Tourism boost for town with links to Orwell
In the 1990s, Nyo Ko Naing noticed that the handful of foreign tourists who made it to his remote hometown were carrying their own maps and looked like they were searching for something. Someone, it turns out, by the name of George Orwell.
Katha was Eric Blair’s last posting in the Imperial Police before he sailed back to England in 1927, adopted the nom de plume Orwell and launched a writing career that would produce powerful novels and commentary.
Seven years after leaving the sleepy town on the Irrawaddy River, he immortalized it as the setting of his first novel, the vehemently anti-colonial Burmese Days, though he called it not Katha but “Kyauktada”.
The British Club, where
We’re collecting materials for the museum right now, such as photos, data and other heritage of Katha.” Nyo Ko Naing, founder of the Katha Heritage Trust
much of the novel’s scheming, fighting, drinking and sweating takes place, still stands, as do other sites mentioned including a tennis court, a pagoda and a prison.
A house believed to have been Orwell’s home in Katha remains in use.
Nyo Ko Naing, a graphic designer and cartoonist, didn’t know much about Burmese Days at first, but soon grasped how important it was to the future of the town.
He has since become the town’s preservationist, in-house historian, amateur Orwell scholar and literary tour guide, keen to market Katha as a tourist destination.
He’s helping to renovate the 19th-century house of the former British commissioner for use as a museum that is expected to open next year.
“It is not easy to get attention from the world,” the 45-year-old said in a recent interview. “So it’s like Katha won the lottery.”
Orwell-related tourism has grown in Myanmar, also known as Burma, since a halfcentury of military rule ended in 2011, though numbers remain small. Nyo Ko Naing estimates that Katha sees 300 to 400 such visitors per month.
In 2012, he founded the Katha Heritage Trust and mounted a campaign through the media to save the commissioner’s house from a local businessman who wanted to turn the property into a skating rink.
The first floor is now full of archival photos, including one of Orwell as a young policeman, and several portraits of the writer painted recently by local artists.
“We’re collecting materials for the museum right now, such as photos, data and other heritage of Katha. And we’re also renovating that house by maintaining its own original style. That’s why it takes time,” he said.
“Now we have spent 4 million kyats ($3,000) and some tourists have donated,” he added. “We will renovate more whenever we get money.”