Messing about in boats!

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Flag of Myanmar  ,
Thursday, October 28, 2010

Situated in the lower Shan state, Inle Lake and its surrounding marshes sit in a valley surrounded by rolling green hills with the small town of Nyaungshwe situated at its northern tip, our base for a few days. We stayed at the friendly Gypsy Inn located on the banks of the canal which leads down to the lake. On our first morning here, we wandered down to Mingala market and had a very cheap and tasty lunch at one of the little stalls there. We ate Shan tofu salad which consists of tofu made with yellow split peas instead of the usual soya beans, chilli, coriander and sesame oil.

The next day, we arranged a trip through our guesthouse and spent the day zipping about the lake in a motorised long-tail boat. The lake is shallow and reedy in many places and villages made of wood and bamboo are built on stilts over the water. We set off early and there was a slight chill in the air as we skimmed down the channel to the main body of the lake. The early morning light filtered down through the clouds creating a silver shimmer over the surrounding hills.  Many boats were already on the water; families travelling to the market and fishermen accompanied by their children casting their nets into the lake. The fisherman propel themselves along using a very unique method whereby they stand in the back of the canoe and wrap one leg around the paddle to push it through the water.

Our first stop was a small village at the edge of the lake. To reach it we cut down a marshy channel overgrown with water hyacinth and lined with floating vegetable gardens growing rows of tomatoes. We tied up the boat and walked along a path lined with stilt houses to reach a monastery. Inside small groups and families were huddled together on mats on the floor eating or praying in front of one of the Buddhas. The monastery seems to function like a community meeting centre as much as a religious place. Buddhism is a very inclusive religion and we were made to feel very welcome as we wandered around. We noticed that some of the people were wearing a sort of turban on their heads, members of a different tribal group. On returning to the boat we were disappointed to discover that today was market day in this village, part of our reason for stopping here, but language difficulties with the driver meant we hadn’t realised this and we missed it!

Next up was a series of craft workshops, including a silversmiths, weaving workshop, parasol workshop, sword smith and cheroot (like a cigar) workshop. It was interesting seeing how everything was made including scarves made using very fine twine from lotus flowers, and parasols made using mulberry leaves. The trouble was, after each demonstration, there followed the inevitable souvenir shop although fortunately there wasn’t too much hard sell. I did buy myself a pair of silver Shan style earrings that were priced at $28 in the silversmiths but I paid about $3 in a later shop for the exact same pair! At one shop there was a Padaung lady posing for photos. The Padaung are a tribe famous for their tradition of fitting girls with brass neck rings that over the years elongate the neck dramatically to the point where they cannot support their own heads without the rings. Unfortunately today they only carry on this custom for tourists, turning the whole thing into a kind of freak show. As such we decided not to take any photographs.

 In the afternoon, we travelled along a reedy canal to the village of Inthein. Some children were chasing a lizard and looked like they were going to batter it to death so I grabbed it off them and put it in a tree where I hope they didn’t later retrieve it. In the vegetation around Inthein are a series of crumbling stupas, a bit like a mini Bagan which we wandered around, getting covered in mozzie bites in the process. Then we walked up to the top of a small hill to a monastery where an ancient looking monk poured us some cups of green tea which we drank looking down on the lake and flooded marshes stretched out below us.
Our final stop was a monastery built over the water, where monks have managed to train cats to jump through hoops using food to bribe them. I’m not really sure what this has to do with Buddhism and felt a bit sorry for the performing cats but at least they appeared well looked after and it was quite a sight! Then it was back across the lake and up the channel to Nyaungshwe as the sun slowly sank below the horizon and the fishermen finished their work for the day.

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