Monday, December 26, 2016

Myanmar, Day 10 & 11: Lake Inle

Figure among the In Dein ruins.
On the morning of the 10th, our 8:30AM flight from Mandalay departed on time and landed about an hour later at Heho Airport, the closest point of arrival near Lake Inle, our next destination. The taxi from the airport was 20,000 kyat (about $15), and it took us approximately 45 minutes to get from there to Sandalwood Hotel. On the way, up over a mountain and down into a valley, we had to stop at a little wooden booth along the side of the road and pay the Inle Zone Entrance Fee of $10, but after reaching our destination and checking in, we went out on foot to look for something to eat in downtown Nyaungshwe, the main village at the north end of the lake.

One of the views from Red Mountain Winery.
There were other tourists around, but not many. We walked through the somewhat deserted market in town, although it well after noon and most of the market seemed to be closing down for the day as many spaces were vacant and the people were few. Once we'd had our fill of Myanmarian domestic goods in the market, we found a few restaurants and eventually settled on the unassuming Lin Htett, wonderfully surprised with, perhaps, our best bowl of noodles yet! After lunch, it was hot and we returned to our hotel for a rest. In the evening, we hired a driver to take us to the nearby Red Mountain Winery and we sampled their vintages while the sun went down over the green valley, the lake and the vineyards. Vito played in the garden dotted with large poinsettia bushes and bougainvillea. The rest of the evening was uneventful with a less-than-satisfactory search for a good dinner restaurant and, on discovering that we were lacking the necessary cash to pay for the lackluster meal that we had settled for and before returning to the hotel, Angela and Vito waited at the restaurant while I searched for an ATM machine to retrieve the necessary remuneration for our meal.

Early morning mystique.
The next morning, after an early breakfast, we embarked upon a motorized canoe tour of the lake. Quite cold and foggy when we left, we wouldn't be able to see the beautifully dark and verdant mountains that surrounded the lake until later. Everything was shrouded in fog, and it was even colder speeding over the water in the long thin wooden canoe with the spume showering us in the mysterious early morning. We weren't part of a tour group, but many other people were doing the same thing. Other people in other boats, however, were bundled up in warm clothing and used umbrellas to block the water, but we hadn't really prepared for such cold conditions. It did not take long for the fog to burn off, however, and the sun soon warmed us and helped us forget the cold beginning of the day.

You can see a man in the background with one of the distinct
fishing nets, posing for a group of tourists on a different boat.
After speeding out over the lake for a while, we stopped among a small group of fisherman. They didn't really seem to be fishing, but only posing for us, after which we were obliged to donate something for their efforts. The fisherman had a unique way of holding the conical net or rowing with one foot. Later on, we actually saw what appeared to be authentic fishermen fishing in this manner, but we did not venture close to them so as not to disturb their occupation. We continued on passing thatched huts and row upon row of wooden stakes where something was being cultivated at the edge of the lake and, after about one hour, it seemed that we had traveled to the opposite side of the lake. The driver of our canoe steered us onto a narrow channel that veered off from the lake and we sped through the brown water past some kind of river village comprised of wooden houses and shops on stilts. The village was really quite large and veined with various canals and waterways that we followed to different points of interest.

Kayan Lahwi woman taking a
break to play a song on the guitar.
We really didn't know at the outset that we had agreed to go on a tour of the Lake Inle that would last from sunrise to sunset, but it was so much more than we had expected: we wandered through multiple villages lined with bamboo, wide-leaved banana plants, tall grasses and reeds; we stopped at a covered market along a waterway and bought some kind of hand-drawn triptych on oily parchment; we ambled through red-brick ruins sprouting trees and weeds and overgrown with vines; we climbed stairs to a ruined temple to admire the cracked faces of statues and to peer in shadowy alcoves; we ogled the abundant gold and white stupas topped with tin bells and spires that seemed to appear out of nowhere from the other sides of hills or around bends in the backwaters of the lake; we watched a woman roll cigars; we perused the jewelry at a local silversmith's workshop in which Angela purchased a hand-made chain for one of her pendants; we talked with the women of Kayan Lahwi tribe who wore brass rings around their calves, necks and wrists; we weaved through the floating garden and marveled at the unusual method of farming and at the people who were living and working on the water; we looked for jumping cats, as was described in our guidebook, at Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery. We did all this and more. It was hard to keep track of everything that we had seen along the way. How much have I forgotten? Already, some of the names of the places are lost. It was a long day and, perhaps, impossible to capture completely, but it is a magical memory and a spectacular part of our adventure that really transported us to another world. In the morning, we would be leaving for Ngapali Beach.

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