Nawnghkio & Gokteik Viaduct

  • By Kaung Sithu

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Nawnghkio, a town which is situated on both Railway and Motorway, is composed of six wards, 35 village tracts and 253 villages and with a population of 127007 according to the 2017 March census; but it is famous due to the world-renown Gokteik Viaduct.

Nawnghkio town
Also spelt Nawngcho, it is in the Kyaukme District, northern Shan State, Myanmar; Kyaukme Township lies in the East and North, Pyin-Oo-Lwin township in the West and Yaksawk township in the South. Situated 2750 feet above the sea level, the town has two distinct topographical features—hilly areas and valleys.
According to the Shan dialect., Nawng means’ lake’ and Hkio means ‘green’; Nawnghkio once lied behind a Hawtaw monastery as Green Lake camp. By the order from Thibaw Sawbwa Sir Saw Chai, U Khun Mon ruled Thonsay Region near the Green Lake. At the time of constructing the Gokteik Viaduct, Thonsay Region was moved to the Green Lake which later became known as Nawnghkio. On 21 June, 1972 the Ministry of Home Affairs extended the township to an area square miles of 1265.61. Along the Railway, when one gets to the milepost no. 463/09, he will view a breathtaking panorama of historical Gokteik Viaduct with a railway line on it. Tourists, both domestic and foreign, take a great interest in the Viaduct which is now nearly 120 years old.

Background information of the Gokteik
Hokut village in Hsipaw township which is 60 miles northeast of Mandalay, happened to be an Administrative Unit in 1898 to have ruled 48 villages. The name Hokut has originated from the disappearance of rivers and creeks in the area, according to Myanmar Encyclopaedia Vol.3. Near Hokut village, the Nampasay river flows through three rock caves and appears in the distant place. Thus this area became a Nguteik village which later became as the Gokteik village. The British constructed a railway line from Mandalay to Kowloon, thus creating the world-famous Gokteik Viaduct near the Gokteik village.
Myanmar’s first railway, the Yangon-Pyi line, was constructed in 1876, with successive constructions of many railway lines across the country. Among them the Gokteik and Thanbyuzayat Railways are widely known. The Gokteik Viaduct was built across the valleys and mountains by the British; the railway line is the highest and second-longest between mountain ranges which are 300 feet above the sea level. The Death Railway in Thanbyuzayat Township, Mon State, was built during World War II at the risk of Prisoners of War of Allied Forces and a great loss of Myanmar people’s lives. In this way, the Death Railway has been popularly known as undesirable or unpleasant sensation of war.
The British Government built a railway line between Mandalay and Bhamo and again the one between Mandalay and Kowloon, thereby creating the Gokteik Viaduct at the highest above the sea level. The Burma Railroad Company assigned by the British Government for the construction of the Gokteik Railway by employing the British and Myanmar engineers. The Burma Railroad Company hired the Pennsylvania and Maryland Steel Company for the construction of the Gokteik Railway. But engineer Sir Arthur Rendel led the group of the British and Myanmar engineers by ordering construction materials from the United States. The Viaduct was designed by Sir A M Rendel and Company; construction materials included many steel posts — supporting posts with ranges of 45 feet to 320 feet. The Viaduct was built with difficulty by connecting two steep valleys of over 300 feet.
The Viaduct is 2260 feet long with erections of steel posts on low valleys and on the valleys as high as 1100 feet. The average height of Viaduct is 820 feet from the water surface and 335 feet above the ground. Iron and steel of 4311 tons and as many as one million tacks were used for the construction. There are 16 supporting steel posts—the ones in the middle nos .8 and 9 are the tallest.

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The British built the Mandalay-Kowloon railway to carry lead and other elements from the Namtu mines. The construction began in 1899 and completed on 1 Jan, 1900 at the then cost of K. 1698200 and opened to the public in 1903. As the Viaduct was a boost to Myanmar economy, the Allied Forces destroyed it, breaking no.2 and 5 steel posts. When Japanese troops withdrew from Myanmar, the steel posts in the middle were destroyed by bombings, demolishing nos.10,11 and 12 posts and four steel frames collapsed. After independence in 1948, the Myanmar Rail Transport was assigned to repair the Gokteik. Due to scarcity of construction materials and difficult transportation, it took three years to get it finished in August, 1951 at the cost of K. 3.2 million. With high technology used for the construction and due to scenic beauty around the Viaduct, it is the world’s biggest trestle and the highest one among the viaducts around the world. Leth viaduct in Alberta, Canada is two times longer than the Gokteik but lower than the latter.
As the Gokteik is over 100 years old, the strength of the Viaduct has weakened, letting trains travel slowly. The Viaduct is easily accessible from Nawnghkio by car as well as from Mandalay and Pyin-Oo-Lwin by train; some people walk from the Gokteik Station to the Viaduct itself. If one wants to go by train, he will have to take Mandalay-Lashio train from Mandalay or Pyin-Oo-Lwin and descend the train at the Station after crossing the Viaduct.
Passers-by are now banned from crossing the Gokteik in order to avoid possible risks. It is eight miles away fromNawnghkio Town. First go to the Gokteik Station after taking the right side on the Pwin-Oo-Lwin-LashioPyidaungsu Highway by going through the Shwepyinyunt village. One can walk along the railway line up to the Viaduct; no one is allowed to go across nor descend it.
With a mixture of scenic beauty of northern Shan State and worldwide fame, the Gokteik Viaduct is not only a historical landmark but also tourists’ attraction. The number of tourists, both domestic and foreign, is increasing year by year and maintenance of the Gokteik Viaduct is a must. Tourism will definitely flourish in connection with the landmark, thereby benefitting large sections of local populace.
Ref: Myanmar Encyclopaedia, Gokteik Viaduct and personal travelogue.

Translated by Arakan Sein

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