Mogok is a remote town 200 km to the north of Mandalay which is famous for precious gems, particularly rubies and sapphires, mined in the valley and the surrounding hills. A special permit and a guide are required to visit Mogok. These is measures are designed to discourage a black market trade in the main local commodity, which is heavily taxed by the Myanmar state.
The road from Mandalay to Mogok is known locally as the road of ‘999 bends’. It could also be described as the road of ‘999 minutes delay’ as the road surfaces are bad in place and the passing points are generally a little too narrow for two trucks. The road winds its way up to an altitude of 1,170 metres above sea level, where the temperature is distinctly cooler than it is in Mandalay. Mogok is an unusual place in many respects. Mogok sits in a valley which becomes covered in a cloud of mist most mornings. Mogok is also a sizeable town, given its remoteness, with over 160,00 permanent residents from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds including the Bamar (the majority ethnic group in Myanmar), the Shan, the Lisu, people of Indian and Chinese origins, and large number of descendants of Nepal’s famous Gurkha soldiers. What brings so many people to this difficult to reach valley in the mountains is the rich gem deposits in the area. Mogok has an estimated to 1,000 to 1,200 gem mines producing approximately 90% of the world’s supply of rubies, as well as the world’s highest quality blue sapphires.
Gem mining is believed to have started in Mogok in the 6th Century. Over time the area’s rich mineral deposits came to the attention of domestic and international warlords, governments and pretty much every one in the region with the means to try to take a share of that wealth, hence the long standing nervousness of the Mynamar authorities to let outsiders visit. In the late 16th Century the Burmese king Nuha-Thura Maha Dhama-Yaza decided to incorporate the previously independent Mogok into his Empire in order to take control of the gem mines, as did the British Empire in 1886 for much the same reasons. The British leased the town’s mines to a British mining company from 1889 to 1931 which attempted to introduce modern mining techniques to the area. These efforts largely didn’t work and after the British left the locals, for the greater part, returned to more rudimentary mining practices. Mine shafts in the area are typically only accessible by hundreds of metre long climbs down crudely constructed wooden ladders, and the end job of shifting through the mined rock is mostly done by hand. Gems can be purchased at morning and afternoon markets in Mogok. The morning markets are were the smallest gems are sold. These small rocks tend to be found by locals looking through the mined rock for gems missed during the industrial sorting process. The afternoon market is where the larger and more valuable stones are sold, although you do need to be an expert to get gem purchasing right at Mogok as a lots of fakes and badly priced genuine stones are offered for sale alongside the real thing.
Location of Mogok
- Mogok is located 209 km by road from Mandalay Railway Station.