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Today was very different and full of activity. We had an early breakfast and set off just after 7.00 am for a boat trip to visit parts of Inle Lake.

Inle Lake, one of the mountain lakes of South-East Asia, is situated 875 m above sea level. It is 100 km from north to south and has a maximum width of 5 km. There are about 200 villages around the lake that are home to about 150,000 people.

Just beside the hotel jetty, where the boatman was waiting for us, we passed the hotel vege garden which looked beautifully laid out.

There were three ‘armchairs’ ready for us in the boat and I was escorted into the front one so I had an uninterrupted view ahead, providing I could see over the bow which rose according to the speed at which we travelled! It was a really smooth ride throughout and I was amazed that I probably only felt about three drops of water on the whole journey of about six hours. It must be the design because we passed lots of other boats, some going at pretty high speeds but we didn’t get wet at all.

We started our journey in a channel with the houses on both sides of us. It was quite chilly when the boat picked up speed because the sun wasn’t giving off very much heat so early in the morning.

And then suddenly we burst into the lake itself with the far shore a great distance away. It was early morning and cloudy so it’s hard to see the detail of the villages 5 km away or the hills above them.

There wasn’t much traffic on the lake at that time of day but we did pass the odd fisherman. They ‘paddle’ their boats with one leg while standing on the other and use both hands to do whatever they need to do with their nets. Their balance is amazing.

The boats are used for a wide variety of purposes and transport across the lake must be comparatively quick and easy.

How the electricity is transported was very sensible but quite a surprise to a visitor I imagine – on bamboo poles.

The one thing that I couldn’t grasp was how anyone knew where to go! There were very few signs that I could see but there were heaps of ‘side roads’ in the lake and I imagine that boatmen must be very experienced if they’re not going to get lost.

We actually forked right here!

Our first stop was at Ywama village located on the western side of the Lake. Nearly all the homes and buildings are constructed on piles driven into the lake bed. Residents travel around by canoe but there are also numerous bamboo walkways and bridges over the canals running throughout. As such, there is no main street or square, but there are pagoda complexes and monasteries in the built-up areas.

Ywama is part of the 5-day rotation market cycle of Inle (the market appears in a different location on the lake each day). Ywama’s market takes place on the grounds of a pagoda complex. However, much of the commerce takes place on the water as merchants, their small boats loaded with handicrafts or produce, do business with locals and tourists like this merchant who drew up alongside us as soon as we berthed.

Myanmar is a multi-tribal country with 135 ethnic tribes sharing the same territory. At Ywama we experienced the local ethnic life of Kayan or Padaung long neck tribes, the oldest tribe in Myanmar. They not only live in harmony with nature but also keep many unique customs until today, including wearing many necklaces to have longer necks. This practice has seen a surge in popularity in recent years because the custom draws tourists who buy their handicrafts. The Myanmar Government frowns on the practice but this is one form of income for them and unless someone is able to provide them with an alternative and better source of income, we should perhaps not judge.

The village is home to a monastery and a stupa, weaving, metalsmithing, wood carving and umbrella workshops. Here silver is being worked and this man was using the bellows to get just the right amount of heat for the process.

In the workshop beyond, we could examine the beautiful silver products.

There are also many floating gardens where farmers plant crops like tomatoes on floating mats of vegetation anchored in place with bamboo poles which you can just see behind the crop at the front (which I never identified).

From the air, the area is so filled with floating vegetation that it appears more like land than a lake.

Our boatman took us on to Nam Pan village which is further south. Once again, the whole village is situated on the stilts over the water. The oldest pagoda in Inle Lake, Alodaw Pauk Pagoda, is here. It enshrines a gem-encrusted Shan style Budda stupa. Nampan has a number of cheroot factories, boat making and a few restaurants that serve delicious food at an affordable price.

We were particularly interested in the boat making. These planks were cut by two men with a very long saw – one below and one above.

At this workshop, they made boats of different lengths. This one took one man a week to make and sold for US$800. The gaps between the planks are sealed with black laquer and small holes are made on either side of the horizontal gaps so that a vertical pin can inserted to secure them in place.

This boat was similar to the one we were riding in. The handles and the platform at the back are to house the motor. Adam, the engineer, had to do a very close inspection to make sure he knew how it all worked! These are sold for US$3,500.

The guy who was planing the edges of the boat was doing a fine job.

From here we motored on in our boat to visit Phaungdawoo Pagoda, one of the most recognised shrines in Myanmar. In fact, it is the most sacred pagoda in the whole southern Shan state. The name ‘Phauungdawoo’ means front of the raft’ in Burmese.

The shrine in the middle of the main hall houses five small golden Buddha images. These were said to have been donated by King Alaung Sithu and the pagoda was built for the sole purpose of housing them.

They’ve been covered with so many gold leaves that it is impossible to see their original structure. This central shrine is one of the places where women are not allowed.

Travelling on, we ventured even more deeply into some of the side canals and saw more and more wonderful sights. This woman was deeply involved with wash day and it was clear that she’d been working hard. The satellite dish, however, seemed an incongruent addition to this house.

As we went down the channels we were on, it was a bit like being on the main road – although it was very hard to tell which were the more major and minor ‘roads’. Looking to right and left as we went, we could see the side canals and all the houses built on stilts down each one of them.

It was Sunday 8 November 2015 and this was the day of the election. We passed a voting point – a local school – but decided that we wouldn’t stop to scrutinise to make sure the election was fair. Time will tell the outcome and there are mixed views about which party will do more to raise the standards through the country. Certainly the expectations are high that if the ‘Lady’ party are successful, it will make a difference. Adam is not clear about how this could come about.

Just after passing the school, we passed this boatload of women. It was interesting to note that there was no motor on this boat and that it was being paddled and steered by a woman at the front and back.

Nearing our hotel we passed another of the clever fishermen. This one shows how he uses both hands on his net. At this particular moment he has put down the foot that rows but you can see the pole he wraps his leg around, waiting for the next movement.

Just as we neared the jetty I managed to get a quick passing photo of all the water lilies which are mostly red and very pretty indeed.

We spent the rest of the day peacefully and had a quiet dinner at the hotel in the sunset.

Cameron managed the day most wonderfully without a single protest and was obviously as enchanted by everything he saw as we were.

Inle Lake, Myanmar - 8 November 2015

 
 
 
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