Day 3 – Inle Lake

14 Mar

An earlyish start today forced me to be ready to depart straight from breakfast.  Meeting George in the queue, and he’s got the idea that I’m looking for the traditional foods, so he suggested mohinga – a fish based noodle soup traditionally eaten at breakfast.  It includes other things, like crispy things and chillies.  Sans chillies, por favor.  With a choice of a chinese style spoon or chopsticks, I still managed to dribble down my fresh t-shirt.   It was actually very nice.  However, I joined the group at 8:15am with a couple of cakes in hand!

We walked through the town of Nyaung Shwe to the jetty, passing the busy early morning citizens going about their business – fascinating!  Motorbikes are banned in Yangon, but here they are very popular, and carry all sorts of things, including people.  We boarded three longtail boats – slim with a big noisy diesel engine on the back, and a vicious, movable propeller on a long stalk.  They each had 5 forward facing seats in a row, each with a lifejacket and holey blanket to help cushion them.  We headed down the canal, and towards the open water of Inle Lake.  Together with every other longtail boat in the area.

Immediately we could see some fisherman, who were obviously there for the cameras, demonstrating their famous one legged oaring action, whilst fishing at the same time, with a large kreel or net.  They steer the boat with their leg, keeping their hands free for the fishing.

They also hit the water with large bamboo poles to attract the fish.  Personally, if I saw a strange man with a huge pole, I’d run away, but then again, fish are probably stupid.  Further on, we also witnessed the collection of a large amount of the floating water plants onto the boats.  This is partly to keep the waterways clear, but is also used in floating gardens – to support the float and also, as it decays, as compost.  They grow lots of vegetables (those green things in Tesco) on their floating gardens – more on that later.

Turning out the of the main lake, we passed through a stilted village and witnessed the daily life here. Gutting fish, washing clothes, bathing, mud gathering and sleeping (the men obviously).

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We arrived at a small group of buildings that turned out to be Inle Shwe Inn Tain.  The site housed over 1000 stupas in various states of restoration – some just piles of bricks with trees growing through the middle of them, and some completely restored and painted gold, white or left red.  We walked through a throng of young kids all in bright yellow florescent football tops selling brightly coloured cotton scarfs – or trying to.  George did his best to give us a bit of history and also how Buddhism copied a lot from Hinduism – hence a lot of confusing bits on the mixture of stupas and temples (temples have niches and statues, stupas don’t).  Who knew?

After a few stupas were snapped, we crossed a herd of cows and headed to the Golden Kite restaurant for a toilet stop – and to witness some Buffalo washing.  The keeper of the buffalo was encouraging it to enter the river and wash itself.  They then walked off together arm in arm. Ahhhh.

We walked up the hill, taking the path of least market sellers, I did get distracted with an old man who was very photogenic, but we raced to the top – where the greatest number of restored stupas were.  It was an enchanting scene and several had chimes high up which rang out in the slight breeze.  Within the pagoda itself, at the top of the hill, was another cacophany of gold stupas, dogs and monks.  The monks were eating, the dogs were sleeping and the stupas were spectacular!  I started a craze of taking photos next to the sleeping dog.  It didn’t seem to bother, and with all the gold behind them, very few of the group probably noticed the dog!

We wandered, unaccompanied, back downhill and through the covered market stalls, trying hard not to glance too long at any one object, as the traders were keen to pounce if they sensed a weakness.  Nearly everything started at $45 and you were expected to haggle.  Nothing was worth anywhere near $45, so haggling from such a high price proved too difficult for most.  The traders at the bottom of the hill were far more reasonable, and some good discount were available.  I noted interest (by a 2 second glance) at a fur lined horned helmet – initial price $150.  Err no.  I did manage to find a golden buddha face to hang on the wall (after all Myanmar is the “Golden Land”) and some fridge magnets.

We escaped back onto the boats, to head back the way we had come to the Golden Moon restaurant for a spot of lunch.  George recommended the Shan noodle soup (with chicken) – a traditional dish of the Shan state (where we are just now).  It was delicious, if slightly difficult to eat with the spoon or chopsticks.  Less went on the t-shirt this time around.  I also sampled some of the tea leaf salad order by Julia.  Glad I didn’t have a whole one!  The toilets here were worryingly behind a curtain, but thankfully included cubicles after that!

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Back on the water for all of 5 minutes, we visited a silver smith and were shown the process of creating the silver items from lumps of the metal (already refined) – including how to check if it is silver plated, or pure silver and how to spin the silver into a fine wire. The prices of various items were in US$.  Passing on that then.

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Next stop on the tour of the lake was to another pagoda – this time much busier with tourists – Phaung Daw Oo.  We climbed the stairs and discovered that the objects of attention here were five lumps of gold.  These were originally images of buddha, but worshippers had applied do much gold leaf to them over the years that no buddha image could be seen.  These had originally been lost at sea in 1965 when they were transported here.  Four were found in the wreckage of the ship, and the fifth miraculously appeared later!

The key thing here was that ladies were forbidden to approach the shrine.  So I ferried cameras up and down and took as many close-ups as possible for them.  Apparently woman are dirty, or some such thing!  The men were loving this.  The woman not so much!

One of the group discovered the delights of Asian style toilets – to the great amusement of the rest of the group.  Thankfully, only a number one was required.

I avoided the decorative archery bow seller – althought I would have loved it, it was too big for the bag.  It was pointed out that I must have missed a bit of sun cream, as one side of my neck was a deep red.  Cue hats, towels and umbrellas all being used back on board the boat.  I sat quietly at the back to try to minimise the laughter.

Heading through more stilted houses, we entered the narrow boat lanes of the floating gardens – compost on top of floating plants.  All sorts of vegetables were being produced – none of which I recognised in their leafy states (or probably close up either).

Our last stop of the day was to the stilted Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery on the lake – also known as the jumping cat monastery as the monks used to encourage the cats to literally jump through hoops for the tourists – but alas, no more.  The monastery contain lots of elaborate golden buddha shrines (dating from the 19th century) that were removed for safekeeping from the rich houses in the surrounding areas when the communists/army initially took over the state in the 1960’s.  The rich people weren’t so safe.

Of course, there was also a market through which we had to pass to get to the viewpoint on the other side.  Not sure it was worth it.  But the cats were still there.  And the monks! And a young man with a very long and whispy goatee.

Unsuccessfully tried to get some political commentary from George.  Discovered that a good wage would be about $600 a month, and that you only pay 10% tax on earnings over $500/month.  So it’s a very cash rich society, with a lot of endemic corruption.

Heading back to the hotel, our boat driver did his best to slow down whenever we raised our cameras in the general direction of a fisherman – partly so that he could steer closer without disturbing the fish and partly so that we had more time to capture images.  I have to say the fishermen generally seem to have changed their tactics from the tourist bumph.  Proved really difficult to get a geniune photo in the style advertised.

As the sun began to set, we woke up those that had dozed on the return journey and walked back to the hotel, passing locals playing volleyball.  The changing light in the village refocused the photographers on the same shots as taken earlier.

Back in the hotel, there was time for a freshen up and change of clothes – it was even cool enough for long trousers – but my no means cold.  Most of the group headed off to the Lotus, clocking the massage parlour on the way.  The Lotus had hand written menus in a wallpaper covered book.  However the food was OK, but the prices were great.  For me – sweet and sour chicken & rice, a coke zero and an avocado, banana and lime fruit juice all for £4.20!  Even the non-rice eater was delighted at the option of a lightly toasted cheese sandwich, french fries and ketchup.

His delight was compounded when we headed to the bar across the road, which had a pool table, rum cocktails and almost every non Burmese person in town in it.  Service was a bit slow, so I had to order 2 at a time.  Add tamarind to a mojito for an extra kick!  The rum sours here didn’t contain egg white though, so were a bit flat.  Excited that Mandalay Rum seems to taste very good!

As we staggered back, through completely empty streets (at 10:30pm) – having had 4 large cocktails for £6, we reminisced on the full day of activities and vowed to visit the pub again tomorrow.  If we can remember where it is …

 

 

 

 

 

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