Saturday, November 9, 2013

Hellfire and the Real Bridge on the River Kwai - Part 2

Hellfire Canyon and the Death Railway - Part 2

A couple of days ago, I posted some nice sunset pictures I took of the Bridge on the River Kwai (actually there are two) on the north end of Kanchanaburi in Thailand. The experience I had next day when I toured the Memorial Museum and Hellfire Pass about 80 Kms north just shook me to my core. I'm still trying to process it and will not go into complete detail here, but it was a profound and moving experience with some parts I can't really explain. I think it is fitting that this comes just a few days before Veteran's Day (USA) or Remembrance Day (Canada/UK).

As a recap - nearly 7,000 Allied POWs and almost 100,000 Asian " essentially slave" laborers toiled, suffered and ultimately died building the Thai/Burma Railway under Japanese occupation during World War II. This 415 kilometer long stretch of rail was carved out of the most inhospitable environment and appalling conditions I can imagine. It went from Ban Pong in Thailand to Thanbyuzayat in Burma and was intended to ultimately link Singapore with Rangoon.
The tour starts with a visit to the beautifully done Memorial Museum up above the actual Hellfire Pass cut out of the rock and jungle down below using crude hand tools or none at all. Here's a picture above where you can see what it looks like. Anyway, you go down several long sets of stairs onto the rail bed and walk down it for as much as 4 km (but can be shortened). I took an audio cassette and listened to the narration and explanation at key points in the walk. There were very few people around and I was mostly alone.

I found the whole thing incredibly moving and tears flowed more than once as I saw, listened and imagined this horror. On the way back, I decided to take the more direct, but decidedly steeper and less traveling direct path to the museum.  The day was totally windless - in fact there really hasn't been much if any wind here for a long time. Part way up in a big Bamboo Grove, the wind just whipped up lie crazy and all the Bamboo trees started clacking and crashing together in kind of a roar. It felt very stingily to me that voices were shouting and communicating with me. I felt deep despair and anguish but also the sense of wanting to be heard. It was very intense and very insistent and I stayed until it just stopped. I still have goosebumps from it and trying to process. It was weird and powerful. I don't spook very easily either and if you know me well, you know that.


So take it for what you will, but it's hard to deny how terrible it must have been to be one of the unfortunates caught in that terrible situation. I am quite frankly amazed that anyone survived those conditions and that abuse. I am humbled, grateful and awed by the sacrifice and suffering experienced by those who survived and those who did not. Thank you to those people.
Enough for now. Catch you next post.