21.01 Inle Lake 2, leg-rowers and fishermen, lake villages, local crafts and markets
The picturesque Inle Lake nestles among the hazy Shan Mountains, over 900 metres above sea level, its glassy blue waters running 14.5 km in length and 6.44 km in breadth. The lake is not only a beautiful sight to enjoy, but is also a practical home to the native Inthas (sons of the lake), who live on the lake in stilt-houses with their neatly cultivated floating farms and gardens. The truly unique Inle Lake leg-rowers and fishermen cannot be missed as one glides through the waters and the presence of many ethnic groups in the area also makes it a place of much cultural interest. One main attraction is the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda situated in the middle of the lake. Every October, both local and foreign pilgrims and visitors flock to the Pagoda for its annual festival.
On the second day at Inle Lake we made a mammoth excursion to the far end of the lake and back. Including the time spent for lunch and dinner we were away from the hotel for 14 hours. Fortunately the larger boats have seats even if they are not the most comfortable ones. The boats are long and narrow and powered by an engine that could have been a cross between an outboard motor and a huge kitchen food mixer. The long propeller shaft projects almost horizontally out of the stern and can be raised or lowered as required producing much spray in the process. These machines are of course driven by men. We set off before dawn as usual to catch the sunrise and meet some fisherman out on the lake. They are noted for their ability to row with one leg, keeping their hands free to lay out their nets as they go. Some of them play up to the tourists by performing various antics with their nets and oars.
The villages around the shallow lake are built on stilts so that all supplies must be transported across the water including the electricity. They take it in turn to hold a market and we headed of course for the one with market day in progress. It was a very colourful and interesting event. Different ethnic groups come from the surrounding countryside, some of the women wearing their traditional costumes. Most of the goods especially firewood seemed to have arrived by ox-cart. We then passed through more villages where we could stop at workshops to watch various articles being crafted, such as: pottery, silk-weaving, metal work, silver jewelry and cigar making. There are also floating gardens outside the villages where vegetables such as marrows and pumpkins are grown.
On the way back we were treated to another display by the fisherman at sunset, returning the rest of the way in the dark. Of course the boats do not have any lights but this does not seem to bother anybody.