now Chennai), Cochin (now Kochi), Goa, Tuticorin and Bhavnagar (not sure if it was this name in the 60’s) in the State of Gujarat, and have always found the locals to be polite and friendly.
As a memory of India I have four original paintings of Cochin scenes hanging on my dining room wall. I watched the painter create them, which has added the pleasure of owning them.

Of course when I say I enjoyed India, I do not include my four days at the bottom of a dry dock in Calcutta as enjoyable :- o)

We moored in the river and loaded cargo and sailed for Chalna in East Pakistan.

We hove to so as to pick up the pilot for the passage up the Pussur River, but the pilot refused to come aboard unless he was met by an officer when stepping on to the deck.
Usually pilots were met by a cadet or a Sukunni (helmsman or senior crew member).
All pilots were shown to the bridge, but in many cases they made their own way because they knew the ship and the captain, and didn’t require an escort.
But this particular pilot had obviously remembered the days of the Raj and wanted a ‘piece’ of the old traditions.
He knew he would get his own way because time was money, and we had to cross the bar at high tide, so I was to meet and greet the great man.

Of course, we always tried to make our pilots welcome. Tea, sandwiches and cake would be waiting for him on the bridge.
Later a small present, in the form of a bottle, would be given to warm his evenings at the end of his piloting duties, just to show our gratitude for a safe trip. Everything was always very civilised and friendly, so to be held over a barrel on a point of etiquette was not the best way to make our Captain a friend of this pilot.

After loading cargo we sailed back down river, but this time with a different pilot and the atmosphere on the bridge was a lot warmer. It was to be Colombo in Ceylon, for Christmas.

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Paddle steamer Chinsura  on the Pussur River, in 1966. (Picture off the internet)

 

 

 

Southbound from Calcutta

On our return to Singapore I received a letter from head office informing me that I was to fly to Calcutta to join an Australian bound ship.
More frequent flyer points lost . . .

Great Eastern Hotel - Calcutta (Kolkata) 1930's

I flew to Calcutta and stayed at the Great Eastern Hotel, which had been a hotel since 1840 and it still had the Raj feeling. It has been called the Jewel of the East, also The Savoy of the East, and carried various names until 1915 when it was renamed The Great Eastern.

Its original name was Auckland Hotel, so named after George Eden who was the 1st Earl of Auckland, the then Governor of India. Originally it had a department store under the hotel, and it is said that  “a man could walk in at one end, buy a complete outfit, a wedding present, or seeds for the garden, have an excellent meal, a burra peg (double gin) and if the barmaid was agreeable, walk out at the other end engaged to be married”

It was the hotel where ‘everyone’ stayed when visiting Calcutta – Nikita Khrushchev,  Queen Elizabeth II, Mark Twain, Dave Brubeck (I wish he’d been there when I was there), and many others

The above picture is from a Great Eastern 1930 post card – it hadn’t changed much when I stayed there in 1966. The Government took over the running of the hotel in the 1970’s and sold it to a private company in 2005.

Until it closed in 2005 for extensive renovations,  it was the longest continuous operating hotel in Asia. It was partly reopened in 2013 and is still being renovated.

From memory I think I stayed in the hotel for two nights before joining MV Bankura.

 

Bankura

 

Launched in 1959, so she was ‘new’ as far as I was concerned being only seven years old. She was 6793 gross tonnes, with deck cranes rather than derricks, and she was fully air-conditioned.
She was one of five ships in her class and one of the first UK built ships to have AC current for all deck purposes.  Her trading route was to be Calcutta to Australia and New Zealand, thousands of miles away from the Persian Gulf – I couldn’t wait!

All of British India Navigation Co vessels were named after places that ended in ‘a’. Uganda, Kenya and of course Bankura, which is a town in West Bengal, India, and is not all that far from Calcutta, only about 168 km.

The Company began in 1856 and the first route was Calcutta to Rangoon, which at that time the Company’s name was the ‘Calcutta & Burmah Steam Navigation Co Ltd.’ It was not until 1862 that the name changed to become British India Steam Navigation Co.

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In 1947 India was ‘partitioned’, and the partition was based on two main religions – Muslim & Hindu.

The Muslim majority in the west became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and the Muslim in the east became East Pakistan. The Province of Bengal (which was in the east) was split between India and Pakistan . The western areas were allocated to India and the Eastern areas to Pakistan.

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The green area near Burma is Eastern Bengal, soon to become East Pakistan.
(Map from the internet)

West Pakistan, was 1600 km to the west, on the other side of India.

Political upheaval in in West Pakistan in the late 1950’s and through the 1960’s caused unrest in both West & East Pakistan.
After the 1970 general election the Eastern politicians had 167 seats out of 300, but the military junta in the west dragged their feet to transfer power.

Civil disobedience broke out in East Pakistan and they advocated Independence from Pakistan.  In 1971, on Pakistan’s Republic Day many households in East Pakistan flew the Bangladeshi flag.
The Pakistani army cracked down on the dissidents and civil war broke out – certain West Pakistan military units based in East Pakistan, went over to the Bangladeshis.

The war lasted nine months, but in the end the Pakistanis in East Pakistan surrendered to the joint forces of the Indian Army and the Bangladeshi guerrilla forces. The new independent State of Bangladesh came in to existence in December 1971.

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Bangladeshi flag in 1971

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The current flag of Bangladesh.

The history of the partition of India makes interesting reading, as well as being a very sad episode in the history of that country, because millions were displaced as they moved either to Pakistan or India, depending on their religion, and it is estimated that well over half a million died during the Indian / Pakistani exodus.

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We worked cargo around the clock for the next eight days – my shift was 6 am to 6 pm. It was hard work in the humidity of Calcutta, and left little time for pleasure.

We sailed on the eighth day for Chalna in East Pakistan (as it was called then).

To reach Chalna it required us to sail up the Pasur River for around six hours. This river is a tributary of the Ganges.

We didn’t go alongside – I don’t think, in those days, that they had the facility for deep sea vessels to go alongside. Floating warehouses came out to us and we used our own cargo to gear to work cargo.

Chalna

Jute, in the form of bales, was the main export at that time, along with tea.

After we had finished in Chalna we sailed to the mouth of the river, anchored and waited for the tide so as to pass over the sand bars, and then set course for Chittagong.

We had three days in Chittagong before our next port which was Trincomalee in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Trinco, for me, meant water skiing, but this time things didn’t quite work out as planned.

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On previous visits to Trinco I’d been shown how to ‘water ski’ by being towed on a hatch board behind a lifeboat. We may not have been a cruise ship but we had all the right gear. . . . .

This time two of us borrowed a lifeboat and motored off to a clear area for a swim and possibly to water ski, only to have the motor breakdown, and we failed to get it restarted. During our frantic efforts to get the engine going the lifeboat was drifting further and further from the ship. The only thing left for us to do was to row!
By the time we returned to the Bankura our arms were coming out of their sockets. Rowing a ship’s lifeboat, which has a capacity to carry twenty to thirty men is very hard work for two.

We spent two days loading tea, after which we sailed for Port Swettenham in Malaysia.

As we approached the port, our radio contact was to Klang exchange on the Klang River, which was the old port before the railway arrived from Kuala Lumpur in 1890.

The port was named after Sir Frank Swettenham, who became Selangor’s Resident in 1882, and he initiated the start of the rail track between Kuala Lumpur and the main port of Klang, which was twenty four miles from the capital KL.

Once we were alongside at 6.00 pm, a few of us made a bee line for KL. The evening was not a particularly memorable night. The drive took a lot longer than we expected and the return, after a few beers and a meal, took the edge of the whole evening. The roads in the mid-60’s were not to the standard of today.

The following evening, after work had stopped, I decided to visit the Hollywood Bowl Massage Parlour, because I’d never had a massage.

I hadn’t a clue what to expect. I had a basic idea of massages, but when I was covered in talcum powder during the massage I couldn’t stop sneezing and called it quits, and went back to the ship for a shower and a beer.

It would be thirty eight years later before I would try a massage again, when I was on holiday in KL in 2005.
We were a party of four couples who were staying at the Renaissance Hotel, and the hotel recommended a particular parlour to visit. Three of us men decided to give it a go, and the difference was like chalk and cheese, and I didn’t have a sneezing fit.

From Klang / Port Swettenham our next port was Singapore. After two days of working cargo we were off to Australia!

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As we approached Northern Australia (Torres Straits) we picked up a Torres Strait pilot who piloted us through the Straits and the Great Barrier Reef to Townsville in northern Queensland.

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We had less than 24 hours in Townsville after which we were off to New Zealand. The one thing I remember about Townsville was that some of the pubs had bat wing doors – all very old west, but very real.

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Picture found on the internet – it was taken in 1958, but it had hardly changed when I visited in 1966

The Bankura had cargo tanks as part of her cargo space, and from Townsville we loaded molasses, which wasn’t much different from the Ellenga’s crude oil that we loaded in the Gulf, both had to be kept in a liquid state to assist discharge.

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If you grew up in the UK not long after the end of the war this might bring back a memory or two. Besides spooning it on your cereal it can also be the basis for rum!

The voyage to Auckland was a rolling down to Rio type voyage that took some getting used to, but after five and a half days we entered Auckland harbour.
I’m glad that I was the junior officer, because it took me a few ‘noons’ to get the noon site correct due to the rolling.
It was all very well doing it in a classroom or when the sea was calm, but matching the roll of the ship and managing to record the exact time of noon when the sun kissed the horizon was a skill I had to quickly learn.

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Picture from the internet

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Auckland in the mid-sixties was very different than the Auckland of today. I do remember that at main street junctions when the all the lights turned red and the traffic stopped to allow the pedestrians to walk diagonally across the junction if they wished. This system was introduced in 1958 in New Zealand, but not in the UK until 2009.

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At that time the population of Auckland was about half a million, and the streets didn’t feel as packed as those in Liverpool, but the idea of stopping all the traffic for pedestrians seemed a great idea to me.
Even the single decked trolley buses had to stop. It was years later before I saw this road crossing system elsewhere.

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I took the above picture in 1966 at a ‘busy’ road junction in Auckland, how things have changed.

Television in NZ was only six years old in 1966, so the standard of outside broadcasting was well below what we were used to in the UK.
The job of the junior cadet was to stand on the monkey island (which was above the bridge), to slowly turn the aerial until we were all satisfied with the picture. The one thing I noticed about the news at that time was the poor standard of camera shots. I can still remember watching a news item of a building that was on fire, and the camera zoomed so fast to concentrate on the flames of a burning beam that it made me feel slightly sick. The camera would focus on pieces of burning wood and then zoom out at great speed, adding to my discomfort. I stopped watching NZ TV news after this experience.

In 1966 there were around 300,000 homes across New Zealand with TV, so the whole industry was in a huge learning curve.

Broadcasting didn’t start until late afternoon, and they only broadcast for a total of fifty hours a week, which helped to keep the pubs full in the evenings.

As we sailed down the coast to our next port of call, the poor cadet spent most of his evenings tweaking the aerial to pick up a stronger signal.

We pumped our molasses ashore, which took longer than planned, because our pump kept stopping, and we had to wait for the engineers to fix the problem. The failure of the pump put us behind our schedule, which put the Captain in a very poor mood, so most of us stayed well clear of him. On the plus side the delay allowed us time ashore in the evening.

Our visit to New Zealand was what we would call today as a ‘quite time’ – we worked cargo, sailed sedately from port to port with little excitement.

Our next port of call was Dunedin. The scenic trip from the sea to the city, via Otago harbour, was beautiful, and reminded me of the fjords of Norway.

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As we approached our berth in Dunedin I could hear music from a radio in one of the of the officers’ cabins. At the end of the music an advert for the local cinema began, and at the end of the short advert they named the film (movie) that was to be shown that evening, it was African Queen, with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, which had been released fifteen years earlier.

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I don’t know if the cinema was advertising a retro evening or if the film had just arrived in Dunedin, but in 1966 Dunedin was pleasant quiet back water after Singapore, Hong Kong and a dry Bombay, and I had the feeling that the film had just arrived.

Dunedin is the location of the only castle in New Zealand, built in 1871 by William Larnach for his wife. At least it was built for love, rather than war, as many castles in Europe.

Our next port was north of Dunedin, Timaru. We spent two days in this small town with its pastel coloured buildings. Unfortunately I don’t remember much of my visit to Timaru.

Next stop was Lyttelton, which is the seaport for Christchurch. Lyttelton is a deep water harbour created by the collapse of the seaward side of an extinct volcano, as you see in the picture.

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Picture from an old post card – 1965

We were in Lyttelton for six days and worked cargo constantly so we had little time for sightseeing. I did manage to visit Christchurch for a short time and found myself impressed with the wide clean streets. Fortunately the road tunnel through the hills was only two years old, so the journey didn’t take long by bus.

Next stop Wellington for freezer cargo, Bankura was a multi-faceted vessel with the ability to carry dry cargo, freezer cargo, chilled cargo and liquid cargo in tanks.

I managed time off on the Sunday and two of us caught the ferry to Picton, which is northern end of the South island. The trip was uneventful, but the scenery, as we sailed up Queen Charlotte Sound was spectacular.

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Queen Charlotte Sound

During our time in Wellington I was on ‘pins’, because Maureen was due to fly out to Melbourne with her parents.
Maureen worked for BOAC  (now British Airways) and she was able to buy discounted tickets, and she had planned an Australian holiday for herself and her parents before she met me.
Once I knew our itinerary from Calcutta to New Zealand I realised that Maureen would be in Australia during the Bankura’s NZ coastal trip.
It was suggested that perhaps she might be able to fly from Melbourne to Auckland for weekend, if she could get discounted tickets.
Being resourceful Maureen did manage to get a discounted ticket from Air New Zealand, so now all we both wanted was to be in Auckland at the same time.

TEAL

The new airport at Auckland began services in 1965, but was not opened officially until January 1966, just in time, I hoped, for Maureen !

The above shows a 1960’s  DC8 of Air New Zealand, and if you are wondering what the TEAL means on the tail – Tasman Empire Airways Ltd, which was the original name of Air New Zealand.

 

 

Calcutta & Burmah Steam Nav Co

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The Calcutta & Burmah Steam Navigation Company was registered in Glasgow in 1856. One of the first ships of the company  was Cape of Good Hope, built in 1853, (420 gross tons). She was a steamer, but also rigged as a brig. At 190 feet long, she still managed ninety days from Southampton to Calcutta to begin her carrier as a mail ship.

The Company had the contract from the Indian Government (nominally the East India Company, which governed India & Burmah) to run a schedule mail service between Calcutta and Rangoon. It became a success and the following year the Company was called upon to carry troops from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in support of the Government during the Indian Mutiny.

The Company could see a future in the carrying of troops, supplies and horses on behalf of the Government, so additional ships where bought.
In 1862 they changed the name of the Company to British India Steam Navigation Company.

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Over the following years the BI, as it became to be known, grew to be one of the largest shipping companies in the world. By 1922 it had grown to 158 ships, which at that time was the largest merchant fleet in the world.

At the outbreak of WW2 they had 105 ships, and lost 51 during the war including one in which my father sailed (fortunately he survived). The Company also managed a further 71 vessels, and sixteen of those were lost.

The Company celebrated its hundredth anniversary in 1956 by launching their latest troop ship Nevasa.(20,527 gt)

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Nevasa – from the painting by Robert Lloyd

In 1962 I joined the Company, and after the appropriate sea time and passing my exams I was appointed Third Mate in the Bankura (6,793 gt)

Bankura

In 1967, while serving in the Bankura we sailed from Calcutta to Rangoon – as the port was still called then, in the country of Burma (the ‘h’ had been dropped). The picture below is the front cover of the ID card issued by the Burmese authorities at that time, and at the bottom is the inside.

Burma ID card

ID Burma 2We were alongside for two days, one hundred and eleven years after the first BI ship, the Cape of Good Hope, called in to Rangoon.

I liked Rangoon, but it would be forty five years before I returned – but this time on holiday in 2012, just before the country changed and became more democratic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stayed at the Traders Hotel – the white building on the right. On the left is Scott’s Market, now called Bogyoke Market but everyone we spoke to referred to it as Scott’s.

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IMGP4392rInside the market – gold, jade, silver what ever you wished. Ground floor.

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Higher up the less expensive items were for sale.

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Near Scott’s Market is Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, built in 1894, which is the oldest colonial cathedral in Myanmar (Burma).

Our hotel was inexpensive, so we stayed on the Club Floor – I was surprised at how ‘cheap’ it was. I did check the rates recently (the hotel has changed its name) and there is no way that we could afford to stay there – never mind staying on the Club Floor!

When we came to pay they had the facility to accept credit cards, but not in the normal way – the details had to go through Singapore – I think because the Government of the time wouldn’t allow the normal procedure.

IMGP4400rThe tea room in the main foyer (ground level not the Club Floor).

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View from the Club Floor.

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Club Floor dining room.

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We asked one of the staff where could we go to experience Burmese food with the locals.

Just round the corner and the food was delicious and cheap (cheap for us). We changed money on the street as well as the banks – the bank insisted on ‘clean’ unfolded notes. At that time the Australian dollar was higher in value than the US, so we were obtaining about 876 local Kyat for one Australian dollar. Handing over $50 note we then stood there counting 43,800 Kyat . . . . . the space in my pocket was too small so it took two pockets to stow the cash!

We did go to a bank near Scott’s Market to change money – the rate was similar to the street value – a guard on the door eyed us as we entered. I did notice that he was not wearing any shoes, just flops flops .

220px-ThongsI considered that all I had to do was stamp on his toe and I would be able to rob the place. EXCEPT that when I walked in I saw the rear wall behind the tellers was a solid wall of money, and at the exchange rate that we were offered, to make a robbery worth while, I’d need a forklift to carry more than a few thousand dollars worth of Kyat!

IMGP4419rWhen I took the above picture I had my back to the bank’s main doorway, so attempting a fast get away, using a fork lift, didn’t seem all that practical.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASmall street always attracted me  – you didn’t know what you’d find.

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Local take-away.

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We wondered down near the river as I wanted to see if the Strand Hotel was still standing. On the way I had to take a photograph of the coloured buildings, because I recognized the area !

Strand

This is what the Strand looks like today, but in 2012 it was tired and not a patch on its glory days. It was built in 1901 and acquired by the Starkies brothers of Raffles, Singapore & Eastern & Oriental in Penang fame. In 2016 it was refurbished to be once again one of the finest hotels East of Suez.

4m6bcnd5-1404183075In 2012 we had a drink in this bar, and sat at the far end – the staff were indifferent to us, and the service extremely slow, I only hope they have lifted their game since the refurbishment.

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The Strand Café today – the above three photographs have been downloaded off the net.

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The Irrawaddy River or as Kipling said The Road to Mandalay – the Road to Mandalay for Kipling, was the river – listen to the words.

I stood on the river bank and remembered my first visit, while breathing in the smells of salt water, the river and the ever present smell of Asia, something of which  I never get tired. To complete the memories, we decided to cross the river by ferry.

IMGP4426The ferry terminal and the ferry on the river approaching.

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One or two other people had the same idea.

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Hot & cold food sellers spend all day floating back and forth trying to sell their wares.

IMGP4435Looking back at the ferry terminal

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A houseboat, not a bit like the modern holiday river cruisers.

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Memories . . . .

IMGP4443rApproaching the other side of the river.

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Once ashore we each hired a tri-Shaw, which also had room for a ‘pusher’ – if the trishaw was bogged or on a hill the pusher jumped off and pushed the bike & passenger.

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IMGP4456rA touch of the old Raj . . .for Rangoon railway station.

While I was in Burma – in 1967 and 2012 I never felt afraid or threatened. I found the Burmese to very friendly people, and perhaps one day I’ll return.