Myanmar's northern most state is a mountainous region occupied by approximately 14 different ethic groups, the Jinghpaws or Kachins, being the dominant one. The life style of the hill tribe peoples of the north has changed little over the centuries. Their religion is mostly animistic and the formation of the clans heredity, with the youngest son inheriting the father's position and wealth.
Experiencing the way of life of the hill tribe people is a unique opportunity to observe the culture, and day-to-day routines and rituals of people who have lived in isolation from the outside world for so long. Annual festivals provide fascinating insight into their lives, of which the Manao Festival (every January in Myitkyina) is one of the most engaging.
Jade mining has been Kachin State's most valuable export over the centuries. Bordering China to the north and northeast, the Kachin people are renowned for their strength and their ability to work under the hardest and most severe conditions. Prior to the 13th century, green jade was very rare and expensive, until it was found by accident by a Yunnanese trader in Kachin territory. From the middle of the 18th century, the jade trade developed between the Chinese and Kachin people. It is said that the best quality jade comes from the valley of the Uyu river.
The town of Myitkyina, the largest in Kachin, has always been a trading centre between Myanmar and China. It makes an ideal base from where to visit nearby villages, jade mining centres, and the magnificent Indawgyi Lake.
In the far north of Kachin State stands Myanmar's highest mountain, Hkakabo Razi. First climbed in 1996 by a Japanese expedition, it is 5889 metres above sea level and snow-capped all year round.
The nearest town is Putao, but it is not located very high up the mountains. Due to limited infrastructure, the only way to go into the high country is to mount an expedition. The potential for ecotourism is immense.
The mighty Ayeyarwady river begins its journey to the Bay of Bengal high in the Himalayas as two crystal clear streams called the Mali and Mali Kha. These two rivers converge 50km north of Myitkyina to form the Ayeyarwady.
South of Myitkyina, the river passes through three spectacular defiles (gorges), where rocks project into the channel on either side narrowing the river and forming huge whirlpools.
The second defile, south of Bhamo, is the most dramatic. Here, the churning waters, cooled by melting snow from the majestic Himalayan mountains, are restricted to a passage a mere 90m wide through cliffs towering 270m high on both sides.
West of Myitkyina lies Indawgyi Lake, which, although currently difficult to visit, offers a unique opportunity to explore some of Myanmar's natural beauty.
The town of Bhamo lies south of Myitkyina, on the Ayeyarwady's eastern bank. Bhamo is home to a daily market which attracts many ethnic minorities to town. You can often catch the colorful costumes and faces of Kachin, Shan, Lisu and Palaung people.
Adventurous travellers might enjoy the local ferry boat trip from Bhamo to Mandalay, that takes you through lush jungle, bamboo forests and steep rock gorges.
The so-called Ledo Road etches out a way through the rocky mountain region of Kachin State. This old caravan route was upgraded in 1965 to link China, Myanmar & India but has since fallen into disrepair.
Should this major trade route be re-opened, Kachin holds great potential, as proved by the benefits the state has already gained from the opening of the road between Bhamo and Zhangfeng in Yunnan Province (China).
Kachin is just opening up to tourism and will soon become an important destination. Magnificent mountain scenery, the great Ayeyarwady River and a fascinating mix of people from many different ethnic minorities are all features of this intriguing state.