By Khet Zan
Mandalay-Muse Road linking Mandalay, the second capital city of Myanmar, and Muse located on Myanmar-China border plays a pivotal role in border trade between the two countries. The road was once notorious for its poor condition coupled with the then thriving insurgency. But nowadays, the situation has changed a lot as the country is moving towards a new society. Tens of thousands of small and large vehicles are plying daily on the road carrying passengers and goods. As the trade route contributes much to the country’s development, maintenance of the road, abiding by the traffic rules of drivers of various kinds of vehicles, supervision of local authorities as well as the participation of local people become important.
In the past the road saw lorries each weighing 3 tons carrying just 3 tons of loads. Today, truck technology has increased unbelievably. A long truck can carry a large amount of weights on it. Moreover, its power is so great that it can easily destroy the surface of the road, but it cannot be said that damage on the road is the vehicle’s fault. Its duty is to carry cargos from one place to another. The road itself must and can bear the loads on it. Here arises a question: Who will make the road good? To know the situation occurred on the road, we, news hunters, managed a trip from Mandalay to Muse.
The trip was quite interesting. We started our trip from Mandalay on one early morning of January this year, and when we reached the detour of Pyin Oo Lwin, it was dawn. The detour is twenty kilometers long and it is an asphalt road. A huge truck with a heavy cargo can run on the road smoothly and safely. We learnt that the Oriental Highway Company is responsible for maintenance and durability of the road. We left the road section behind, moved towards and made a stopover at Naungkion Toll Gate before reaching Gotetwin which is infamous for car jam. The gate is located at the top of the Gotetwin valley and run by the company. At the gate a huge LED billboard is erected to provide traffic information to drivers. It is written in Myanmar language which reads “In this moment, vehicles can pass through Gotetwin valley conveniently.” The information is invaluable for drivers because if someone goes down into the valley without knowing the situation in it and sees traffic jam, it is difficult for both up- and down-traffic drivers. With the aim of avoiding traffic accident, convex traffic mirrors are set up now by the road side at Gotetwin. When we reached the bottom of the valley, we met traffic police sergeant named Myo Thant Swe who leads a team to supervise the traffic flow there, and made an interview with him. He said, “Sometimes we meet traffic jam at Gotetwin due to indiscriminate driving and sometimes due to unfit vehicles. These days the number of trucks plying on the road has increased dramatically and thus if a car breaks down at Gotetwin, it takes at least three hours to ease the traffic jam. Our team has to discharge our duty shift by shift. At night or in day time, whether the weather is good or bad we are always stand by to ease the traffic. If the work load is too heavy for us to handle, we seek help from members of Myanmar Police Force and staff of the Oriental Highway Company. I opine that not to cause traffic jam, the cars need to be fit and the drivers need to be skilled plus following the traffic rules.” It was very encouraging to see traffic police at such a place where traffic jams are very common.
The journey from Gotetwin to Kutkai seemed quite boring because we did not see any traffic jam on the road or any other interesting events till we reached Kutkai. But we saw very encouraging view on that trip. It was on the road section at Lashio detour. The road is as smooth as silk like Pyin Oo Lwin detour. In the past it was a dream for us to see a such good road on a rough terrain but thanks to the efforts made by the authority and the company people can travel smoothly on that road.
After our car passing through Kutkai and not very long we started to climb the Shukintha (View Point) Mountain Range. As there are many curves on the road in that area, it is very difficult for large vehicles to pass through. Only skilled drivers can steer their huge vehicles with excellent condition to pass these curves. The driver is skilled but the condition of the vehicle is not up to the mark, it is sure that the car would break down on the road and the traffic be blocked. If the condition of the car is good but the driver is not skilled it is sure that his car would plummet into a deep ravine.
But, it is very encouraging to see that heavy machineries of the Oriental Highway Company are at work to expand the road. We also learnt from the staff of the company who said that they have a plan to lay asphalt on the road. Another encouraging scene was that a soldier from the security force helped drivers to move their cars properly. Besides his security duty, the young soldier, under the cold, windy night of Shan State holding his gun on his back ushered the vehicles to a convenient path. Through his ushering, the vehicle could move slowly but safely. Drivers are also praiseworthy because they are too patient to wait their turn to move ahead. Without their efforts, the exported goods could not reach their destination and so do the imported goods.
When we reached Muse it was 9 p.m. Before, reaching Muse, we saw a long queue of heavy trucks. They were waiting to enter the checkpoint for their cargoes to be checked before exporting to China. The night fell but the drivers cannot sleep as they are waiting for their turn to pass through the checkpoint. As for us we put up at Muse Motel and took a good rest.
When I saw the smooth road throughout the trip my mind went back around 1993 when I attended Korean Language Class at International Foreign Languages (now University of Foreign Languages) in Yangon. Our Korean Lecturer said, “When I was young our country (ROK) was under the reign of President Park Chung Hee. The government appointed strong men to build the country which arose from the ash of war. First, the government built a highway from Seoul to Busan stretching from the north to south. Then, it connected power lines across the country. Thanks to building of a highway from the north to south the areas from east and west parts along the highway saw development. And thanks to the power lines which are important for industrial development, the industrial sector has seen rapid progress.”
That is right. We should follow the example shown by our Korean friends. The more roads are built, the better for goods transportation. Government alone cannot fulfill the needs of the country. All are to participate in nation-building endeavours. Avoiding pointing accusing fingers at each other we must try our best.
The following is the opinions of some people we met in Muse:
U Htay Lwin, leader of Agent team, Muse
“The demand of sugar and rice in China became high and traders eye to export their goods dumped in warehouse of the plain area of Myanmar. In addition to these goods, such item as fruits, maize and other goods are exported to China in this season. As a result the number of trucks plying on Mandalay-Muse road increased and traffic jams follow. To ease the traffic and to increase the income of the nation, all the staff at 105th Mile Border Trade Zone are trying their best to clear the goods. All the members of traffic police, Myanmar Police Force and soldiers from Myanmar Army including staff from the Oriental Highway Company give their helping hands to convenient flow of goods.”
U Ye Soe Aung, driver from Mandalay
“Sometimes we have to wait for at least two or more days to pass through the checkpoint. This time I’m lucky because I had to queue for just two days. Now is an open season and the demand is high and most want to come to border with China. Some drivers who have never been to Pyin Oo Lwin try to reach Muse. Lack of experience they ignorantly cause traffic jam. Sometimes the road is blocked due to breakdown of cars, sometimes due to undisciplined drivers and sometimes due to accident. I have many experience on this northern highway as I have started my career since my salary was just 100 kyat. In the past, the road condition was too bad but now it has developed significantly, but the road is needed to upgrade to meet the standard of the current age.
U Kaung San Lin, Lashio District Administrator
“The Union Road from Mandalay to Muse is sometimes blocked due to various reasons. Especially accidents, car breakdowns, damages of roads and indiscriminate driving cause road blocks. When the road is blocked staff of the Oriental Highway Company rush to the scene to ease the
traffic jam using cranes, excavators and loaders. Now, the company is engaging in paving asphalt on
the road section at Shukintha
area. Moreover, actions are needed to be taken against indiscriminate drivers and unauthorized vehicles and mobile traffic police team is needed to be set up to take such action.”