Capital of Kachin State and the main market town in the north of the country, Myitkyina has, since ancient times, been a center for trade between China and Myanmar. Lying on the west bank of the Ayeyarwady, it became the terminus of the British-built railroad line in the 1890s, and stands at the nexus of several major routes across the Himalayas to the north, including the Ledo Road to Assam , constructed during World War II. This strate- gic importance explains why the town was the scene of a fierce battle in 1944 between a combined force of Chinese and Allied troops and Lieutenant General Honda’s 33rd Imperial Japanese Army, during which it was virtually destroyed.
As a consequence, modern Myitkyina holds no sights of great note beyond the small but beautifully gilded Hsu Taung Pyi Pagoda overlooking the river, which has been restored by Japanese veterans.
A two-minute walk north of the stupa, the Sheduna Stadium is the venue for the nationally significant, annual Manau Festival , held in mid- January, when teams of elaborately costumed dancers from all of Kachin’s seven tribal subgroups perform around tall totem poles, or manautaing. Although almost all of the Kachin population are Christian these days, the minority’s ani- mist roots are clearly discernible in styles of dress and dance. The Manau Festival is derived from a pre-Christian nat (nature spirit) worship ritual traditionally performed before the annual harvest, or for other important occasions such as weddings.