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Bo Bo had pulled out a wooden drawer from under the seat of the cart and extracted a torch for me to see my way up the stairs. Unfortunately it didn’t work. He said he used it as the cart’s lights when he was on the road at night. Not this night though, I thought. The small emergency torch in my bag also took this time to run out of puff. There was no way I was going up those high, steep and winding steps in the pitch dark, so we moved on down the road, through Myinkaba village to the Mingalazedi Paya.

I was delighted to see that this, the ‘Blessing Stupa’ was deserted no hawkers, no tourists. Built in 1284 of reddish brick, it had several terraces that could be reached by steps, but I could only climb up two levels as pad-locked iron gates barred the rest of the way. Still, that was quite high enough for me. I was glad of the excuse to pander to my fear of heights and sit quietly alone for an hour in a cool breeze while the sun declined and an incredible sunset bloomed. The clouds first flushed pink then the surrounding temples and pagodas were back-lit with a marvellous vermilion that then spread over the entire sky. The pagodas darkened until only their black outlines were visible against the flaming red sky. We trotted home in the dusk, sans lights.

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Early next morning I was collected by the Mandalay bus. This was a very good deal considering it cost only seven dollars fifty per ticket. For the first time I was travelling with a few other tourists, young backpackers from European countries. It took six hours to reach Mandalay but some of the time was spent collecting or dropping off passengers. The local woman across the aisle was travel sick. She had eaten a big bag of food when she got on the bus. Then she heaved it all up. The woman in front of her did the same.

After two hours there was a halt and some men got off, looking purposeful. When a woman went too, I followed. Behind the roadhouse where we had stopped I stood in the toilet line admiring the establishment’s pig, a fine fat sow grubbing happily in the dirt outside her low palm-thatched little sty. I’ll bet she did well there on leftovers.

We had a refreshment stop after three hours and I bought a packet of intriguing round yellowish balls. They were terrible, consisting of sugar, possibly flour, and not much else.

In the beginning the country we travelled through looked much the same as that around Bagan. There were goats and cattle and the dirt paths of the villages beside the road were swept clean but any common land was covered with rubbish, mostly plastic. Then there was a stretch of country that was like the area north of Port Augusta in South Australia, with low bushes and scrub and spindly trees. A patch of greener country with large fields of corn or rice followed and after that came some real desert country with reddish dirt and little vegetation.

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