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The Irrawaddy is the principal river of Burma (Myanmar) and flows through the centre of the country from north to south, forming its most important waterway for commercial transport. More romantically, it is known as the “Road to Mandalay” after Kipling’s poem. The Irrawaddy, called Ayeyarwady in Burmese, is 1350 miles (2170km) long with a drainage basin of 158,700 square miles (411,000sq km). It is fed by the Nmai and Mali rivers that rise in Myanmar’s northern glaciers close to the border with Tibet. Between Myitkyina, about 30 miles after its two tributaries merge, and Mandalay the Irrawaddy passes through a series of narrow gorges with vertical cliffs up to 300ft (90m) high.

After Mandalay, the river widens, merges with the Chindwin River and flows southwest through the country’s most populated area. Its delta between the Pegu and Arakan mountains is also the site of Rangoon (Yangon) the largest city in the country. A combination of the monsoon rains and melting glacial ice results in great variations in water levels – so that river ports need several landing stages at different heights. There are great variations, too, in the landscape and wildlife along the river’s banks. In the north, there is rainforest, oak and pine forests and even forests of rhododendron. The central basin and lowlands are known as the “dry zone” as they have comparatively low rainfall and are mostly given over to agriculture and teak forest. In the delta, there are mangroves that attract abundant birdlife while on the land there are elephants, wild dogs, wild boar, leopard and macaque. Crocodiles, turtles and Irrawaddy dolphin can all be seen here, too.