Saturday, January 14, 2017

A full day touring at Inle Lake

We were rudely awakened at around 6 AM by blaring, amplified religious Chinese-type music coming from someplace close by (presumably, the Phaung Daw Oo pagoda we had seen the afternoon before) – a good reason to have worn earplugs perhaps.  We moseyed out for breakfast a bit after 7.  The breakfast was a buffet, with many different selections but largely lots of very similar things.  There was an omelet and fried egg station (the omelets were OK), several different flavors of bunny bread with some sort of red jelly and a nice, not-too-sweet marmalade; some rolls including the same poorly made croissants we have seen before in Myanmar (a roll in the shape of croissant); white and fired rice and some uninspiring stir-fry type dishes; there was not much in the way of fresh fruits (bananas and tangerines), but perhaps that was a reflection of the limited supply available at local markets; and some sliced meats and cheeses.  There were crepes (called pancakes) which were pretty much the best solid food.  Unfortunately, the hotel leaves the covers off the hot dishes in between guests helping themselves, so all of the food is stone cold.

I had had trouble getting reliable wi-fi access from our room; enough to look at some web sites, but not close to enough to get access to my VPN back at the office to check email, or to post to this blog.  I had to agree with the comments of a guest with whom I discussed this – we weren’t there for the wi-fi, but for the fabulous surroundings.  And I don’t doubt that it is difficult to get reliable Internet service in the middle of a big lake.  But don’t advertise having wi-fi if you can't provide that service to your guests on a reliable basis!

After breakfast, we took off in the boat with Kyauk toward Inthein, where the daily market was being held.  As we headed off, there was still a mist sitting on the lake.

The trip began across the southern part of the lake, and through a village,

The village appeared to have the character of an island in the lake, with footbridges across the channel through which we were riding

Soon after leaving the village, it was clear that we were no longer traveling toward the hills surrounding the lake on a mere lake channel, because the water was flowing toward us, indeed, rushing toward us at times.    

(It took us some 25 minutes to go upstream on the river and less than 15 to come back downstream) We could see that their was a path along the river where people were walking; there was apparently enough of a road that at one point we could see a motorbike going parallel to us.

We passed a couple of places where men were diving to the bottom of the channel with buckets and coming up with sand to make concrete.  

We passed through several rapids along the way, marked by wooden gates within the water where the boat had to jump up about a foot to keep moving upstream. 

Finally, we reached Inthein, where many tourist boats were parked.

First, we walked into the market; it was, of course, overrun with tourists looking for souvenirs (and we DID get some fabric ones), but there were also plenty of locals shopping for vegetables, fruits, fish, meat, beans and nuts, household goods of various kind, CD’s and all sorts of stuff. 

There were snacks being made and sold on the spot (I got one of these cipolle sorts of things)

and at one edge of the market was a dirt field where two teams in not entirely matching uniforms (and NO shin guards) were playing a soccer game that was significant enough for there to be a referee and two assistant referees.

After enjoying the market scene for nearly an hour, we retraced our steps toward the river, then crossed the bridge in order to look at the large number of stupas going up the hill toward a pagoda.  Apparently, at some point a few centuries ago, this was regarded as a particularly holy place, so there was a paroxysm of building zedis and stupas; almost all of them are in ruins, some spectacularly with trees growing into them or even on top of them. 

But ornate carvings can still be seen on many of them

and many have intact or nearly Buddha  figures inside them.

There was a covered walkway going up the hill to a pagoda at the top, filled with the usual array of vendors. 

This vendor had a unique way to etch designs into lacquerware

These women were using the walkway for some shade as they lugged bales of hay up the hill

We continued to climb up the walkway until we found another set of perhaps a thousand stupas surrounding the Shwe Inn Tain Pagoda, jammed close together, and some in various states of disrepair, and some in good condition

 and some under renovation

Some of the statuary inside and out

We walked through the Shwe Inn Thar Pagoda, a temple in current use where we had to remove our shoes and socks


There was a shrine at the center of the pagoda with a sitting Buddha that I was able to approach to photograph

Nancy, however, could not do so

From the pagoda  there was a view of the lake and its villages

                                         After we walked down the hill, we got back into the boat, headed down the river and back to the small village through which we traveled on the way into Inthein.  We paused briefly at a silversmith’s shop: here a craftsman is melting small circles of silver onto a larger piece to increase its size

but the place seemed to be much more shop than craft demonstration, and we had no interest in buying jewelry, so we left quickly and headed to a traditional restaurant called Hnin Thitsar, where we enjoyed an excellent lunch.  They were serving primarily traditional Myanmar cuisine and had about twenty different fish dishes.  Here the ubiquitous tofu chips were served with a homemade sauce consisting of garlic, chilies, soy sauce and fish sauce, instead of the sweetish bottled stuff we had been finding eslewhere.  I had “fish ginger aroma,” which consisted of the typical lake fish topped with chopped vegetables as well as ginger; they had several traditional salads and of course it was the tea leaf salad that I ordered

From there we went on to Nga Phe Chaug, a large wooden monastery from the 1850's that was labeled “jumping cats” monastery both on the Inle Lake map we had received on check-in as well as in the guidebooks.   We saw several cats lounging around but none of them were jumping.  But the wooden floor was fabulous – it would have made an amazing dance floor, rivaling the Spanish Ballroom back near our home in DC —

and we enjoyed looking at the large Buddha figures in the middle

as well as the posters high up on the surrounding walls telling the story of Buddha both in words and images.

Next we boated though the floating gardens near the village of Zayat Ky, where farmers were growing their crops entirely on the water – the wakes of the various tourist boats coming through agitated the plants sufficiently that we could see them rolling in the wakes, rather than standing firm as they would have done if their roots were in soil reaching down into the earth.  We could see large crops of tomatoes and cucumbers

Floating garden in Inle Lake
Floating garden in Inle Lake

and farmers tending them from boats

Farmer tending floating garden in Inle Lake

Farmer tending floating garden in Inle Lake

We passed several houses in this area that were perched tenuously on dry ground, but where we could see men bolstering the dirt platforms on which they sat
Building up land under house on Inle Lake

Our next stop was a paper-making workshop, but there was such a crowd of tourist boats already parked there that we had to wait for a while in the canal; a few women paddled their boats up to us to try to sell a few tchotschkes (a small version of the floating market that we had hoped to see but which, we were told, we held just one day in five, in rotation with the other village markets).

Rather than just sit in the canal, we paused to walk around a set of stupas adjoining another monastery located just across a canal

Then we toured a paper-making workshop in the village of Ywama– they import mulberry bark from the mountains, boil for eight hours it to soften it

 pound it with a pestle,

then mix it with water and settle it onto a framed screen

which is pulled out of the water, then dried in the sun for two hours, 

some of the paper is painted; other is left in its off-white state but implanted with leaves or flower petals

We bought a large sheet of the stuff for about $.90 as a souvenir.

Our final stop of the day was at the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda that we had passed by at the end of the previous afternoon

Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda in Thar Lay on Inle Lake

Ceiling of Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda in Thar Lay on Inle Lake

The most unusual feature of this pagodas is the five stubby little Buddha figures in the middle, which are so covered with donated gold leaf that you can hardly see their original shape.

We both thought it was a tad crass when we saw a couple of tourists up there standing a few inches from the figures shooting photos, but then we saw some that some of the locals were taking selfies of themselves attaching gold leaf to the figures, or taking close-up photos of their children doing so — was this a substitute for ringing a gong to announce that merit had been made?  Even the monks were doing this.  So that it how I was able to take the photos above,

But it was I who had to get up there and take the photo – Nancy was not allowed

Before leaving the pagoda, I wandered over for a closer look at the hintha bird boat we had seen from the channel the day before

Hintha Bird Barge used show Buddha figures from Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda on Inle Lake during festival

Hintha Bird Barge used show Buddha figures from Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda on Inle Lake during festival

There were a couple of smaller versions of the same thing a few boat stalls over

We came back to the hotel and lounged around for the rest of the afternoon, sitting on the balcony again to catch the sunset

Sunset on Inle Lake from balcony at Shwe Inn Tha Floating Retort

Sunset on Inle Lake from balcony at Shwe Inn Tha Floating Retort

watch the shadows and reflections play on the water

Our final dinner was in the hotel dining room.  The Stuffed Lake Fish was fine

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