Thursday, January 22, 2015

One day in Inle Lake Region

We spent 2 nights and 1 day in the Inle Lake area. We took a bus from Bagan to the Nyaung Shwe area of Inle Lake. Someone recommended that we take the night bus, which turned out to be a great idea. We were able to avoid paying for a night at a hotel and drove through the scary, twisty-turny mountainous region between Bagan and Inle. I'm glad it was too dark to see anything, because I'm sure it was a lot of narrow roads and steep drop-offs.

We stayed at the Blissful Inn Nyaung Shwe. It was a good economy stay. We had a room with 2 twin beds and a private bathroom. The breakfast included eggs, fruit, and toast; which was balanced enough to be a good start to the day. The hotel was walking distance to the town center. While walking to the boats, we saw only a handful of tourists.

A girl that we met in Mandalay gave us the card of an independently owned tour boat operator. As luck would have it, the first man we approached happened to be the right guy! The wife and son of the owner took us out for the day. The woman's English was very good and she shared a lot of interesting information about Buddhism.

Fishing on Inle Lake
Since we were off to a late start, so there weren't many fishermen left on the lake. The first thing we saw was a man fishing with baskets off paddle board. He approached us and I think tried to sell us the fish he had just caught. In the back of the boat was a young boy, probably about 10, reading what look to be a text book. The lake was so serene. There were boats coming and going, and the odd fisherman along the way, but for the most part, it felt as if we were totally alone on the water. The lake is so huge that it took us almost 30 minutes to get from the dock to the network of tributaries where all the "attractions" live.

Our first stop was a silver workshop; one of those extra stops added into trips to try to encourage tourists to spend money. Unfortunately, we wanted to buy something, but were on a tight budget. I got the feeling that most of the tourists that had come through were rich older people. They were thoroughly unconvinced that we had a tight budget.

Our guide telling us about stupas.
She then took us to a huge market. We parked the boat and walked inland for about 10 minutes. This market had everything from souvenir trinkets to produce to meat. We quickly passed through the market and she lead us through a small pathway that ended in an open field with loads of stupas. From what I understand, stupas are usually donated by rich men to their hometown or a poor area that cant afford to build a temple or pagoda. I think that there are a lot of overlapping functions between temples, pagodas, and stupas, which is probably why I couldn't quite wrap my head around the differences at first.

Neck coils; woman with the longest neck in the background
One big struggle I faced was my desire to take pictures versus my desire to stay reverent. We were taken to a weaving shop where there were many different kinds of looms spread throughout. The looms themselves were huge yet delicate wooden machines, but the operators were what made this shop so special and unique. The woman with the longest neck in the world was by far the most interesting part of the shop. The process of elongating the neck starts with placing several copper coils around the neck and gradually increasing the number of coils. According to the tour guide, this practice is a little dangerous, but (as legend says) the rings protect the women from the tiger that killed a princess. As much as I wanted to take her picture, I felt that it would be disrespectful to just walk up and snap a picture. I decided to photograph her in macro. Happy medium, I thought. We had both planned on buying one thing each while on the lake, and we both settled on scarves made in the shop.

Cool setup of out lunch stop
Our lunch spot was interesting. The restaurant was actually in the lake! It consisted of a series of small stilted rooms connected by a walkway and connected to a main building with the kitchen. The food was good, but not very memorable. I've found at places with large volumes of tourists, the food tends to be a little "dumbed down." In this case, it wasn't a disappointment. It was so hot and we weren't very hungry because of the heat, so something a little more familiar was fine. We got a rice dish and a noodle dish to split and two regular Cokes.... we definitely needed a substantial calorie boost.

We had two more stops on our way back to the port. We passed through a village of incredible stilted homes. Talk about feats of engineering! The houses looked too big for the thin stilts they sat on. They each had similar looking boats tethered to a small dock. I had seen houses stilted over land, but never over water. A little scary! Its interesting that these communities are so self-sustaining. I'm curious though; where does their refuse go? Do they not produce any dangerous litter? The area was so clean, with the exception of the houses, it almost felt untouched.

Man picking flower
We passed through rows and rows of the stilted homes and then hit the open water portion of the lake again. We cut across the lake diagonally and then went off into another reed-lined tributary. Our guide pointed out the vegetation growing on the lake. It was so interesting that there were these mini farms growing on top of the water. Along the way, we started to pull over and our guide yelled over to a man picking flowers. I thought that maybe there was an issue with the boat, but it turned out that she just wanted to purchase some flowers because we were on our way to the temple where she and her family worship. She said she goes several times each day! The temple was this huge wooden structure that was absolutely int the middle of nowhere. Nothing around it except for water and reeds. From what I gather, she needed to pray again before dark. We got back onto the boat and were fortunate enough to be in the center of the lake with an unobstructed view of the sunset. Well what would have been unobstructed had it not been so hazy.

We headed back to the dock and thanked our guide. It really was an excellent and educational day. If I had anything to do over, I would have packed more water and slathered on an extra layer of sunscreen.

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