Friday, March 15, 2013

Burma --Golden Paradise, Part IV: Inle Lake

Before I start, I should warn you that this entry is going to be long. Not long worded, but I have so many photos from Inle, that I can't imagine this being very short.

So first, a bit of advice for your future travels to Burma. When you hike from Kalaw to Inle, they tell you that you'll have to pay for the boat when you get to Inle. My advice is that you should get the guide to promise they will bargain a bit. Because we paid 18,000 kyat for our 1 hour boat ride to Nuang Shwe (where all the guests houses are). But once we got to Nuang Shwe we booked a whole day boat ride (6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.) and that only cost 20,000 kyat. So clearly that one hour boat ride could have been much, much cheaper. I'm not sure if the hiking guide takes a cut of this enormous fee, or what, but since we were already paying too much for our trek (because there were 9 people), it seems crazy that our guide also thought she should get a cut of the boat fee. And there wasn't a shortage of boats waiting, so I think this could have been bargained down. I only bring this up because I think the boat fee could be 1/2 or even 1/3 of what we paid and that is enough of a difference to warrant doing the arguing.

So our first experience of Inle was sitting on the floor of a long boat flying to Nuang Shwe. The boat in this picture was not our boat -- our boat did not have chairs (the boat we took out all day did have chairs).

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But Inle is quite beautiful...

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With floating gardens -- the bamboo poles are actually holding the gardens in place. I was told that the increase in tourism is threatening these gardens because the motor boats we use to get around are shaking the gardens loose.

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We immediately set up a boat trip for our second day in Inle; the 20,000 boat trip, normally only 15,000 but we wanted to go to Indien, so that adds 5,000 kyat. More advice for your upcoming trip (hee, hee): definitely go over where you want to go and not follow the "regular route." For instance, since we saw the 5-day market in Kalaw, the tour agent actually recommended we not go to a bunch of markets during our boat day, because, "nothing will be as good as the 5-day market in Kalaw." We were there during the dry season, so the famous floating markets are not out. Thus, we took her advice and only went to one market and then immediately went to Indien. Also, we started very early, so we got to all these sights before all the other tourist boats. We actually had the market to ourselves for about 20 minutes! And other than one rather large German tour group, we had Indien to ourselves for quite a while! This is amazing considering the number of tourists in Inle and that everyone does a boat tour.

First, you fill up your gas tank...

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Unbeknownst to me, the fishermen pose like this to get money from you. I don't pay for photographs, so I told our boat driver that after this happened. He did an excellent job of moving us out of these situations.

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The fisherman sometimes push their boats along by their legs. Also, they are actually hitting fish with a stick. I think this might be the most sustainable method of fishing in the world!

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One style of home in Inle. I'd say the woven grass walls are very common, but the thatched roof is not as common. There were far more tin roofs than thatched.

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Market...

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These are not the tourists boats, these are boats from people coming to buy or sell at the market. When we left the scene was quite different...

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Peanut brittle -- we ate a lot of this.

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Making beetle-nut packs.

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Did I mention I just discovered the "clarity" option on Photoshop?

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We met some puppies on our walk to the sight at Indien.

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In Indien there are 1054 stupas mostly built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many have been rebuilt, but there are still some in a rather ruinous state.

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When we left Indien it was getting hot, so people were "bathing" their water buffalo.

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Then we traveled over to Phaung Daw Oo Paya, but it was disappointing. See the second photo below for the reason. The first photo is of devotees covering a Buddha statue in gold leaf.

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Then we headed to Nampan to see the "floating village." Obviously they are not floating -- the houses are built on stilts.

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Our boat driver wanted to take us to a weaving factory, but since we had already seen weaving on our trek, we chose instead to go to a cheroot factory. Note the use of "factory is probably not accurate.

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Cheroots are made from cinnamon, anise, cloves, etc. and tobacco (the tobacco is grown near Bagan).

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Then over to the floating gardens again, where we got to watch people gardening. We did move rather slowly which I hope helps prevent the damage that the motor boats can do to the plants.

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Our final stop, before sunset, was at the Jumping Cat Monastery. Well, that is its nickname, but we'll have to go back to its real name, Nga Hpe Kyaung. Because they have a new head monk, and he does not allow frivolous activities such as teaching cats to jump through hoops. There are still a lot of cats though...

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The monastery does have an impressive display of Buddha sculptures in the Shan, Tibetan, Bagan, and Inwa styles...

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Then we sat in the middle of the lake to watch the sunset. We "docked" next to two other boats (our boat driver met up with his brothers when we were at Nga Hpe Kyaung and raced them to the sunset spot). We were in the middle -- the other two boats had Chinese tourists. And then the fishermen came over to pose. This time I knew they'd ask for money, but they were also blocking our view of the sunset, so I didn't feel bad about taking their picture while knowing I wasn't going to pay them. After the sunset our boat driver zoomed away -- while the fishermen were asking for money from the other two boats. Such a good boat driver!

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This is actually how they fish with these nets: they put the net on the bottom of the lake (yes, it is that shallow) and then hit the fish in the net with the stick to stun the fish, then they scoop it up.

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