George Orwell: Flory’s Kyauktada or Blair’s Katha

This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.

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Irrawaddy, Myanmar’s main waterway

June 2015. Its midnight, rain drops are drumming metal roof of my guesthouse. Arrived finally to Katha after full day of traveling in train, and lastly hour ride in darkness from train station at Naba. Road was mostly good and tuktuk boy let his machine fly.

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George Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days was my favourites while living in neighbouring Thailand. Orwell, or Eric Arthur Blar as his real name was, was stationed in British Burma after WW1. He served Indian Imperial Police in several locations, and became deeply disillusioned about colonial system he was part of. Contemporary anecdotes of Orwell describe him a loner and, rather than spending time with British empire builders called pukka sahib‘s, he stays with Burmese locals or reading books. In the novel, similar character called John Flory working for a timber logging firm and living a lonely life in a remote outpost. It’s hard to avoid feeling that what Orwell wrote about Mr. Flory in Kyauktada, was very much his own experience as Mr. Blair in Katha.

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Search for Orwell’s house. Local teacher was well informed about Eric Arthur Blair, and his former home by the same street her school was.

Orwell returned to England 1927 and Burmese Days was published in 1934. Later ofcourse The Animal Farm and 1984 would bring him world wide fame, but his trademark Orwellian style was already very much present in the first novel. Today Burmese Days is popular reading among travelers in South East Asia, like The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway in Cuba and Caribbean.

Burmese Days takes place in remote Burmese village of Kyauktada. Orwells real life reference to Kyauktada was village of Katha (today’s road over 300km north of Mandalay). Having read everything I could find my hands on about Orwell’s time in Burma, didn’t think twice when opportunity to see the place!

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House of Eric Arthur Blair at the time of visit. It belongs to Burmese government, and a policeman is still living it.
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June 2015. In the novel, John Flory wakes at night by the dogs howling outside. When I came, could also see the dogs and remembered the part in book. Great grand children of what Flory was cursing perhaps!? Novel is obviously a fiction, but am excited of being finally here so fact and fiction are starting to mix. It’s well beyond midnight. I wont be taking a rifle and go after the dogs like Flory did. Nowadays we have something better: ear plugs.

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Riverboat’s could be used from Mandalay-Katha-Bhamo and back, but not all the way to Myitkyina due to military restrictions.

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Katha-Bhamo riverboat views.
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Snacks and food on offer for passengers.

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@ Bhamo.
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