The mighty Ayeyawady River flows through the central part of Myanmar and it is regarded as one the most important commercial waterways as well as lifeblood of the country. The name “Ayeyawady” is believed to have been derived from the Sanskrit word airavati, meaning “Elephant River.” One striking feather is that the Ayeyawady River flows wholly within the territory of Myanmar. Its total drainage area is about 158,700 square miles which is approximately about 1,550 km long.
The Ayeyawady River starts in Kachin State, at the confluence of the Mali Hka and Mai Hka rivers. The western Mali Hka branch arises from the end of the southern Himalayas, north of Putao.
Geographically, the Irrawaddy is originated by the confluence of the Nmai and Mali rivers. About 30 miles south of the confluence lays Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State where the steamers can flow to the northernmost limit of seasonal navigation. Thus the Ayeyarwaddy River divides the country from north to south and empties through a delta into the Indian Ocean.
During the colonial period, the Ayeyarwady River was known as the “Road to Mandalay” in the world and the river is full of sandbanks and islands, making the navigation more difficult for the travellers. For many years to come, the only bridge built to cross the Ayeyawady is Bago City.
The Ayeyawady has been used for irrigation in the central dry zone and its tributary, the Mu River, has been used for this purpose since the 9th century which can permit the dry-season cropping of corn (maize), peanuts (groundnuts), sesame, wheat, cotton, millet, and other dry crops.
It is estimated that about a vast volume of rice grown in Myanmar comes from the irrigated areas of Mandalay, Sagaing, and Magway divisions. The river itself also serves to irrigate the delta during the dry season.
The old Ava (Innwa) across the Ayeyawady had a span of 3,948 feet and built by the British in 1934. It was the only bridge which spanned the Ayeyawady River which can carry heavily laden vehicles crossed the river, resulting in efficient transportation of goods. Moreover this bridge can be able ease the traffic congestion and to help improve the overall economic conditions of Myanmar.
As the principal axis of the old Myanmar kingdom, the Ayeyawady River has shaped the history, settlement patterns, and economic development of the country.
As early as the 6th century, the ancestors of the Myanmar arrived from the China-Tibet border area. Using the Ayeyawady River as a means of transport, they gradually spread onto the Kyaukse plain and became the major power in the rice-growing region of the north.
Later ancient Myanmar fortified the town of Bagan and eventually gained control over the Ayeyawady and Sittang river valleys and the trade routes between India and China.
During the 12th century the town supported a flourishing civilization through rice cultivation and a well-developed network of irrigation canals.
In the 13th century, the area dissolved into a number of states and Myanmar kingdoms intermittently reunified the Ayeyarwady basin.
Beginning in the 16th century, traders from Europe were eager to set up trading companies in ports along the coast of Myanmar.
In 1886, Myanmar was under the control of the British and along with it shipping rights on the Ayeyawady, which also had been sought by the French in an effort to gain a direct route to China.
The British tried to open up of the Ayeyarwady delta and the rise of the port of Yangon eventually paid off in terms of rice exports.
Old Innwa Bridge
The bridge used to be the longest in Myanmar and it is just over 20 kms from Mandalay and is still used for both rail and road traffic with the rail line going down the centre of the bridge.
Its 16 spans are certainly impressive although the British destroyed 2 spans in 1942 in a vain attempt to stop the advancing Japanese and in fact the bridge was not repaired till 1954, long after the war had ended.
We only saw the Inwa Bridge as we crossed over the Irrawaddy over the newer Yadanabon Bridge (New Ava Bridge) and we all felt that the Inwa Bridge had a lot more character than the average more modern bridge.
The Innwa Bridge can spans between Amarapura and Sagaing. On the Mandalay and Innwa side of the bridge, one can still see the Thabyedan Fort, one of the historical landmarks of
The Innwa Bridge plays an important role during the Second World War and for that reason was partially destroyed by the British. In 1942, in an attempts: It also carries a railway line across the river.
The Ava (Innwa) Bridge. is over a 1000 yards in length and spans between Amarapura and Sagaing. On the Mandalay and Innwa side of the bridge, one can still see the Thabyedan Fort, which was built by Ancient Myanmar Kings as a last defence against the British during the third Anglo-Myanmar war in the 19th century.
Translated by Win Ko Ko Aung