“After breakfast we’ll head to the Hsipaw railway station. Today’s journey is a duality of spectacular mountain scenery and an exploration of local life. As the train moves slowly along the historic track we’ll mingle with local travellers passing small villages and towns. Adding even more local colour, along the way we’ll meet merchants as they board the train to peddle drinks, snacks and other wares.
Today’s highlight begins when we start to snake our way down a densely forested gorge that cuts deeply through the otherwise gentle landscape.
As we begin to rise up the other side, the train suddenly slows down to start across the famous Gokteik Bridge. The bridge is over 700 metres long, and its construction was finalized by the American Pennsylvania Steel Co. in 1901. When it was completed it was the largest railway trestle in the world.
Having unlocked a life achievement with just completing one of the “must do” train journeys in the world, we’ll arrive at Naung Cho station where we’ll continue the rest of the way to Pyin Oo Lwin by car.
This evening we’ll settle into this old British hill station, formerly known as Maymyo or “May Town” by the British. It was the principal hill station (don’t let the name fool you, it’s relatively flat here) and summer retreat during the British colonial period.
The town is once again becoming a popular getaway so we’ll have the opportunity to experience the old charm before modern expansion brings changes. You’ll have an option to explore on a horse drawn cart giving you a period vehicle to admire the colonial style brick and timber houses. This calls for a beer! Pyin Oo Lwin is also the place to beat the Mandalay heat – bring a fleece as it gets chilly here at night!”
The Gokteik Viaduct
About 34 miles northeast of Pyin U Lwin, the landscape plunges suddenly into the Gokteik Gorge, a densely-forested ravine that seems almost bottomless from the top of the plateau.
Crossing the gorge has always been an obstacle to easy travel between Lashio and Mandalay – the road switches back a dozen times as it descends towards the Myitnge River, with numerous blind corners where trucks and buses meet head-on in an alarming game of chicken.
The British solution to the problem was to go straight across the ravine – the mighty Gokteik Viaduct was constructed in 1901 by contractors from the Pennsylvania Steel Company to carry the railway line to Lashio. At 318 ft high and 2257 ft across, the viaduct was the second-highest railway bridge in the world when it was constructed, and it survived the next 100 years with almost no maintenance.
It’s the oldest and longest railway bridge in Myanmar, and its age shows: trains slow to a crawl when crossing the viaduct to avoid putting undue stress on the superstructure. Much needed renovation work was carried out in the 1990s but the viaduct still creaks ominously as trains edge their way across the chasm.
The best way to see the bridge is from above on the Mandalay–Lashio train. Before crossing the bridge, the train stops for a few minutes to down-gear, giving passengers enough time to step off the train and admire the precarious-looking structure they are about to cross. Taking photographs of the viaduct is banned for ‘security reasons’, but the ban is laxly enforced.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD