Saturday, January 5, 2013

Inle Lake

Note the bathroom on the right

Our final destination was Inle Lake, a unique gem in this beautiful area. First a short story about the people here...long long ago a tribe of Tibetans had migrated south and ended up living on the southern coast of Myanmar, way east of Yangon. They decided to visit their Yangon relatives but missed the turn and ended up at Inle Lake. The people living on the shores said oh yes, they could settle here at the lake, but...they could only live on the lake, undoubtedly thinking that the travelers would keep moving on but no, the ocean dwelling people thanked them and moved onto the lake...and NOT in houseboats.

Bath Time...from the boat

All of their homes are on stilts – very tall ones because of the annual flooding during the rainy season. Teak grows plentifully in this region and it endures submersion in water for hundreds of years. So long teak poles were driven into the lake bottom and homes built from bamboo (remember the barn raising?). Low, long boats were carved from teak, with a bit of a flat space at either end, stable (relatively) areas where people could stand or squat to work. This includes washing clothes, taking baths, bathing children, hanging clothes to dry, repairing boats, repairing the house, name it, they do it from the boat.

Then there are the floating gardens. Apparently, at the inlet to the lake, the waters entering carry lots of sentiment and other natural materials from the surrounding mountains. It is deposited at the end of the lake in yearly layers, thickening into a huge organic mass.
Floating Gardens - Tomatoes
 The lower layers decompose over time and, after about seventeen years, the decomposing layers lose contact with the floor of the lake and up pops a floating land mass of soil. The boat people float the island out to their village, cut the mass into strips, pound bamboo into them to make them stay put, and plant tomatoes, or peppers or any number of veggies on the islands. All planting, harvesting and care is done...from the boat.

This is also the home of the famous fishermen who row and guide their boats deftly, while standing on one leg and rowing with the other leg wrapped around the oar. Sadly, the influx of tourists means lots of boats careening through the water (very, very long boats with motors), discouraging the presence of fish. On the other side, the fishermen now 

make a show of rowing and "fishing", for the ever present tourist camera, making money on the side for showing off their skills. The actual fishing has moved off to less traveled areas of the lake as well as night fishing...where no tourists intrude upon them...though I'm sure some enterprising person will soon offer night trips...

The islands and gardens have developed into villages, with stores, post office, repair shops, and walkways to link some areas to the land for children to walk to school. As you travel through the water roads, you notice a bustle of activity as people are moving about, cleaning, cooking, and visiting with neighbors. There's another labyrinth here, this time one of water, weaving between homes, small gardens, and children the boats, of course.

Our final night in Myanmar offered us the opportunity to visit with an old friend from Japan. 
Amalie moved back to Myanmar to teach when we headed for Doha. We wandered through the Schwedegon Pagoda again, being introduced to some other Buddhist religious figures 
Lighting candles with Amalie
represented in the statues and learning about some gems she had discovered on her many trips to the pagoda. We also had a chance this time to not just watch the lighting of the candles but to actually light some of them! What a great way to say good bye to a wonderful country.

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