Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Lake of Ingenuity and Serenity

The next day, we head out to Inle Lake. Inle Lake where we see many wondrous sights is a prominent highlight of the world trip. There is no place on earth like it. Life on the lake is dramatic, spell-binding and extraordinary. If you are going to Burma, you should not miss Inle Lake. After a two hour drive by van, we get on something like what we natives in South Carolina call a 'john boat' (though this one is much longer than ours) for an hour boat ride to our hotel. What is amazing about our hotel is that it literally sits on stilts on the lake. Imagine being at least a half an hour from land in the middle of a huge lake. It turns out that we are staying in charming bungalows where one winds around navigating bridges and planked walkways to get to a room. Upon arriving, we are greeted by a merry band of assorted musical instruments and smiling faces.

On the way to our hotel, we stop to watch men fish with unusual baskets, using their legs to elegantly navigate the boat. This method of fishing and rowing is unique to Inle Lake. There is something peaceful and harmonious to this way of life - the quiet and gentle movement of the single paddle, the simplicity of the wood carved boats and the charitable and serene method of netting the fish. Unfortunately these are fragile rituals and traditions as already there are thundering motorboats zipping around in the background.

Also unique to the lake are the floating gardens that grow tomatoes, beans, melons, cauliflower, cabbage, and cucumbers. The farmers use simple wood boats to maneuver around and tend the rows of vegetables. To feed the gardens, underwater plants are harvested to fertilize their produce. Inle Lake produce is known throughout the region and highly sought after. The lake people are renowned for being very clever in how they use natural resources to literally live on top of the lake.

Boat taxis take residents from one point on the lake to another. Guess it's not so easy to visit next door unless you go for a swim! Many women use umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun. Whenever we stop off to go to a market or a temple, it is astounding the number of boats lashed together to keep them from floating away. Sometimes, it is necessary to walk on a sea of boats just to get to shore. All forms of commerce and transportation of goods is performed on the lake.

During our stay on the lake, there is so much to see and absorb. We enjoy motoring around floating gardens and villages on the lake, seeing homes made out of woven rattan with rush roofs, temples with ornate carvings and metal work and buildings with all sort of gizmos like water tanks and satellite dishes attached to them, children playing and waving, families farming and commerce taking place left and right.

Because cameras are largely unavailable, we love taking pictures of people and showing them their beautiful pictures to admire and laugh at their amazing selves.

We are inspired by the hardworking and fascinating people of the lake with their variety of garments, enchanting smiles and their standout head dresses. Beautiful towels were used on many of the head dresses. Also if you notice, it looks like many of the people have on a white makeup. This is thanakha, a tradition which is thousands of years old. This distinctive Burmese practice uses ground up bark from the thanakha tree. It is said that the makeup cleanses the skin, prevents body odors in the heat and acts as a sun screen. People are very imaginative in the shapes they put on their face with this creamy paste. Men, women and children wear this.

The loads that people carry and the fascinating methods in which they carry them are impressive and imaginative.

Can you believe they make scarves from stems of lotus leaves? Actually that sounds romantic, like something made from butterfly wings or cobwebs. From each stem only about 2 or 3 strands are taken to make the threads. Imagine how long it takes to make one scarf that feels just like linen.

At Indein we hike to a beautiful temple with pagodas made of limestone in various stages of deterioration. To renovate them makes them too stark, but to not renovate means they will soon be gone. Such is the dilemma we see all over Burma.

Cheroot cigarettes and chewing quid are very popular and we see many vendors rolling new cigarettes or wrapping the quid. The quid and cigarettes are made of the areca nut, betel leaf, and a mineral lime paste wrapped in a cordia leaf. The betel stains their mouth and teeth red and both the areca nut and the betel leaf are stimulants and addictive. The stains also rot their teeth - Burmese smiles are unique. One belief is that the smoke hides the human scent and prevents malaria carrying mosquitoes from biting. Notice in the photos how many people are smoking.

We happen upon unusual items at the market like
devices used to measure opium, baskets, hats, brooms, toys, unusual fruits, herbs (Ms. Aye Mar buys Edith some herbs and medicinal powders to help cure a cold), dried fish, fresh fish like tilapia - a fish which has taken over the local snakehead fish. The United States is not the only country to make drastic environmental mistakes.

We meet a group of Pao women who have walked four hours from their village of Loimaw to sell their vegetables and are on their way back home - another 4 hour hike. They are so happy and friendly, asking us to visit their village. Maybe next time!

The long neck Paduang women are from the Karen tribe. This area of the country cannot be visited by tourists as the Karens are still fighting for their freedom - the guides, of course, do not tell you this, but the 'giraffe' women come down for the tourists. The women wear rings on their neck for beauty. They start at a very young age and rings are slowly added until they have about 18 rings of brass or silver around their neck - over 15 lbs. There are also rings around their legs from their ankles to the bottom of their knees.

At the Temple of Phaung Daw only men are allowed to add gold leaf to to the Buddha statute. This is not a buddhist rule, but rather a government rule. So much gold leaf has been added that the Buddha looks like a gold blob or snowman. Edith and Carol buy some gold leaf for Rick to add much to his chagrin.

Nampan market is where many vendors bring their boats along side our boat to sell us goods. This seems to be a popular market as it is very crowded with many vendors and buyers.

At the Nga Phe Kyaung temple, the monks train cats to jump through a hoop on command. You can actually watch the cats on You Tube http://www.vagabonding.com/gallery/archives/000046.html. In addition, we see the collection of Buddhas and the priests who live there.

Each day the market changes to a different location - this was done originally so that the governors could collect taxes from their people. Market is a family affair - buying food and incidentals, visiting with friends, children playing and eating, men discussing affairs of the state.

See you next in Bagan (formerly known as Pagan)! Also please thank Holly for the wonderful photos. She took many of the ones on this post!!