RIVERS ROUTE IN MYANMAR
One of the rivers of Myanmar, Irrawaddy, flows 2000km and begins and ends within one country, giving it life, witnessing its history and bringing together the people of the far north to the southerners living in delta lands. In these times of globalisation, one thing is unchanged about this mighty river: the lives of the river people and those of villages on its banks. Cityscapes may change from old houses to high rises, towns may become fast paced and modern, but life on the river remains the same as it was centuries ago.
The Irrawaddy has its birthplace the confluence about 43km north of Myitkyina, the capital of the Kachin State. Mai Kha River from the East and Mali Kha from the West, the two rivers that came down from the snowy Himalayas, join their waters in a spot of spectacular beauty. Kachin legends say that the Great Spirit of the world poured water from a gold cup held in each hand, and Mai Kha which flowed from his right is the male river, wide, shallow, swift flowing and chuckling happily as he passes over river stones. The Mali Kha, poured from the left, is his sister. She has hidden depths shadowed with high cliffs and tall thick jungles. She is silent, mysterious, and dangerous.
Born as they were from gold cups, both rivers give up gold in powder or nugget form. Many gold panners stake out claims o the sandy banks, sleeping in small make shift huts, living off the abundant fish and wild shoots and vegetables from the forests. The waters of these upper reaches from the confluence up to the town of Bhamo are crystal clear and blue, flowing with white crested waves pass the rugged rocks of the First Gorge. During the onset of the monsoon when the melted snows of the Himalayas swell the river to dangerous depths, it is said that the river roars through this First Gorge with the might of a hundred tigers. Bhamo is a trading post that since a thousand years has been a gateway to the overland route to China. Its importance in trade has been the cause of many wars, among them the invasion of the British into Myanmar that ended with total annexing of the country in 1885.
After Bhamo there is the Second Gorge, but here the river is calm and not too narrow.
A high cliff towers over a turn in the river, looming up majestically over the small boats and rafts floating by. On this part of the river, the water is not too deep, and boats are hollowed from whole logs or small rafts made of bamboo. Indeed, rafts made up of less then a dozen bamboo poles are often seen with the one passenger lying back and humming a tune to ease the loneliness of his journey. In these upper reaches of the river, dolphins help the fishermen with their work by driving schools of fish into the nets, and men and dolphin have secured an affectionate relationship through generations.
Just before the Third Gorge, the river passes by Tagaung, a town famous in legends and history as the probable capital of the earliest kingdom in Myanmar. In a country of such deep traditions as Myanmar, folklore holds more sway then scientific historical proof. When legends tell of a Naga, a dragon who could take human form and who was lover to a beautiful queen, and on whose death the queen made a jacket from his skin and a hairpin from his bones, who cares what archaeological proof says? There are many ancient ruined temples in Tagaung and stories of plentiful and harmless snakes, which are smaller cousins of dragons.Soon the thick jungles and isolated huts on high banks are left behind as the river widens andflows pass flat farmland and small villages. As the river widens it creates wide expanses of sandbanks, where farmers eagerly grow crops such as onions. They say that no onion is sweeter then that grown in the silt of the Irrawaddy.
A book written in the1930 by an Irishman Major Raven-Hart, who canoed down the Irrawaddy from Myitkyina right down to the capital Yangon, described the life along the river in words that are still as accurate today as they were seventy years ago: