INLE LAKE: BURMA’S THE PLACE TO BE
By Adrien Gallo
Inle Lake is a huge lake in Burma in the heart of the Shan State which borders Thailand and Laos. This picturesque lake lies 900 meters above sea – level and is located in the mountains. Over 30 hill tribes live in the mountains. Some live on floating islands of vegetation. Inle is well known for its unique leg rowing Inthas, the native lake dwellers.
There are four important centers around the lake: Heho, where the airport is located and Shwenyaung, where the railway ends and from where you turn off the road, south to the lake. Taunggyi is the main town. At the northern end of the lake is Yaunghwe where you should stop to see the Yatamamanaung Temple.
Taunggyi. It was founded by Sir James George Scott a colonial officer of British Burma. He went under the pseudonym Shway Yoe and wrote “The Burman, His life and Notions” – a definitive work on 19th century Burma.
Rent a boat with a guide and go for a tour of the lake. It takes almost half a day. Visit the floating village of Ywama. Here a daily floating market is held which still retains its authentic flavor. The women make cheroots (Burmese hand rolled cigars with tobacco and herbs held together with maize leaves) and sell them to the locals.
Tailors are busy selling their “longyis”, the national costume worn by men and women alike. Young girls sell yellow paste (thanaka) a local sunblock, used by women to decorate and protect their faces.
Vendors cry out their wares of juicy fruit, luscious vegetables and of course the betel nuts (a nut of the areca palm) chewed by all. The crowded market with numerous wooden boats seems frozen in a time warp. It is picturesque and colourful. Life can be so simple – it is difficult to believe. It is truly a Peter Pan world.
Look a little further to see the silhouettes of the Intha fishermen who populate the lake their homes are built on stilts over the water. Their vegetable fields (kyunpaws) float on the lake’s surface. The Intha fishermen go out fishing with a conical woven bamboo basket 7 to 9 feet long and stroll their long, narrow boats with a unique leg – rowing motion that draws the attention of visitors. It is something not seen anywhere else. Whilst perching precariously on the boat’s stern with one foot, they adroitly twist the other leg around a single long oar to steady it and maneuver the boat through the shallow lake water avoiding of weeds. This leaves one hand free for fishing. Visit the little village Nyaingshwe to see the locals live, the way they have for hundreds of years.
Inle lake is meant for relaxation and to take in the cool mountain air. Enjoy Shan and Chinese food or stop for a tea break with a Burmese snack of nam-bya (flat bread) and plata, with pots of tea.
High Hills rim the lake on both sides and the lake islands have 17 villages on stilts making for an unusual sight. The Inthas have their traditional way of life and their unique Phaung Daw Oo stupas festivals which they enjoy. Do join in if you are there. Inle Lake can be reached from Rangoo, Mandalay or Bagan.