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Inle Lake 

The fishermen of the Inle lake

 

 

The Inle Lake

Inle Lake

The lake is nearly 100 km North to South but only 5 km wide and there are more than 200 villages on or around it, supporting a population of about 1 50,000. Most are lntha people (Intha means 'sons of the lake') who are of Mon rather than Shan descent, originally from South East Burma.
The main lake town is Nyaung Shwe (Yaunghwe), 11 km from the Shwe Nyaung junction on the Heho-Taunggyi road and 1 km from the lake-although the main part of town is a bit further from the lake. Fifteen minutes from the market is an old Shan stilt palace, beautifully carved and constructed of teak. There is very little left of the interior, however. Open: 0900 - 1700 Monday - Friday.
The Nankand Canal from Nyaung Shwe goes down to the lake, which is only 4m deep. Inle’s central portion is devoted to floating gardens and newly reclaimed land. Traveling in a boat, parts of Inle seem more like a network of canals than an open lake. These channels are continually redredged by villagers and the army which co-opts local dredging parties every weekend. All the waterways are marked with whitewashed wooden railings and the round mileposts give it the appearance of a giant, flooded racecourse. With the mountains as a backdrop, lnle bears comparison with Kashmir's Dal Lake in India.
Inle’s most unusual feature is its extraordinary 'one-legged
fishermen', who have developed an original, eccentric method of rowing with one leg. With the other, they balance precariously on the back of their sampans, leaving their hands free to drop their tall conical nets over passing fish, which they can spot in the shallow lake. Another of Inle’s unusual claims to fame is its floating gardens, which are built-up from strips of water hyacinth and mud, dredged from the lake bed, which breaks down into a rich humus; it take 50 years to produce a layer 1 m thick. The floating allotments are anchored to the bottom with bamboo poles. Land is also reclaimed in this way, and parts of the lake have been reduced to a maze of canals around these plots. Most of the produce grown on the lake gardens is vegetables - mainly tomatoes and beans - and the codia leaf, which is used to roll tobacco and make cheroots. As well as being accomplished fishermen and market gardeners, the Intha are talented metalworkers, carpenters and weavers. 

The best time to visit lnle Lake is during the Phaung Daw U festival or in November and December when the water lilies are flowering and the Hazy Blue Mountains surrounding the lake are not quite as hazy. 

The main sight is Phaung Daw U pagoda on the lake, one of the 3 principle shrines in Burma (1 2 km from Nyaung Shwe). Phaung Daw is the name of the royal bird. The building dates from the 18th century but has been greatly altered over the years, and plans are afoot to further enlarge the complex. It houses five 12th century Buddha images, which have completely lost their shape due to the fact that devotees are constantly plastering them with gold leaf. To the right of the main shrine there are 2 golden pedestals used to transport the images during the festival (the smaller one takes them to the floating market and the larger one carries them on the lake). 

The boat used in the procession is housed in a shed in the complex. In 1965 at the annual Phaung Daw U festival, the royal boat capsized in a storm and the 4 images sank - this is all documented in a series of photographs in the pagoda. They were all salvaged and a statue of the royal bird was erected in the lake at the disaster site. There is a market beneath the pagoda selling local textiles, knives and assorted domestic wares and some antiques. Admission: US$5. Inle's famous floating market, at nearby Ywama, is held every 5 days. Just north of Ywama is the Nga Hpe Chaung Monastery, an old wooden building where the monks have trained their cats to show jump. 

The surroundings

Heho is the gateway to idyllic Lake Inle in the Shan mountains. On and along the shores of this lake you will see the villages of Intha people, the unique legrowers. In floating gardens they grow tomatoes, beans, cauliflowers and egg plants. The floating market in the Inle region is held every five days. The tranquil water of the Inle Lake is the setting of Phaung-Daw-Oo-Pagoda Festival, a colorful water-born procession of royal barges bearing 5 holy figurines of Lord Buddha. This most spectacular festival is held in October and offers pageantry and music.
Taunggyi and Kalaw, former British Hill Stations, are noted for natural beauty and cool and pleasant climate. One of the attractions is to stroll over the morning markets and the visit to a local cigar factory is also worth to be done.
Most fascinating is a visit to Pindaya caves. It takes two hours drive from Heho to reach Pindaya where thousands of old Buddha images have been brought to holy caves. Don't forget to bring a flashlight to explore all the beauty of Pindaya caves. Soft trekking tours can be made from Pindaya.


Festivals:

Oct: Phaung Daw U festival (moveable), four of the Buddha images from the Phaung Daw U Pagoda are rowed round the lake (one remains behind to guard the pagoda) in a copy of a royal karaweik on a tour of other pagodas around the lake. The barge is in the shape of the royal bird (which is akin to a giant chicken). There are boat races on the lake during the festival. 
Nov: Full moon of Tazaungmon (moveable), following the harvest festival, donations are given to the local temples. Large procession; biggest in Taunggyi.

Yangon (Rangun)  -  Mandalay  -  Pagan  -  Inle Lake

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