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Myanmar – Inle Lake

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the local story – what happened

The onward journey from Mandalay to Nyaung Shwe on Inle Lake was taken via a mountain route in a crowded minibus and reminded me in many respects of previous experiences on similar trips through the Andes in South America, or the Himalayas in India and Nepal – that means normally having a busride over exposed, bad pass roads for hours steep slopes in serpentines up and down. In combination with old vehicles and overtired, perhaps drunk or drugged drivers, such a ride provides lasting tension and thrills. Despite thousands and thousands of kilometres as co-drivers in all weather conditions through the highest mountain areas all over the world – inside or on the roof – and with the experience of much worse conditions the question arises, why do you do this fuck always anew? I think, the only reason to get voluntarily on such a bus again and again is the belief in the bus driver and the certainty, that the driver knows the bus and the route, that he wants to come home to his family just like his passengers do. Nevertheless, the nervous strain is great just like the first time . The many vehicles that have fallen into canyons and have already been seen are usually forgotten as soon as the destination is reached and you leave the bus safely. But on the next trip all these pictures come up again, you don’t really forget them, you just fade them out. That’s always the point where I’m sure I won’t get on such buses again. Until the next trip.

My plans for the time after Myanmar is catching a flight to India. There I want to buy a motorcycle and if everything works out the way I imagined it would, one of my destinations will be the high mountain roads in the Himalayas. I have been there many times and already rode my own motorcycle in India for several months. The combination of bad roads, unmanageable traffic volume and ruthless driving style makes India to the most dangerous country in the world for motorcyclists. I know it’s crazy – but I love it, because it corresponds completely to my genuine, geneticially driving style. This trip on the bus has encouraged me in a new to do so. If you fall down the mountain somewhere, you should have had at least your own fun before, right? 

Inle Lake is the second largest freshwater lake in Myanmar and is a popular tourist destination due to its monopod rowers, floating gardens and villages. It has an area of approx. 12,000 hectares and serves the people in the villages and settlements as a livelihood.

To explore the lake and its villages, you have to rent one of these long boats with motor, there is no other way to see the sights. At the same time there was a young Dutchman in my accommodation in Nyaung Shwe who also wanted to go out. So it was obviously the best for both to rent a boat together for this day and share the costs.

Shortly after coming out of the canal onto the open lake, you will see the first this unique fishermen, who are known worldwide for their monopod rowing technique and are pictured in every travelogue about Myanmar. These two gentlemen were not fishing this early morning, but posing for tourists and taking tips.

The lake is the centre of life for the people in the villages, everyone travels by boat and the daily work takes place in or near the water. The people are fishing, seaweed harvesting or the farmers work on their floating gardens. These are huge beds of hydroponic crops that float on the surface and provide all kind of fresh vegetables. The base of the fields is a solid, fertile mass of swamp, soil and water hyacinths, which are firmly anchored in the sea floor with bamboo stakes. When you stand on them, they sink in a bit, wobble like wild and you stand up to your ankles in the water.

 

Via widely ramified canal systems one reaches various villages, monasteries or temples. Most houses are pile dwellings in the lake, or at least every house can be reached by boat.

On the way to a weekly market, you drive over small barrages along a canal and thus overcome some height towards the shore. At a monastery we could watch young monks playing and washing in the canal.

 

This weekly market is actually intended for the local population, but as there are more and more tourists in this region, the offer is supplemented with junk for wealthier foreign customers.

Here at Inle Lake you will also find ruins of historic temples that are worth a visit. As this is a tourist hotspot, there are many groups that are guided around by professional tour guides in different languages.

Life in the villages is also geared towards tourism. There are a number of craftsmen who sell souvenirs in their showrooms. Whether they are blacksmiths, cigar turners, weavers, tailors, boat builders or other craft guilds, our boatman knew them all and has clattered one after the other. Normally the boatmen get commission if something is sold, with us he has had no luck in this regard, because we both refused the shopping.

The most famous pagoda on the lake is the Phaung Daw U Pagoda – a place of pilgrimage for believers from all over Myanmar. The best known are the five Buddhas, small figures which are constantly covered with gold leaf by the people.

In the late afternoon, on the way to our home port we were invited by the boatman to a small settlement in his brother’s house. The women prepared huge rice dumplings. The brother was a sociable guy, we enjoyed self-made cigars and plenty of self-distilled liquor – by the end, it was a unexpected and worthy conclusion after a long day.

But with the sunset it was time to go back for good. The schnapps was strong and although I had only drunk a few sips, my balance on the way home in the boat was seriously disturbed. Even if the hospitality is warm, you should never consume too much of home-distilled alcohol. It comes again and again to poisonings, with which fatalities are to be lamented. Once again we passed the fishermen of the morning and after another half hour we were back in Nyaung Shwe.

Cu Henry

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