Myanmar's massive inland watercourse, Inle Lake, is home to fishers, textile weavers, silversmiths and proud farmers of floating islands abundant with tomatoes, gourds and other vegetables.
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Inle Lake is a 22 kilometre stretch of fresh water in central Myanmar’s Shan State. Home to many fisherfolk and farmers, whose dwellings suspend over the water on high stilts, the water is surprisingly clear. We float on hand-made teak boats over clear water full of edible reeds, and watch the traditional fishing methods — the fisher winds one leg around a paddle which is anchored to the floor of the lake — using this as his balance, he rhythmically casts nets and pulls them in, collecting the fish on the way.
Our guide tells us the fishermen are largely on display for the tourists, and these days, more standard methods are employed. It’s a graceful, balletic thing to watch. We are also told the vegetable farmers are the wealthy ones of the villages, and float through the floating farms of rich wet soil, kept in place by spears of bamboo piercing them at points.
We pass under the golden dragon gates to a monastery that plays host to a community kitchen. Here monks and several women prepare food with their children at their feet. With an elevation of nearly 900 metres, the lake surrounds can get chilly, and the open fires offer a welcome and warm gathering space.
Restaurants in the lake are often rather grand looking structures, and offer a range of fresh salads from the local gardens, often laced with the freshly roasted local peanuts that seem to pack an extra taste punch. Whole stuffed fish, crispy skinned is a specialty, and fresh lime juice is a treat. Two wineries sit on the lake’s edge, one owned by a German riesling producer and the other by a Frenchman from Bordeaux, so wine is also an option.
The lotus and silk weavers create beautiful scarves and traditional wrap skirts or longyis. The lotus threads are pulled from the severed stems, then died and woven. Silk is hung out to dry in hanks on the factory verandahs. Paper umbrellas, mulberry leaf paper and silverware are all produced by artisans in separate villages.
The makers of the beautiful shallow hulled teak boats show us their craft. In the evening we are transported to a resort that also floats on the water.