its sources in the high peaks on the India- Myanmar border,
the Chind- win River races for more than 600 miles and empties
itself into the Ayeyarwaddy just above Myingyan. Along its
way, the Chindwin River passes through dense jungles, high
cliffs and deep gorges. Also it is not navigable the whole
year round as the cur- rents are swifter than the Ayeyarwaddy.
Only special shallow draught vessels can go upriver about 380
miles from Monywa to Homalin with difficulty even during the
sandbars and changing channels make this river a challenge and the
river levels can be hard to predict"
the captain of a boat playing the river told us. " There are
cases when the river level dropped 10 feet or rose quickly in a
The high water level in monsoon and the low level in summer can
vary by as much as 50-60 feet. The waters of the Chindwin touch
the banks of Hkamti, the gateway to the home of the valiant Naga
people and bisects the Htamathi National Park as well as other
towns, before it meets with the Ayeyarwaddy River.
It also has stories to tell about the march of King Alaungpaya
to Manipur, the Teak wallahs of the Bombay Burmah Corporation
and their life-styles and about the British and the Japanese
armies as they fought tooth and nail to gain supremacy during
World War II, and towns such as Monywa, Shwegyin, Mawlaik, Kalewa,
Kalemyo, Pantha, Sittaung associated with these fierce battles.
means in the Myanmar language "a military outpost"
for during the ancient times Myanmar kings established posts
along the imperial boundaries. There is a village of this
name just north of Mawlaik. A village elder of Kindat led
us to the monastery and showed us two Buddha Images.
"These two Buddha Images date back to King Alaungpaya's
time and are called Van Saung and Van Aung," he told
us." They were said to be at the vanguard of the army
when King Alaungpaya went to war against the Manipuris."
Kindat, the old colonial post office is now used as a school
building. The headmistress showed us a pair of old concrete
slabs half buried in the ground with iron flanges to sup- port
the long-rotted pillars in front of the school. It seems this
village has good relations with the Road To Mandalay Cruise
ship. Recently the crew donated USD 500 worth of books and
stationary to the school in a simple ceremony and everybody
was overjoyed. The passengers themselves were much touched
not only with the generosity of the crew but also by the dedication
of the teaching staff and students alike in this remote area
of the country.
A British Army officer, Lt.Col J.H Williams, wrote a book
called "Elephant Bill" recount- ing his experiences
as a Teak wallah with the Bombay Burmah Corporation and as
a British Army officer during World War II. One memorable
episode in his life was the evacuation of British dependents
from Myanmar via Mawlaik in 1942 using 110 elephants. In
the Shan language MawJaik means the place where iron is found.
It was also the seat of the Bombay Burmah Corporation's timber
extraction operations for the Chindwin Forest Circle. The
old District Commissioner's Headquarters building still stands
there. A stone slab there says that the Commissioner of the
Sagaing Division, Mr. Carey laid the foundation in 1916.
A town elder told us, "The town plan was said to be
laid out to resemble London!"
During WW II the retreating British and Indian forces were
trapped in the basin at Shwegyin just 10 miles to the south
of Kalewa by the advancing Japanese The troops barely escaped
after destroying all their transports. The longest Bailey
bridge during the WW II was floated down the Myittha River
towards Kalemyo to span the Chindwin River, connecting Kalemyo
with a village on the opposite bank. The largest flying boats
of that time, the "Sunderlands" landed at Shwegyin
flying in from Calcutta. War materials were brought down
the river to the railhead at Alon when the British forces
advanced into the country from India. Maj. Gen Orde Wingate
and his Chindits also made history on the banks of the Chindwin
River during WW II. Kalemyo was bombed repeatedly by both
the Japanese Air Force and the RAF as it was the most strategic
town at the junction of the Myittha and the Chindwin Rivers
and the entry port to the Kabaw Valley.
Many towns and villages along the Chindwin River are prominently
featured in the legends and stories of Myanmar. Monywa was
previously known as "Mon the ma ywa" or the village
of the snack seller woman and evolved into Monywa. Badon,
now called Alon, is the site of the Alon Bodaw's nat shrine
and Kani is associated with the legend of the nat called
Lord of the White Horse of Kani. Maukkadaw has a rather frightening
reputation as the village of witches and witchcrafts for
as a Myanmar saying goes "do not eat arsenic but go
to Maukkadaw if you want to die!"
relate how the village girls would tease an unsuspecting
lad by making the mat stick to his bottom when
he gets up to leave. But there are also places
where it is pleasant to stay.
"If you want to be happy go to Mingin or go
to Taungdwin if you want to stay forever" many
people say. Taungdwin is a village by Taungdwin creek
just off the Chindwin River and said to be most scenic.
Also the people there are said to be descendents
of the royal houses who fled the British annexation
in 1886 and that they still practices some forgotten
rituals they had learned while at the palace.
Abbot of the monastery at Kyidaung Village, near Mingin, showed
us wall paintings. He informed us that they are said to be
from 1727 A.D. The famous King Kyansittha from the Bagan dynasty
was born on the banks of the Chindwin River at Pareinma village.
An- other famous personality associated with the river is the
nat U Min Kyaw of Pahkan, when he dug canals to irrigate his
fiefdom with the Chindwin waters. A nat festival is still held
at this place annually.
Chindwin River is also notorious for its whirlpools and rapids.
The Chindwin is used by many rafters to float down bamboo and
timber down to Monywa and further south. Sometimes these rafts
are pulled by launches but more often then not they float down
with the current. As it is, the vagaries of the channels are
a constant challenge for them. The rafters and the boatmen say
that there are three dangerous whirlpools along the route.
A river master told us" Ahtet hmar Pei, auk hmar Shwe, ale
Wetthaike myet hpyu site", meaning that on the north is
the whirlpool near the village of Pei, another down south is
by the village of Shwe-sa ye and the last is the one in the middle
called Wet thaike where you are really in deep !
Gold can be found in the alluvial sands and the gravel all along
the river, just like in the Ayeyarwaddy. Barges equipped with
high- speed pumps suck up the gravel from the bottom. This is
then passed over velvet cloths which act as sieves and the flakes
of gold are left on the cloth to be gathered and sold in towns.
But the gold-bearing gravel beds shift from one place to another.
Last year it was near the village of Ma Sein, just south of Kalewa
but this year the best spot is a little above Mawlaik, near the
village of Kindat. Stories are told of fortunes made and lost,
of gold nuggets as big as an egg being found by somebody, some-
where but personally the author had seen with his own eyes a
much eroded silver coin from French Indo-China dated 1876. The
owner said he found it near Homalin.
rocks lining the river also vary from one place to anotherIn
the north the rock looks more hard and some are igneous
but nearer Monywa they are mostly sandstone. Also the profiles
of the distant mountains are different. They are saw-toothed,
unlike the more rounded or sharp peaks we usually see in
other parts of the country.
geology of the Chindwin River is also unique.
According to the mineral map of Myanmar, the
Chindwin Valley is supposed to be rich in oil
and gas deposits. The mountains that line the
river and their curious shapes are a wonder.
Many have clean-cut cliffs, maybe from erosion
or from subsidence. It might even be a warm tropical
sea millions of years ago! There is one place
where the locals say is "the place of nine
elephants". From a distance (and with a
little imagination) the eight hills lining the
river look like elephant backs. Our boat captain
pointed, "The ninth is on the opposite bank.
This ninth elephant is very dangerous and has
to be tied to this rock point!". He was
referring to a rock jutting out from the river.
One could with some imagination visualize that
elephant tethered to the post!!
But once past the confines of gorges the Chindwin River
enters the flat countryside of Central Myanmar. Fertile
plains instead of hills are seen everywhere. Annually
the waters of the river swollen by the monsoon rains
brings down nutrients for the cultivators. The highly
nutrient-rich loam is deposited on the sand- bars still
submerged beneath the waves. As the river level goes
down these sandbars and islands appear, covered with
very fertile top- soil. Cultivators rush to stake their
claims on these fertile sandbars where many cash crops
are grown such as oil crops, onions, pulses and beans.
also have cute names. Lovers Village is one instance. Nobody
knows how the village got this name. Our river master jested
how the girls from this village never answer you when you
ask them the name of their village. Soon the river spreads
out and joins its elder brother, the Ayeyarwady river,
just north of Myingyan, making its way southwards towards
the delta and the sea.
scenery in the dry belt of Central Myanmar is
now a broad expense of flat land and clumps of
toddy palms and acres of cultivation land, instead
of high hills. Solitary mountains are seen only
in the distance.
three grouped together near are the Copper
Mountains or Kye Sin Taung where copper is
mined.." our knowledgeable captain informed
us. "One hazy peak jutting out in the
distance is the Shin ma Taung or where the
best thanaka trees grow." Thanaka is the
paste from a tree bark that is used by every
woman and girl in Myanmar as a natural make-up
and sunscreen. It is also near this mountain
that fossils of proto-primates, said to be
approximately 40 million years old, were recently
And now the Chindwin is no more the bad brother. All
along its length pumping stations have been established
to pump the Chindwin waters for irrigation purposes.
Bridges now span the once angry waves. Passenger boats
whiz past tranquil pagodas on its green-clad banks and
tourists can now sail and savour its sights from luxury
cruise ships like the ROAD TO MANDALAY. The angry brother
had been finally civilized
author is grateful to the staff and crew of "M.V ROAD TO MANDALAY"
for offering him the opportunity to travel on the ship on its
Hpone Thant is a regular contributor to Enchanting Myanmar magazine.
He can be reached at: :firstname.lastname@example.org.