Published: May 2006

Irrawaddy River

Boy Bathing

Mynamar's River of Spirits

The Irrawaddy River in Myanmar is a source of continuity and hope in a country at odds with itself.

By Kira Salak
Photograph by Steve Winter

I've always believed the best way to know a river is to paddle it, to feel its undercurrents and speed, to take in the changing nature of its banks. I wanted to explore the romance of Myanmar's Irrawaddy River, which has stirred the imagination of some of the world's greatest writers, such as Kipling and Orwell. The name "Irrawaddy" is an English corruption of Ayerawaddy Myit, which some scholars translate as "river that brings blessings to the people." But it's less a river than a test of faith, receding during the country's dry season until its banks sit exposed and cracking in the sun, only to return each spring with the monsoon, coming to life, flooding fields, replenishing the country with water, fish, and fertile soil. The Irrawaddy has never disappointed the Burmese. It is where they wash, what they drink, how they travel. Inseparable from their spiritual life, it is their hope.

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