The Abandoned Route Through India, Myanmar and China: Why The Stilwell Road Should Be Restored
Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, 8 Aug 17

An Indian coalmine worker walks along the Stilwell Road after a day’s work in Ledo town, at the Indian-Burmese border. Adnan Abidi/Reuters

A derelict border crossing steeped in history cuts across the rolling mountain ranges from India to Myanmar. It is at the junction of three distinct geographical regions: the Eastern Himalayas; the verdant floodplains fed by the Brahmaputra river; and the Patkai hills. This route meanders towards the Chindwin river, the largest tributary of the Irrawaddy, which defines the plains of Myanmar.

The Pangsau Pass stands at this border crossing between India and Myanmar, bearing witness to waves of migrations over the centuries. Across the Pangsau Pass, in the Sagaing region of present-day Myanmar, lies Pangsau village.

The residents there are a mix of ethnic Bamars, mainly considered Burmese (the dominant ethnic group in Myanmar), ethnic Tangsa Nagas who also inhabit parts of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, and some other Eastern Naga tribes.

The border pillar at the Pangsau Pass crossing. Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, Author provided

The nearest proper town inside Myanmar from the village is about 60km away. It is connected by a dirt road, the old Stilwell Road, which is now almost inaccessible during the rainy season.

At Pangsau Pass, every Friday is designated as “Burma Day”, when the villagers can cross to India. They visit the market in Nampong to buy essential items for the week. Some people cross on foot, others on rickety motorbikes.

Indian citizens are allowed to visit Pangsau village on the 10th, 20th and 30th day of every month, on what are known as “India Days”. Most Indian visitors are tourists, and there is a market held in Pangsau village on these days.

During the rainy season, the road is hard to access, but local Arunachal tourists try to cross the Pangsau Pass on their bikes. Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, Author provided

The Arunachal Pradesh state government and the local market coordination committee decide on these access days in consultation with the Indian Army, which patrols the border. Pangsau market sells a host of local Burmese products and vegetables, and there are local eateries with Burmese delicacies. These are mostly local leafy vegetables with sticky rice and rice noodle soups.

Indian tourists buy Burmese fern delicacies from the locals in the market on designated India Days, three times a month. Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, Author provided

Burmese sticky rice is very popular among the border communities in India. Many Indian tourists also visit the Lake of No Return, where several Allied Forces warplanes crashed during World War II.

Men roam in longyi (male attire), trying to sell their products. Women and children wear bright patches of thanaka on their faces, a yellowish-white cosmetic paste, made from ground bark, a common sight in Myanmar.

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