Inle Lake: A Fragile Paradise

Inle Lake: A Fragile Paradise

Like all unexpected brushes with nature, Inle Lake thrust into our souls a new awareness of beauty in its most natural and sublime state. The stilted cottages surrounding the lake, the Intha rowers performing their acrobatic rowing stunts and the long boats caressing the waters of the lake created the profoundest expressions of living a dream!

The sun’s rays are pouring into our wooden stilt-bungalow on the lake. I open the windows to let the morning in and am greeted by the serene notes of Buddhist prayers gently nudging me to the start of a lovely new day! Gazing out as far as my sleepy vision can manage, I spot a lively fisherman prepped up for his day of fishing on the lake. He smiles brightly and waves at me… The energy is contagious; my eyes widen as my heart fills up with the warmth of his gesture to make me feel welcome in this beautiful paradise.

328b

 

For a lake that is only 22km long and 11km wide, Inle Lake is home to 70,000 people and bustling with activity! There is a calming effect that its surrounding has on my soul. But on the outside, you will notice locals conducting business, fishermen on their way to the deeper parts of the waters, long boats with traders offering fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers.

Most of its inhabitants have lived around the lake for generations. They rightly call themselves Inthas which translates to “Children of the Lake.” Their love for the waters of the lake and the livelihood it provides, fuels their urge to ensure that the lake does not lose its natural beauty. Their typical Burmese dialect differentiates them from the rest of Myanmar and in the short time that I spend at Inle Lake; I grow a fondness for the Inthas who are warm, friendly and very perseverant.

 

Inle Lake Boat Tour: Experiencing Life in Inle Lake from Up-close

As I immerse my senses in the dreamy views of the lake, my curiosity impertinently compels me to delve deeper, to find out more and to get closer to the people of the lake. So the next day, Vikram and I are up at 5 am to take a tour of the lake at a time when the lake is just waking up to the world.

We walk down to the jetty in front of our resort and are seated in a wooden boat ~ so narrow that the chairs are fixed in single file facing the same direction! The young man driving the boat gives us an overview of our itinerary.

 

Our journey begins as we enter a canal which opens into the lake. The splendid views immediately absorb me. I have my camera out in a flash and between gasps of breath in admiration of the misty landscape; my fingers get busy clicking pictures, adjusting focus and zooming in to capture minute details of the lake and its inhabitants.

Swathed in green and purple, the opening towards the lake looks beautiful as the hyacinths and lilies dance at the touch of the early morning sun. Coconut trees sway to the tunes of the morning prayers and dragonflies hover over water lilies. Our boatman doesn’t seem to notice these small details – he has seen them all too often. He is more focused on manoeuvring the boat smoothly through the seaweeds and the water plants.

Once we reach the open waters, he switches off the boat engine allowing us to enjoy the solitude of the place. The warmth of the early morning sun feels good on my skin while the touch of cool winds on my cheeks makes me hug myself a little tighter.

 

Closer to the villages, our journey becomes more colourful. Boats are a form of local transportation for the people of the lake, and we can see boats full of the locals and young monks cheerfully going about their business. Every now and then a friendly “Mingalabar” rings in our ears, their infectious smiles spreading onto us in seconds. Thick thanaka covers many cheeks and faces.

As we leave the villages behind to travel deeper into the waters, we come across fishermen in traditional garb who have a way of inciting the interest of every traveller through their unique way of rowing boats in the distinctive standing position with one foot wrapped around the paddle. This unique tradition, our boatman tells us, is handed down from father to child helping generation after generation, fish in a way that keeps their hands free. I am quick to capture them in action. The fishermen see me clicking away and they gently smile, some are shy, others have gotten used to it.

In this part of the lake, the waters are calm and fish more easily available. Our boatman begins to take us further inward as we pass a few ornate canoes where we can hear local music playing from one. At the end of the procession is a golden boat carrying sacred images of Buddha. The fervour of the locals when it comes to participating in religious activities only tells me that they hold on deeply to their culture and traditions and would want the next generation to continue on the same path.

328c

328d

 

Understanding Life at Inle: Taking a Break at In Dein

Long boats aren’t really built for comfort. They focus more on functionality. At In Dein we see boatmen carefully cross the creek to reach land. Most of the creek has been barricaded with the help of bamboo poles to serve as a dam for the farmers who harness the lake’s water for irrigation. Our boat driver’s skills and the shape of the boat make it easy for us to reach land.

In Dein gives us a glimpse into the everyday life of its locals. We see young boys swimming in the waters, taking their morning bath. Women lined up by the shore doing their laundry, and water buffaloes being scrubbed further down the lake. The entire scene is very vivid and for us, somewhat nostalgic because we’ve crossed villages in India that treat us to the same views.

 

Travel for me is all about places of interest, experiencing the local culture, and of course food! In Dein helps us experience all this in one day! The village is bustling with activity since it is Market Day. The floating markets travel to different villages every day, and today they happened to be at In Dein. There is plenty of life on the banks of Inle Lake, and we’re thrilled to be in the midst of it!

We hop onto shore to wander around the village. While groceries and fresh fruit seem to be the point of interest for the local women, most travellers like us flock to the antique and relic shops. Many of the market vendors have travelled from the nearby village of Pa-O to sell their wares. We stop by a few more shops to understand prices and compare products before we purchase some beautiful souvenirs for family back in India.

328e

328f

328gg

328h

328i

328j

328k

328l

 

From the market we walk up to Shwe Indein Pagoda. We notice that a number of the stupas are crumbling, embracing the creepers around them and becoming a part of the jungle; others are being restored to mimic their past splendour. Standing between remnants of collapsing temples and the stupefying brilliance of the renovated ones, I realize that beauty has more faces than we know. The wind chimes on the pagoda begin to ring in the gentle breeze as if in acknowledgement of my thought.

328p

328q

328r

328s

 

Inle’s Water World

Of Long-necked Padaung Women and Lotus Fibre Weaving

Tourism has its impacts ~ some for the better while others… At Paw Khon the effects of tourism in my opinion fall in the grey area allowing everyone to appreciate a viewpoint of their own.

We are taken on a tour of Paw Khon, known for its lotus fibre weaving community. Our tour begins with a glass of tea that tastes delicious. The weariness of the boat ride disappears as I sip on the tea and follow our guide as he takes us through the method of lotus fibre weaving starting from the removal of fibres from the lotus stem to the creation of clothing using these fibres along with cotton and silk to craft intricate patterns.

328t

328u

328v

328w

328x

328y

It’s obvious that the intricacy of the entire process demands time and patience. The women here are dedicated to the task of creating beautiful scarves and other clothing and accessories. While lotus flowers are available in abundance, the time needed for this process makes few people continue to seek jobs as lotus fibre weavers. Many believe that it only remains a tourist attraction now.

 

Many women working at the loom have thick brass rings around their necks. They form the Padaung tribe. The Padaung women connect beauty with the length of their necks: the longer their necks are, the more beautiful they are. Inle Lake sees more tourists than the interior parts of Myanmar; this is why these women have moved with their families to the Lake region to earn a better living from tourism.

I speak to a few of them to learn about their roots and the lives they lead. I curiously ask about their brass rings and learn that the Burmese government does not promote the wearing of rings which is why many women have chosen to take them off.

328z

328za

328zb

328zbb

 

The Famous Ikat Weavers of Inle Lake

Although there are several weaving techniques prevalent in the region, Ikat happens to be the most popular technique with many textile shops flourishing around the lake. Here weavers hand-paint vibrant colours directly onto the threads creating stunning fluidic motifs throughout the fabric. Geometric shapes are common because of the ease with which they can be painted on to the material, but you will come across a number of other designs as well.

328zc

328zd

328ze

328zf

328zg

328zh

328zi

328zj

 

Silver Jewellery Makers at Work

I’ve always loved the work of  India’s Jaipur silverware artisans and here in Myanmar, the jewellery makers reignite my love for intricate silverware. From decorative water bowls to delicate pieces of jewellery, we see how raw silver is almost magically transformed into things of eternal beauty. Many craftsmen are busy at their work. As for us, we are too immersed watching them work while also considering which items we would like to take home with us. 🙂

328zk

328zl

328zm

 

328zn

328zo

328zp

 

The Kela Floating Garden

Our tour around the lake has helped us enjoy some really unique experiences. The Kela Floating Gardens is one of these experiences. These little garden islands literally float on the lake. The farmers have innovatively used bamboo poles to create planting areas by securing clumps of land. The floating gardens produce tomatoes, cucumbers, gourds, spinach and pulses. The quality of tomatoes grown here is considered to be the best in the country. Most parts of Myanmar procures tomatoes from this region I am told.

As we float amidst the lush green vegetation, I want to linger a little longer, treat my eyes to this garden that feels surreal and magical, and to capture these beautiful moments not just via my camera lens but in my mind as well.

328zq

328zr

328zs

 

The Funny Case of the Cheroot Factory

The odds are that if you were to go walking down the village’s dusty streets you would find at least a handful of men and women smoking a local form of hand-rolled leaf cigarette. I come to discover that these are known as Cheroot.

I’ve always stayed away from tobacco, and not even my teenage self ever decided to explore smoking. So visiting a Cheroot factory is an experience of sorts. I’m not sure if I will enjoy the experience, yet I am too inquisitive to miss this tour.

These cigarettes have shredded tobacco with flavoursome additives that can range from dried bananas to tangy tamarinds added to enhance the taste. The tha-na-phet leaf is used to tightly roll the tobacco to form a cigarette with corn husk substituting for a filter.

A woman in the factory offers me a Cheroot and just as much as I am inclined to decline, I want to find out for myself how these flavours taste. So I inhale ~ only to end up in a coughing fit! When I look back up again, she has an enormous grin plastered across her face.

328zt

328zu

328zv

328zw

 

The Nga Hpe Kyaung Monastery and it’s Jumping Cats

We end our journey at the Nga Hpe Kyaung Monastery which was once home to the “jumping cats.” For humane reasons and in an attempt to prevent cruelty towards the cats, these shows have been prohibited. But the monastery has many cats and kittens that will lovingly purr and play with you. We drink some tea and treat ourselves to a few nuts that are on offer. Sitting there surrounded by these cats, the beautiful lake spread in front of us and monks walking to and from the monastery, I realize that the pace of life here is so relaxed – and if I’m honest, this is probably something I should consider when I return home.

Inle Lake is a benevolent giver. From the floating farmlands to the weavers, it is the reason why many people sustain a livelihood. It is the reason why many tourists enjoy their trip to Myanmar. Here’s a glimpse of the lake from the Monastery.

328zx

328zy

328zz

 

The boat trip back to our resort coincides with the sunset, so the lighting is wonderful!

328zza

 

End note: Inle Lake has everything that a traveller can hope for. Great food in the lake villages, close encounters with the locals, unexpected experiences like the one at the Cheroot factory, and beautiful views of the surrounding places… I’d definitely return.

 

Staying at Inle Lake

Shwe Inn Tha is a beautiful Floating Resort worthy of praise. It consists of a cluster of wooden bungalows built on stilts surrounded by the lake on all sides. The view from every room at the resort of the peaceful lake and mountains in the backdrop is mesmerizing, and the interiors reflect warmth in the rich teakwood furniture crafted by local artisans.

If all the water around you urges you to take a dip then the swimming pool in the resort is a great place to spend the day. The sundecks encourage you to drop your itinerary and spend a lazy day at the resort while their multi-cuisine restaurant tempts you to enjoying some local and international cuisines.

You can book a half or a full day boat trip through the hotel just like we did.

How to Get There/Around

Travel in Myanmar can be difficult due to the lack of tourism infrastructure and political concerns. Generally, the easiest and fastest way to get from Yangon to Inle Lake {Heho airport} is by plane. In Nyaung Shwe, you can hire a boat and discover the beauty of the lake with the help of a tour guide.

 

I hope that this travel guide helps you enjoy the best of Inle Lake during your visit to Myanmar. As for me, I am already drifting into a state of dreamy imagination of my visit to the Lake.

 

Have you been to Inle or do you plan to visit it when in Myanmar? Let me know your opinion in the comments blow!

 

* My trip to Myanmar has been split into several posts: Myanmar / Bagan Aureum Palace / Popa Mountain Resort / Stay tuned for my post on Shwe Inn Tha Floating Resort

** If you like this article, please share it on social media using the share buttons at the bottom of the post.

*** Disclaimer: This review was done on an invitation from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Myanmar. Due judgement and care has been applied by the author to remain objective and unbiased in the review.

Stay connected with me over Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest |

Written By

* I love bringing together a bunch of conflicting items and weaving my own sense of one-ness to them. *

58 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *