It has been called the Ghost Road, the Ledo Road and and Stillwell Road, but the old track wending its way for more than 1,000 miles from India to China is also known as the Burma Road. Originally built during the second World War as a supply link for the Allies to send troops and equipment to China, the Burmese part of the road is fairly short, about 458 miles connecting Lashio and the border town of Ruili.
After the war, the road fell into disrepair until it was almost completely overtaken by the jungles from which it was arduously hacked, mostly by the Chinese, with little or no equipment. Today, as Burma (or Myanmar depending on who’s reporting) is slowly moving towards the 21st century, the old road has taken on a new significance.
Mostly hidden by now in the remote reaches of northern Burma, the road is seldom traveled and almost entirely restricted to foreigners, but that may be changing. India and China both have an interest in re-establishing the link as a commercial route between the two countries, and its potential for tourism could be enormous. At present, one of the few sections of the road that’s open to visitors is the town of Myitkyina.
Capital city of Kachin State, Myitkyina is situated at the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River; its name translates as “near the big river”. About 487 miles from Mandalay, the town has a small airport and it is the last stop on the railroad from the coast. Getting there is guaranteed to be an adventure if you take the train or a river boat. Expect to spend 24 to 36 hours depending on your choice of transport and the exigencies of weather and other factors; not a trip recommended for the faint of heart.
If you can arrange to be in Myitkyina in January, you’ll have the chance to attend the Manu Festival, a major event for this region. There is music, dancing, folk art and cultural performances, astounding markets with local wares and produce, beauty contests and all the food, both exotic and mundane, that you can imagine, and some you can’t.