One of the best known areas in Myanmar is Inle Lake, a long narrow lake stretching north to south in the Shan Hills. We reached the lake after our 30 mile trek and were met by a long boat powered by a noisy motor that sounded more like a Harley Davidson engine than a motor boat. These boats are used as the means of transportion between the many small villages that dot the lake. The motor is attached to a long rod with a propellor at the end, designed for use in shallow waters.
Most of the lake is covered with floating masses of land on which people live in houses built on stilts. 50% of the lake is taken up by floating gardens, cultivated by the people who paddle between the floating gardens in long dugout canoes.
Child helping his mother work among the gardens
The Inlay people live on and around the lake. They fish and cultivate their gardens for a living. Some of them work daily at raking seaweed from the lake. This is taken to farms where it is used as fertilizer.
What is particular about the Inlay people is the way they have of standing on the back of their canoes, balanced on one leg, using the other leg to row by wrapping that leg around the oar. This way they have both hands free to manage their fishing nets or other tools needed to work on the lake.
Inlay leg rower
To ride over the lake was a magical experience. We were taken into small villages, between gardens where small dugout canoes were hidden amongst the reeds and the people in them were quietly tending their crops. They grow tomatoes mainly, but also squash, cucumbers and other plants we could not identify. This is a wetland sanctuary for birds. Although we saw many kinds of birds, we could not hear them singing because of the noise of the motors on the boats. Our hotel room was built on stilts over the water. We could see the Inlay people out on the lake early in the morning, using their canoes. This was the only quiet time. The rowers in the canoes was a site to behold as they glided quietly over the water.
The Myanmar people smoke cheroots, a green-coloured cigarillo, made from various types of grasses, herbs, spices and a bit of tobacco, all rolled into a dry leaf. Making cheroots is a cottage industry in one village we visited, where women make them in their own homes. We visited a cheroot factory where many women sat on the floor choosing the leaves, filling them with the dried ingredients and then quickly rolling the cheroots with great dexterity before labeling them.
In another village, weaving is the main industry. Many homes own looms made from bamboo on which they weave silk, cotton and lotus cloth. The lotus cloth is very rare and this is one of the only places that knows the technique, using the stalks of the lotus flowers growing on the lake, taking the delicate fiber which they they spin and weave.
Sunset on Inle Lake