The freshwater Inle Lake is Myanmar’s second largest lake and famous for its scenic beauty. Throughout the seasons, its depth varies wildly, from five feet in the dry season to 12 in the rainy season and sometimes up to 17 when monsoon season hits. The local Intha people live in houses on stilts, made from wood and woven bamboo, and live simple, self-sufficient farming lives here. Discovery Tours visits this fascinating locale, taking in a lakeside culture the likes of which you’ve never encountered before. Here are some highlights of the Inle Lake area:
Buddha To Go. At the Phaungdaw U Pagoda, five Buddha figurines have been ritually covered by followers in gold leaf so often that they’ve been rendered unrecognizable. Think gold papier-mâché snowmen and you get an idea of what they look like. Pilgrims and other devotees drape a small robe around the figures, thus anointing the cloth, then place the blessed fabric on their home altar.
Buddha Overboard. Each year during the 18-day Thadingyut Festival, four of these golden Buddhas are placed on an elaborate barge for a village-by-village tour around the lake. One year in the 1960s, heavy winds capsized the barge, toppling its occupants, and the Buddhas, into the water. Rescuers failed to retrieve one of the Buddhas, and all were stunned when they returned to its altar to see that it had found its way back on its own!
Row Your Boat. Fishermen stand to row their boats so they can see over the tall reeds of Inle Lake. Standing at the stern, they wrap one leg around the oar and guide the paddle through the water with one hand. It’s a method that requires incredible balance and can only be seen in this part of the world.
Floating Veggies. One way to protect gardens from flooding water is by making them float too. This is exactly how the local Intha people have adapted to the rising and falling water levels of Inle Lake. They create a bed from the sturdy reeds that grow under the lake’s surface, then plant vegetable gardens on top of the floating beds, securing them all with bamboo poles.
Fabric from Earth and Lake. The lotus plant that thrives around Inle Lake is used to weave a unique material. This process, known as ikat, creates scarves and special robes for Buddha images. Silk is also woven here into a distinct design known as Inle longyi, and it’s among the highest quality you can find.
Just a Cigar. When you think of the stereotypical cigar-smoking person, you might not think of Myanmar. Here at Inle Lake, the occupying Englishmen grew fond of the tobacco that is rolled in cheroot leaves and adapted the habit. Some believed that smoking protected one from contracting malaria, but it is more likely that it was the scent of the tobacco that kept mosquitoes away.
Ring Around the Collar. The Padaung are part of the Kayan tribe that migrated to the Inle Lake region from Tibet. Women of the tribe wear brass coils around their necks, from as early as the age of five. As the girls grow, more coils are added. The tradition behind this fashion statement is a point of debate: some believe it enhances feminine beauty while others say it make the women undesirable so they are not entered into the slave trade.