From the sun-scorched plains of the Ayeyarwady Valley to the eternal snows of the eastern Himalayas, Northern Myanmar encompasses a spectacular gamut of landscapes. Red pandas and tigers roam the dense jungles along the border with India, while endangered freshwater dolphins arc through the wakes of the ferries that remain this remote region’s main form of long-distance transport. Over the past decade, however, few foreign travelers have experienced these natural wonders at close quarters due to the long-running armed conflict between Kachin insurgents and the Myanmar army.
Myanmar’s far north has long been the prime source of the country’s legendary teak, and although much of the forest cover disappeared during the 20th century, huge tracts survive. Carpeting the hills that hug the main river valleys of the Chindwin and Ayeyarwady, these jungles remain some of the most inhos- pitable, unexplored territory in the world, particularly the regions lining the border with India, which form the traditional home land of the Naga tribes. Although for the most part converted by Christian missionaries, the Nagas have retained many aspects of their traditional way of life. Prior to the closure of the region to visitors, a handful of river cruise operators ran luxury steamer trips up the Chindwin River and included visits to the Naga New Year festivities in their itineraries.
Farther north, the Hukawng Valley forms the heart of a vast wildlife sanctuary that may, in time, become a major visitor attraction, along with the pristine valleys of the Hkakabo Razi National Park, site of Myanmar’s highest mountains. However, due to sporadic outbreaks of fighting between the army and Kachin insurgents, overland and river travel is often restricted. Until recently, foreigners were only permitted to reach Myitkyina and Putao by air, but back packers are once again starting to take Ayeyarwady ferries between Mandalay and Myitkyina. However, with the peace accord between the Myanmar govern ment and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) still relatively untested, it remains to be seen whether travel along Myanmar’s great northern artery will remain open to all.