Kachins around 1900

NORTHEASTERN MYANMAR is located in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas, where Myanmar, China and India all come together. The area has lovely snowcapped peaks and dense forests but at this point in time there are few facilities for travelers. Myanmar's highest mountain, 5,861-meter Hkakabo Razi, is about 50 miles from the Myanmar town of Putao.

Northeastern Myanmar has been called “the most forbidding terrain on earth.” It is a mountainous, heavily-forested area that is still largely unspoiled and unknown. Few foreigners have ever been there. In the far northern reaches of this region live Tibetans that still use salt as a form of currency and animal usually associated with Tibet: the red panda, the takin (an animal with features of a goat, ox and antelope), blue sheep, black muntjac, a kind of barking deer previously thought to be endemic to China and stone marten.

The best time of the year to visit the area is in the dry season from October to January when the temperatures are reasonably comfortable and there aren't any leaches. The best time to spot wildlife is early in the morning. Usually people hear rustling in the branches and catch glimpses of birds by rarely see large mammals.

The building of roads bridges over rivera that once had to be crossed on the backs of elephants is opening up the region but also speeding up development, deforestation and destruction of the habitat of many wild animals. In some areas development has brought gold miners, dynamite fishermen and hunters armed with guns rather than traditional crossbows.

The Gaokigong Shan and Hengduan Shan ranges define the border between Myanmar and China. The area north of Putai is called the “icy mountains” by the tribes that live there. There are few roads. People get around on mountain trails that routinely precipitously climb and descend from 1,500-foot valleys to 10,000-foot passes. The weather and terrain often make travel slow going at best.

The people that live here are primarily agriculturalists and hunters, who use poison arrows, metal traps and snares for hunting and raise gayals (domestic versions of guars). They grow millet, corn and wheat for food and exchange rare wild plants, skins, horses and body parts of wild, often endangered animals for things they need, primarily salt and tea. Often they deal with Chinese traders who supply the Chinese medicine market in China.

Wildlife and Sub Tropical Forests in Northeastern Myanmar

Sub Tropical Forests in Northern Burma are still very wild places. It is is the northernmost range of animals found in India and Southeast Asia. Barking deer, sambar deer, elephants, tigers, leopards, jungle cocks (ancestors of chickens), sun bears, and insurgents are found here. Guar, musk deer and rhino that once lived here have largely disappeared. The area is largely unexplored and so little studied that scientist have little idea how many animals are here.

Sought after items by poachers include musk deer glands, Himalayan black bear gall bladders, serow tongues (taken for headaches), goral legs (for joint ailments), skins of capped leaf monkeys and white-browed gibbons (for shoulder bags). To save these animals, the Myanmar government has provided villagers with salt so they don’t have to kill animals to obtain it.

In the late 1990s scientists discovered a new deer—about two feet tall and weighing less than 20 pounds—that was previously unknown to science. The deer was called the leaf muntjac and is so small that hunters carry it in a single leaf. It was discovered in the mountains north of Putao by Alan Rabinowitz from the Wildlife Conservation Society who met a hunter who had just killed one.

Hengduan Mountains

Kachin State Flag

Hengduan Mountains (occupying an area between Burma, Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet) has been designated a biological hot spot because it is rich in unique wildlife — which includes red panda and snow leopards — and plant life and because its flora and fauna are threatened by the encroachment of people. In the mountains ate peaks over 20,000 feet, three of Asia's great rivers — the Mekong, the Irawaddy and the Salween — and villages occupied by Tibetans, Naxi and Yi.

Many common garden plants — such as the regal lily, golden-throated white trumpets, white mist poppies, various forsythia, bushes, clematis vines, rhododendrons, dogwoods, crab apples. and primroses — originated from here along with 50 species of conifers; 230 species of rhododendrons; and more than 30 species of plant in the rose family Botanist count more than 3,500 species of native plant in the Hengduan Mountains, the highest number of endemic species for an temperate area. The Hengduan mountains are so biologically rich for four main reasons: 1) the region encompasses huge variations in elevations with distinct ecosystems at each level: 2) the area escaped glaciation during the last series of ice ages that scoured the landscape in other mountainous areas; 3) the isolated tall peaks and deep valleys created biological islands where new species could spawn; and 4) the harsh geography created microclimates that allowed rain-drenched rain forest to exist just a few kilometers from desert-like highlands.

Hengduan vegetation zones include: 1) Alpine desert at16,000 to 17,500 feet, characterizes by rugged moraines and tiny-leaved herbs and cushion plants; 2) Alpine from 11,500 to 16,000 feet, with moorlands and grasslands, small-leaved rhododendrons. primroses and poppies; 3) subalpine, from 10,000 to 11,500 feet with dense coniferous forests, larch and spruce trees; 4) cool temperate from 5,000 to 10,000 feet with a mix of deciduous trees, conifers and rhododendrons and shrubs; 5) temperate from 2,000 to 5,000 feet with rain forest and evergreens; and warm temperate from 0 to 2,000, dominated by cultivated land for rice, wheat, oranges. palms, bamboo and cypress.


Kachin State was set up for the Kachin people. The Kachin are an ethic minority that lives in Myanmar near the border with China. There is also large numbers of them in China where they are known as the Jingpo and some in Assam, India where they are known as the Singhpo. In Myanmar, they live mostly the slopes of mountains between 1,200 meters and 1,900 meters in the Kachin State and to a lesser degree in the Shan state, regions filled with monsoon rain forests and dominated by mountains. In China the live almost exclusively in Yunnan on the slopes of mountains between 1,470 meters and 1,980 meters in the Dehong Dai and Kachin Autonomous Prefecture, a region filled with monsoon rain forests and dominated by the Gaoling Mountains and Daying and Ruili Rivers .

Kachin State is the northernmost state and third largest state of Myanmar. Covering 89,041 square kilometers (34,379 square miles), it is bordered by Yunnan China to the north and Tibet, China to the east, Shan State to the south the and Sagaing Region and Arunachal Pradesh in India to the west. About 1.7 million people lived in Kachin State. The capital and largest city is Myitkyina. Bhamo, Mohnyin and Puta are important towns.

The ethnic data from the 2014 census has not been released to the public. Based on 1983 date ethnic Kachin make up 38.1 percent of the population, followed by Bamar (Burmese, 29.3 percent) and Shan (24.2 percent). In 2016 the Myanmar government said the ethnic composition of the state was: Bamar: 29.2 percent; Shan: 23.6 percent; Jingphaw (Kachin): 18.97 percent; Lisu: 7 percent; Rawam (a D’rung people): 5 percent;Lawwaw: 3.33 percent; Lacheik: 2.89 percent; Zaikwa (Kachin): 1.57 percent and Others: 8 percent. About 64 percent of the people in Kachin State are Theravada Buddhists and 34 percent are Christians.

The Kachin State lies in northern Burma with snow-capped mountains in the far north. It is also where the confluence of the Maykha and Malikha Rivers gives rise to the mighty Irrawaddy River. Many of the Myanmar ‘s vast natural resources are located in its ethnic nationality regions, particularly in Kachin State. Jason Motlagh wrote in the Washington Post, “Known as the “Land of Blue and Gold,” Kachin has mountain jungles and river valleys that abound with minerals, jade and timber. Kachin state also has massive hydropower projects that stand to benefit energy-starved China, which has invested billions in the region, at the expense of ethnic Kachin natives.” [Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, June 29, 2012]

In the far north of Kachin State there are peaks as high as 5,000 meters but Kachin settlements normally in areas between 1,200 and 1,900 meters. The two main towns — Myitkyina and Bhamo, originally a Burman and a Shan town respectively) — are situated along the Irrawaddy River at elevations of 300 to 400 meters. The highest northern peaks are snowcapped, and high elevations are subject to cold-season frosts. There are more than 50 days of frost a year at higher elevations. Rainfall occurs mainly in the monsoon season (between June and October) and is between 190 and 254 centimeters on average. Temperatures are substantially lower on the high eastern slopes over the China border and in the northern Shan State. The forest cover is mixed evergreen/deciduous broadleaf monsoon forest, with subtropical forest at lower elevations, including teak. [Source: F. K. Lehman, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University]

Kachin People

It is estimated that there are around one million Kachin in Myanmar. The term “Kachin” comes from the Jinghpaw word for “Red Earth” and refers to a region where two branches of the upper Irrawaddy come together and where powerful chiefs have traditionally been located. The Jinghpaw (Jingpo) are the main Kachin subgroup. Their dialect is the lingua franca for all other groups. Other groups include the Maru, Atsi, Lashi and Achang. Kachin have been described as the Scots of Myanmar.

The Kachin is also known as the Acha, Aji, Atsa, Chasham Dashan, Jinghpaw, Kang, Lachi, Lalang, Langshu, Langwo, Lashi, Maru, Shidong, Xiaoshan, Zaiwa. A 1990 census counted 119,000 of them in China. They live mostly in Dehong Dai and Kachin autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province. There is no good figure on their numbers in Myanmar but it estimated that there are more than a million of them there.

The Kachin tend to have fairer skin and broader features than the Burmese. The Kachin speak a Sino-Tibetan language and have their own written language. There are a number of dialects. Some linguists assert that the Kachin and Zaiwa dialects are different enough to qualify as different languages. Their written language is not used much anymore. Few people speak the native language in China anymore.

Places in Kachin State

Bhamo (280 kilometers north of Mandalay) can be reached by ferry from Mandalay. It is major town on the Irrawaddy River and a major smuggling center only 50 miles from the Chinese border. It is in Shan-controlled territory. Travel in the area is sharply restricted. Travelers are told to stay near the main roads, which are heavily guarded by the Myanmar army and have numerous road blocks on them. Bhamo is reputed to be surrounded by ancient walls and a moat. Bhamo It is an import port and navigation center for the Irrawaddy River and has ruby mines in the area, It is also the market town for the surrounding hill region. Bhamo was historically significant as a center for overland trade with China. During World War II, the Stillwell Road linked Bhamo to Ledo, India. About 50,000 people live there.

Laiza (on the Chinese border) is a former boomtown, according to to the Washington Post, that has experienced an exodus of Chinese businessmen who once filled its casinos and tax coffers. Hotels rooms are empty and entire shopping blocks shuttered, the local markets are now frequented mostly by displaced civilians from the half-dozen camps that have swelled in and around the city with the advance of Burmese forces. [Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, June 29, 2012]


MYITKYINA (487 miles north of Mandalay and 24 hour train ride from Mandalay) is the main town in the Kachin State, an area of Myanmar that was opened to tourists in the mid-1990s after the Myanmar government and Kachin rebels signed a peace treaty. The train ride to Mytitkyina is lovely but long. Not many tourist make the trip and the several that do stay at the city's main hotel which are situated above the train station. Most of the Kachin people in Myitkyina dress in Western clothes.

There isn't much to see and do in Myitkyina except visit a few temples and walk around and experience everyday life. The town is located on the upper reaches of the Irawaddy River but for a long time tourists weren't allowed to travel on the river or even cross to the other side.

There are beautiful mountains in the area with Kachin villages, forests, elephants, but again tourists are allowed to go there because holdout Kachin insurgents are still active in some places. It is now possible to travel on the Ledo Road from Lweje to Bhamo.

Myitkyina (Mit-chee-NAH) has a lively market spreads out over three blacks. You can see river fish, meats and vegetables on sale next to tiger traps, opium pipes and displays of lizards, insects and animal parts used to make medicine. On the hills around the city are pagodas with white brick walls and gilded roofs. It is in Kachin controlled territory. Myitkyina was captured by Allied troops in August 1944 after a 78-day siege, marking a turning point in fight against the Japanese in Southeast Asia.

Myitkyina is near the Chinese border. It has traditionally been a major trading center for jade, teak and opium. The are huge deposits of translucent jadite northwest of the city near Hpakan. The mines are worked by thousands of workers. Opium comes from the lands to the southeast controlled by the Shan and the Wa. The opium trade is now is much less visible than it used to be. Much of Kachin remains off limits to tourists.

Tanai hospital

Myitkyina is the capital of Kachin State and the most important town in northern Myanmar.. Centrally located in Kachin State, it is the northernmost railway terminal, 919 miles from Yangon and 487 miles from Mandalay. Visitors can tour the Myit Sone, the confluence of Maikha and Malikha Streams. The Irrawaddy, the most useful river in Myanmar, formally begins at this confluence, which is sacred to the Kachin, and flows 1325 miles to the mouth of the river.

Myitkyina can be reached by road, rail, river and air. The overland trade route to India and China and World War II supply line to China along the Ledo Road passed through Myitkyina. For mountaineering enthusiasts, expeditions to Mount Khaka Bo Razi and Mount Gam Lan Razi can be organized. At the edge of the town, by the banks of the Irrawaddy, gold-painting and mining goes on day and night.

Jason Motlagh wrote in the Washington Post, “Historically a hub for border trade with China, Myitkyina, a city of roughly 150,000 people, has not experienced the economic growth seen in many of Myanmar's lowland cities. Infrastructure is shoddy, and there are rolling blackouts and perennially high unemployment. Local religious leaders say the bleak social and economic climate has led to a sharp rise in hard-drug use and depression among Kachin youth. "Conditions today are hopeless" for the Kachin, said one shopkeeper, 28, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared trouble with state authorities. He earned an engineering degree two years ago but has found no work in his field. "Our people have so many grievances against the Burmese," he said. [Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, July 14, 2012]

Sights in the Myitkyina Area

Myit-son (25 miles to the north of Myitkyina) is one of Myanmar's most beautiful and important natural beauty spots. It is where Maykha and Malikha rivers meet to form the Irrawaddy.

Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary

Indawgyi Lake Wildlife(140 kilometers southwest of Myitkyina, Kachin State, Monyin Township Sanctuary) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary (ILWS) contains Indawgyi Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Myanmar, and a substantial portion of the surrounding forested watershed. Established in 1999, ILWS covers 73,600 hectares and ranges in elevation from 169 m at the lake surface to over 1,400 m. The lake drains to the north and includes 12,000 hectares of open water, along with marsh, floating vegetation, and submerged macrophytes. Rice is cultivated adjacent to the lake in some low-elevation areas, while mixed deciduous forest, riverine evergreen forest, and hill pine forest cover the uplands in the watershed. Half of ILWS is forest; one-third is non-rice wetland. Species in ILWS include globally threatened waterbirds and endemic fish and turtle species. [Source: Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar]

ILWS is one of the largest lakes in Southeast Asia. Areas of paddy rice lie between the lake and the hills. There are 35,000 people living around Indawgyi on the banks of the lake in 13 villages, 8 of which are populated by indigenous Kachin and 5 of which were settled by migrants in the 1990s. Whereas the Kachin are rice farmers and fish for subsistence, the migrants fish commercially and often use illegal methods, including fishing during the closed (breeding) season and electric fishing. This threat has been largely addressed through a public awareness campaign and the introduction of community managed fishing free zones. In 2012, the annual fish auction to the north of the lake was canceled by the regional government. This auction had been abused by reselling fishing rights to many fishermen who fished intensively and often tried to settle illegally.

The integrity of ILWS is threatened by hydraulic and small-scale gold mining. Most of the hydraulic mines are to the west of ILWS and outside its boundary but are located along streams that flow into the lake. Elevated mercury levels and increased sedimentation in the lake have been documented (Than 2006). The regional government is considering what to do with these mines. Overall water quality is good. Rice cultivation currently does not apply pesticide, herbicide, or significant quantities fertilizer that would diminish water quality. Solid waste, including from an 80,000 pilgrims who camp by the lake during the Shwemitzu pagoda festival in February, requires improved management.

Inndawgyi Shwe Myinzu Pagoda (1,500 feet from the west bank of Indawgyi Lake in Mohnyin Township, Kachin State) lies on the sandbank named Linlon. It is said an abbot monk named Sayadaw U Nyi Hsu of Taung Thonlone in Indawgyi, set out from Hpa Nan Mon areas with disciples endowed with sila, samadhi, metta and Kammathana, conveying the three stones. When they got to the site of the pagoda the abbot set his staff on the sandbank and strengthened its position with the three stones. As instructed by U Nyi Hsu, Sayadaw U Thawbita laid the foundation of the pagoda. Then, five relics were obtained from the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and carried on the boat in a gold casket to be enshrined there on the platform. The pagoda was completed on the 6th waxing moon day of Kason. The height was over 15 feet. Further renovations brought the height to 50 feet with a base about 39 feet 10 inches. The pagoda was built with different terraces each adorned with stone statues. There are also 152 satellite pagodas.

Birds and Wildlife in Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary

Tanai market

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Indawgyi Lake Wildlife has outstanding value for birds, containing three CR and two EN species, as well as aggregations of four congregatory waterbirds that comprise a large portion of their global populations. It contains one endemic turtle and at least three endemic fish species. It is an Important Bird Area, an ASEAN Heritage Park, and is currently being nominated as a Ramsar site. The lake’s watershed also supports a diversity of globally threatened wildlife.

ILWS provides habitat for 10 globally threatened bird species and is of outstanding value for the conservation of migrating waterbirds. The White-rumped Vulture and Slender-billed Vulture have been reported. Global populations of these species have decline dramatically as a result of consumption of livestock carcasses containing the veterinary drug diclofenac. Therefore, populations at ILWS, where diclofenac is not used, are particularly important for the survival of these species.

ILWS contains the Burmese Peacock Turtle, which is endemic to Myanmar. There are also at least three fish species that are endemic to the lake. The last systematic fish surveys of the lake were conducted in the 1920s and future surveys may find more endemic species. Surveys have recorded 448 bird, 41 reptile, 34 amphibian, 64 fish, and 50 butterfly species (Oikos and BANCA 2011; Myanmar Biodiversity 2012).

Species of global conservation importance found in ILWS include:Mammals: Endangered: Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), Hog Deer (Axis porcinus), Shortridge's Langur (Trachypithecus shortridgei); Vulnerable: Bengal Slow Loris (Nycticebus bengalensis), Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), Eastern Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock spp.), Himalayan Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus), Northern Pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca leonina), Stump-tailed Macaque (Macaca arctoides). Reptiles: Critically Endangered: Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra vandijki); Endangered: Burmese Peacock Shoftshell Turtle (Nilssonia Formosa); Vulnerable: Asiatic Softshell Turtle (Amyda cartilaginea), Burmese Eyed Turtle (Morenia ocellata). Birds: Critically Endangered: Baer’s Pochard (Aythya baeri), White-rumped Vulture (Gyps bengalensis), Slender-billed Vulture (Gyps tenuirostris); Endangered: Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus); Vulnerable: Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus), Sarus Crane (Grus antigone), Indian Skimmer (Phynchoc albicollis), Wood Snipe (Gallinago nemoricola), Pallas’s Fish-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus), Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga), Indian Spotted Eagle (Aquila hastata), Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nipalensis), Yellow-breasted Bunting (Emberiza aureola); Near-threatened: Black-headed Ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus),Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) and Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster) Waterbird aggregations of more than 1% of global population; Near-threatened: Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) and Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster); LC:Greylag Goose (Anser anser), Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio). Plants: Critically Endangered: Dipterocarpus tuberculatus; Vulnerable: Aquilaria malacensis


What is called the Burma Road was actually two roads: 1) the roughly 600-mile-long Burma Road, built in 1937 and 1938 between Lashio, Burma and Kunming, China under Chiang kai-shek to bring supplies through a backdoor of China after the Japanese invaded China; 2) and the roughly 500-mile-long Ledo Road. The roads cost 1,133 American lives, roughly a man a mile.[Source: Donovan Webster, National Geographic, November 2003]

The straight line distance from Ledo to Kunming is about 460 miles. The Burma and Ledo Roads, built through some of the world’s most difficult terrain in India, Burma and China, covered more than twice that distance and hooked southward to avoid the Himalayas. The idea was ultimately to use the roads for an invasion of China and from China an invasion of Japan. Churchill called the entire project “an immense, laborious task, unlikely to be finished, until the need for it had passed.” The project was not completed until just six months before the war ended.

The Ledo Road was built between 1942 and 1945 between Ledo in India and the Burma Road. U.S. Gen. Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, the abrasive commander of Allied troops in the region, insisted the project would work.. Gen. Lewis Pick was the chief engineer of the Ledo Road. Known to some as “Pick’s Pike,” he told his engineers in 1943: “The road is going to be built — mud, rain, and malaria be damned!” It is sometimes called the Stilwell Road.[Source: Los Angeles Times, December 30, 2008]

The U.S. spent almost $149 million to build the Ledo Road at the request of Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek. It took a little over two years to build. It was roughly 500 miles long and opened up a new supply route, as well as an oil pipeline, from India to China. Military strategist felt the road was necessary to supply China in the war. More than 28,000 Americans and 35,000 Asian workers participated in the project. Not long after the thankless job was done, two atomic blasts finished the war with Japan, and a hard-won passage that soldiers called "the Big Snake" was abandoned to the rain forest.

Construction of the Ledo Road began in 1942. The first true bridge was built over the Khtang Nall in northeastern India In October 1943, American-trained Chinese divisions entered Burma from Assam, India and drove down the Japanese road from the Hukawag Valley in northern Burma. In February 1945, Gen. Pick led a convoy into Kunming.

In 15 months construction battalions moved 13.5 million cubic yards of earth to cut the roadbed. the New York Times correspondent Tillman Durbin said there was enough dirt to build a 10-foot-high, three-foot-think wall between New York City and San Francisco.

Following the Ledo Road is very difficult. As it approaches the border of India the Ledo Road goes from pavement to gravel to mud to a foot path through the jungle. Villages here have only seen a handful of white men since World War II. The border between India and Myanmar is often closed, in part because of a problem with insurgents along the border. About half the length of the Burma and Ledo Roads is off limits to foreigners.

Shingbwiyang (300 kilometers north of Myitkyina) at mile 109 of the Ledo Road is where Stilwell set up a forward base in Burma. Today it is a shanty settlement of 30,000 people, many of them here to sluice mine rich gold deposits in the area. Elephants can be seen on the roads, dragging logs and roof beams. Shingbwiyang is pronounced Shin-bwe-Yang.


Pondaung Anthropoid Primates Palaeontological Sites

Pondaung Anthropoid Primates Palaeontological Sites (Myaing Township, Magway Region, Pale Township, Sagaing Region) were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2018. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Pondaung Formation is a geologic formation which consists of layers of red beds alternating with grey sandstones sediments, dated to about 40 million years ago. Several of these outcrops around Bahin village, located in the Dry Zone of central Myanmar, contain fossils of the oldest representatives of anthropoid primates, which correspond to the class that includes monkeys, apes and humans. Therefore, mankind’s earliest primate ancestors are documented from these Paleontological sites which are unique in Asia, and believed to be the oldest in the world. The significance of these sites lies in the fact that for many years it was generally considered by the scientific community that anthropoid primates originated in Africa. But more than thirty years of international research has suggested that the earliest anthropoids arose in South East Asia and subsequently dispersed to Africa at about 40 million years ago during the Middle Eocene. The fossil specimens from the Pondaung Formation contain the oldest knowns anthropoids yet discovered anywhere in the world. These fossil sites have delivered 6 distinct forms of these earliest anthropoids, distributed in two families, the Eosimiidae and the Amphipithecidae. Bahiniapondaungensis, a member of the family Eosimiidae, is the most primitive known anthropoid primate, universally considered as the ancestor of modern anthropoids. [Source: Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of Myanmar]

These important fossils have been discovered in several outcrops clustered around Bahin Village, Myaing Township, Magway Region about 80 kilometers from northwest of Bagan. Nearly 100 incomplete primate fossil specimens and thousands of associated mammal and other vertebrate fossils have been collected from these outcrops, and stored in the National Museum of Naypyitaw, in Yangon at the Department of Archaeology, and in the National Museums in Yangon and Mandalay. Although these fossil sites are officially-gazetted protected sites designated by the Department of Archaeology and National Museums, Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, and clearly identified as protected site by on-site notification boards, these outcrops are presently under huge pressure due to the intensive economic development of agriculture in the surrounding area, which has dramatically increased exposure, erosion, and weathering of the fossil deposits. Fossiliferous outcrops are trampled by goats and cattle, and are also progressively incorporated into cultivated fields by farmers unaware and ignorant of their scientific value. [Coordinates: N21 45 16.0 E94 39 09.4]

Pondaung anthropoid primate sites represent the oldest anthropoid community identified so far from any region of the world. No other in-situ fossil sites have yielded such a diversified anthropoid fauna, at such an early date of 40 million years ago, making these sites unique in the world and of potential high outstanding universal value for their scientific study of anthropoid evolution. Natural erosion and scientific excavations reveal additional fossil anthropoid primates specimens every year, making the Pondaung Formation an exceptional area for the understanding of the earliest steps of anthropoid primate evolution, which led eventually to the evolution of hominids.

The Pondaung Formation and associated fossil beds represents a major stage of the Earth’s history wherein the earliest steps of evolution and adaptation of anthropoid primates is documented with in-situ deposits. The Pondaung Formation has not only yielded anthropoid primates fossil but complete ecological communities of contemporary flora and fauna documenting paleo-ecosystems of both fresh water and terrestrial domains 40 million years old. These ecological communities have been well studied and documented through more than 30 years of scientific investigation, which continues. Evidence for the evolutionary interactions between the changing paleo-climates and associated terrestrial mammal communities with the anthropoid primates are important for the study and understanding of how primate (including hominid) evolution may change under long-term climatic stress and temporal variation. As a unique fossiliferous formation, the outcrops of the Pondaung Formation are of potential outstanding universal value to be protected in order to allow ongoing and future scientific research.

In their present state, the nominated anthropoid primates palaeontological fossil sites in the Pondaung Formation are gazetted as protected areas for scientific research and are relatively well safeguarded. Human density in the area is low but is increasing regularly, at a manageable rate. Site boundary markers have been installed around the most important sites by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture. These boundary marker stones delimit the important localities, and indicate to the local inhabitants that theses are areas of high cultural importance, but do not isolate these areas from human or livestock activity. The most specific and immediate threats to these fossil sites comes from the partial or total incorporation of some of the sites into cultivated areas, and in the possibility for some of them to be included in a small-scale irrigation projects and/or as possible sites for future drilling of oil wells.


Some Naga People live in northern Myanmar, primarily in northwestern Sagaing Division: The term Naga is used describe groups of tribesmen of Indian and Chinese descent that live in the hill country along the border of far eastern India and northwestern Burma. Nagas are former head hunters. In World War II, they were recruited by the British to fight the Japanese.

The name Naga was first given to these people by the Ahom people in Assam and other neighboring people. The origin of the word Naga is not known. Some say is derived from the Assamese and Sanskrit wordsfor “naked” (“naga” or “nanga”) or the Hindustani word for mountain (“ nag”). Many Naga members don’t like the word Naga; they prefer the names of their tribe or group. The term has only been used widely since Indian independence as a way to distinguish them from other Indians and was a name adopted by the Naga independence movement.

Naga descend from Tibet-Myanmar ethnic races. Most live in India in Nagaland of northwest India in the states of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Nagas are also found in Assam. India. There are about 3.5 million Nagas, with maybe 2 million of them in Nagaland in India. They have traditionally grown crops and hunted and lived mostly in the mountains and places nobody else wanted to live and maintained a high degree of isolation for other groups. About three fourths of the population of Nagaland are Nagas.

In Myanmar there is a much smaller population of some 100,000 Nagas. In Myanmar they live mostly in the northern part of the country ar near the India-Myanmar border in the valley regions of Patkwai.They are spread around western Sagaing Division: from Patkoi range in north to Thaungdyat in south and from Indian border in west to River Chindwin in east. Some can also be found in Khantee, Lashee, Lahel and Nanyun of Sagain Township. The Chin and the Naga compose about 3 percent of the population of Myanmar. They usually make their villages above 3000 or 4000 feet above sea level. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

By some counts there are 66 tribes. The 15 major ones include the: Konyak Nagas (with 170,000 members), Ao Nagas (with 150,000 members), Zeme (Sema) Nagas (50,000), Phom Nagas (40,000), Chang Nagas (35,000), Rongmei Nagas (30,000), and Maring Nagas (20,000). Among the Naga groups that have been studied are the Kacha, the Angami, the Rengma, the Lhote, the Seama, the Aos, the Knyak, the Chang, the Sangtam, the Yachumu, the Tukomu, the Naked Rengma, the Tangkhul, and the Kalyo-kengu (“the salted-house men”). Much more is known about the Indian Nagas than their Myanmar counterparts.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Myanmar Travel Information, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP,,, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2020

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