The description of The Irrawaddy Burma
Irrawaddy River, Burmese Ayeyarwady, principal river of Myanmar (formerly Burma), running through the centre of the country. Myanmar’s most important commercial waterway, it is about 1,350 miles (2,170 km) long. Its name is believed to derive from the Sanskrit term airāvatī, meaning “elephant river.” The river flows wholly within the territory of Myanmar. Its total drainage area is about 158,700 square miles (411,000 square km). Its valley forms the historical, cultural, and economic heartland of Myanmar.
The Irrawaddy is formed by the confluence of the Nmai and Mali rivers. Both branches rise in the glaciers of the high and remote mountains in northern Myanmar in the vicinity of 28° N. The eastern branch, the Nmai, rises in the Languela glacier on the border with Tibet (China) and has the greater volume of water but is virtually unnavigable because of its strong current. The Mali, the western branch, has a gentler gradient and, although interrupted by rapids, has some navigable sections.
About 30 miles (50 km) south of the confluence is Myitkyinā, the northernmost limit of seasonal navigation by the Irrawaddy steamers. Bhamo, about 150 miles (240 km) south of the confluence, is the northern limit for year-round navigation. Between the confluence and Bhamo, the width of the river during the low-water season varies between one-fourth of a mile (400 metres) and half a mile (800 metres). The depth of the main channel averages about 30 feet (9 metres).
There is an extraordinary timeless quality to Burma’s (Myanmar's) Irrawaddy River, also known as the Ayeyarwady. The kings of medieval Bagan would almost certainly recognise its riverbank life today: the bullock carts and ox-ploughs, the tiered pagodas atop rambling teak monasteries, and the villages of thatched homes raised on stilts, each with a dugout slung beneath for when the summer monsoon turns the dirt lanes into waterways.
The Irrawaddy bisects Burma, rising among Himalayan glaciers and flowing freely for 1,348 miles across a wide alluvial plain into the Indian Ocean.
The kings of medieval Bagan would almost certainly recognise its riverbank life today
Navigable for much of its length (unfettered by dams, though these are on the way), it remains a crucial commercial and transport artery, such is the parlous state of Burma’s roads.
Most river cruises start from Mandalay and sail either south to Bagan or north to Katha. If the river is high, and ethnic tensions low, some ships carry on to Bhamo near the Chinese border. In both directions you will discover a deeply spiritual and traditional way of life that is only now opening up to the outside world.
Each day on the river begins with the sound of devotional chanting from waterside monasteries, surely one of the most beautiful wake-up calls in the world. In its middle reaches, the Irrawaddy is a good half-mile wide and just a few feet deep, its waters eddying around sand islands where farmers plant peanuts and sesame and their wives thwack the family’s wash against the rocks. You’ll pass local ferries so laden with passengers and cargo that sinking seems a real possibility. Nearer the shore, fishing canoes bob along precariously like paper boats.