Inle Lake might be one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the opportunity to visit in Asia. Like Thailand 50 years ago, it is yet unscathed by hordes of tourists and shows a glimpse of what life in Myanmar may have been like for recent generations.
Inle Lake is a fresh water lake, the 2nd biggest in Myanmar in fact, covering 44.9 square miles (116 km2). There are a great many of snail and fish species that exist nowhere else in the world, endemic only to Inle Lake. But what’s more interesting that the animal life are the people. Life happens on the lake – from the transport of goods to the transport of children to school.
While the population is varied among 16 Shan nationalities, the largest population on the lake is the Inatha – about 70,000 people living across 4 villages on the lake. Living in houses built upon stilts and traveling on long-tail boats, the Inatha are a of Tibetan-Burmese ethnic origin.
The men have a distinctive style of rowing while standing, using their lower legs and feet to power the long tail boats across the shallow waters.
Most families aim to be, and are, self-sufficient fishing and farming families. Fish from the lake make up the base of the diet and are caught by dipping a specialized basket in the water when a fish is spotted, and further involves some complex maneuvering with a pole and a drawstring on the basket to encourage the fish to enter and become trapped. After being caught the fish are kept in a submerged cage at home to keep them fresh until it is time to eat. A local lake fish called nga hpein is the most abundant and thus the most common local dish is one in which this carp-type fish is used – htamin gyin, which is fermented rice kneaded into ball shapes with fish and/or potato and garnished with crisp fried onion in oil, tamarind sauce, coriander, spring onions and garlic.
North of Nampan, floating gardens are tended to from the boats daily, requiring constant care and labor. Rice is also cultivated in the lake. To construct these gardens, the lake floor is dredged with bamboo poles to pull up weeds. These are combined with other collected floating weeds and then tethered to bamboo posts imbedded in the lake bed to keep the floating mats of vegetation in place for the garden. Because the gardens float, they are impervious to flooding and because the water is nutrient rich, the floating gardens are surprisingly fertile.
Textile (often silk) weaving, cigar making, silver jewelry, wood carving, glazed pottery and lacquerware are the most common local handicrafts. The women’s jobs are usually the cigar rolling and weaving. Silk weaving often manifests in clothing for the local “uniform” known as the longyi – a kind of long “wrap skirt” worn by all Burmese men. Also, lotus plants native to the lake yield strong fibers used for weaving traditional Buddhist cloth used for ornamental, religious art.
Trading these handmade goods is a form of commerce on the lake between the locals. And on the weekends there is a market every five days called (guess what?) The Five Day Market, where locals and tourists, gather to buy food, supplies and local handicrafts.
And while the lake life, it’s people and it’s food are fascinating… for me the most breathtaking moments on the lake are at sunrise and sunset when the colors of sky flash and the enigmatic and changing colors of the lake evolve from day to night.
More to come about Inle Lake – what to see, do and eat!Pin It