Saturday, November 16, 2013

#752 Inle Lake, Myanmar (Burma)

Where in the world do people still live on reed islands? Perhaps you've heard of Lake Titicaca in Peru, but much of that is for tourists now. In Myanmar, the large Inle Lake remains a truly island civilization, without the tourists to support it, although many tourists do visit now.

The Lake is not deep (averaging between 7 and 12 feet depending on the season), so  many of the floating islands are connected to the lake floor. In some areas poles able to push the small boats along, but in the middle of the lake the fishermen still use long paddles which they push with their feet curled around them standing up, so to be better able to see the fish, kyun myaw (floating islands), and beda (water hyacinth) and use the large cone-shaped nets to harvest carp (nga-hpein). Many towns are scattered along the shores, if you could really say that it has a clear shoreline, but the 17 village islands on stilts in the middle are vital for cultivation, trade and living.

The weekly market rotates through the various villages and is like something from the Middle Ages that emerges from the cool mists to reveal bullocks for sale along with roots, rice, vegetables, grains and of course the ubiquitous souvenirs. The 70,000 mostly Intha people of the area (although Shan, Pa-O/Taungthu, Taung-yo, Danu, Kayah, Danaw, and Bamar people are also present) continue to live as they have for centuries, following Buddhist traditions like visiting the 100 or so kyaung and 1000 stupas dotted around the area, with strongly Shan-influenced architecture and hardworking fishermen and agricultural lifestyles. The floating islands, with their marsh, hyacinth, soil masses, are incredibly fertile and kept stable by being staked to the bottom with bamboo poles. Other production includes silk weaving for garments, silver and lacquerware, and weaving of Shan-style shoulder bags.

Mystical, magical, otherworldly, and simple, it is an incredible place to visit! From the main township of Nyaungshwe at the northern end, to the typically Shan villages in the south, each little village offers something unique from a Jumping Cat Monastery (#945) at Nga Hpe Chaung, to a paper making factory, the Floating Market at Ywama, Lotus Weavers at Kyauk Taung, and hot springs at Kaung Daing. The Indein stupa and monastery to the south-west is also superb.

Around 22km long and 11km wide, it's altitude at 875m above sea level gives it an excellent climate. It has 20 species of snails and 9 species of fish unique in the world, but is suffering from environmental threats from increasing agriculture and tourism.

Source: Lonely Planet Myanmar 9th Edition 2005

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