The Oldest Modern Rail Bridge The Gokkteik Bridge

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gokteik bridge

Among modern rail bridges of major size that were built in Myanmar in prewar times the Gokkteik Bridge in Northern Shan State is the oldest and largest. Other great bridges for land vehicles especially rail train to cross over, are the Inwa Bridge (or commonly known as the Sagaing Bridge) crossing the Ayeyawaddy River, in Mandalay and Sagaing Divisions, the Sittaung Bridge crossing the Sittaung River in Bago Division and Mon State, the Nga Moyeik Bridge crossing the Nga Moyeik Stream in Yangon Division the Myit Nge Bridge crossing the Myit Nge River in Mandalay Division, and the Kha Baung Bridge crossing the Kha Baung Stream in Mandalay Division. 

Gokhteik is the name derived from the name of a village called "Ngokhteik" which is situated in the remote forest around Hsipaw town in Northern Shan State. Shans call this village "Ho-Kwat". Ngok hteik is a Myanmar word. "Ngok" means to go under and "hteik" means "top" the place where the said village is, the place where rivers and streams go underground and disappear. Therefore the whole area is called "Ngokhteik" and the village there acquired that name. In course of time 'Ngok' corrupted to "Gok" and the name became "Gokhteik".

gokteik bridge1

The rivers and streams that have vanished join the subterranean river called Nam Pasei in Shan but commonly known as "Chaung Son" River,( The river in which all streams meet). This river emerges above ground at another place. 
On two counts "Gokhteik" is world-famous. First because there is the subterranean river Nam Pasei (Chaun Son). Second, because there is the Gokhteik Bridge there. It is the oldest and longest modern rail bridge in Myanmar and the second highest Bridge in the world. 

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When the railway line was constructed between Mandalay in the central plains and Lashio on the Northern Shan Plateau, the Gokhteik Bridge that was built in 1903, became the most important link between two highlands. At a distance of 7 miles past north of Naung Cho station on the Mandalay-Lashio rail line, the Gokhteik Bridge is located at railway mile stone 463/09. Unlike other rail bridges which cross streams and rivers the Gokhteik Bridge crosses two enormous ravines over 300 feet deep. 

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The designers of the Bridge were Sir A.M.Rendel and Co. of London, England. The constructors were Pennsylvania and Maryland Bridge and Construction Co. of USA. From New York, USA construction materials were shipped to Yangon, from where they were transported to the construction site by rail. 

Overcoming many difficulties, thick jungles were cleared, and a truck trek was made. But it took only nine months to complete the construction. Altogether 4311 tons of iron and steel and one and a half million iron wedges were used. Ten, 120 feet oblong iron frames, seven 60 ton oblong iron frames, sixteen 40 ton oblong iron frames and sixteen steel posts went into the main structure. The entire length of the Bridge is 2260 feet and its height from the lowest ground level to the rail line on the Bridge is 1100 feet. 

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Under steel post no.12 of the Bridge is the underground stream flowing forever. From that stream to the Bridge it is 870 feet high. The total cost of the construction of the Bridge was Indian rupees (1,698,200) or about English sterling pounds 113,200. 

The Gokhteik Bridge is an important link in transportation and communication between the Myanmar plains and northen Shan State. It also serves as the major transport line for the Namtu Silver Mines. During the second world war when the British retreated to India they used "scorched earth tactics" by bombing and destroying strategic stations and bridges including the Gokhteik Bridge. Again when the Japanese were defeated and had to flee they dynamited the Gokhleik Bridge. 

After the war, the Department of Myanmar Railways repaired and renovated the Bridge in 1948 and two years later the entire Bridge was back into function. It was reopened in August 1950. The repair work cost Kyat 32 hundred thousand. 

Today in 1999, the Gokhteik Bridge is 96 years old, yet it is still serviceable. Travelers can't help but stop for a while to take an admiring look at the Gokhteik Bridge crossing the two deep and steep ravines, while subterranean streams and rivers are constantly flowing right under its foundation. Isn't it a marvel?



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