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Himalaya

Day 88: Kunming

Michael Palin - HimalayaTaps are turned on and off as if to demonstrate something, but it's only after they've gone that I notice a small sign on the side of the shower apologizing for problems with the water supply.

'Please bare with us,' it reads.

Catch up with my notes, then walk into the central square of Kunming. The old city has been razed but the tall, arched West Gate has been rebuilt. This was once the Chinese end of one of the most famous highways in the world. Marco Polo knew it as the Southern Silk Road, an extension of the trade route that connected Asia with Europe, which we've touched on in several places on our journey. In the Second World War it was reopened as the Burma Road, a supply line that costs thousands of lives to build and extended through the appallingly difficult country of the eastern Himalaya to come out in Assam in north India.

Little is made now of its wartime connotations, but 100 yards away is the Hump Bar. The Hump in this case refers to the name given to the 500 miles of Himalaya between here and India by the AVG, American Volunteer Group, known as the Flying Tigers, who flew perilous supply flights across this towering mountain wilderness from 1941 until the end of the war. Six hundred and seven planes were lost crossing the Hump.

The walls of this comfortable, congenial old bar are covered in memorabilia of the period: maps and posters and black and white photos of the Flying Tigers standing beside planes with bared teeth painted on their sides.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 88: Kunming
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Kunming
  • Book page no: 206

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