We flew on early the next morning from Yangon to Heho, a small regional and chaotic airport, met our guide Winnie and were transferred by car with driver to the caves at Pindaya before heading to Nyuang Shwe and the Inle Lake. These are limestone with over 1000 Buddhas throughout the cave system. Obviously water penetrates throughout the rock, and so during the rainy season, the Buddha are covered to protect them. Fortunately we are in the dry season so saw it at its most impressive!
After a short stop to watch paper being made from mulberry tree bark, and then turned into the covering for parasols, sunshades, lampshades and hats, we travelled through the countryside to Nyuang Shwe, which is the gateway city to Inle Lake. Even this journey was a revelation, as virtually everything is done by hand, from repairing roads involving the use of female labour, ploughing the fields with bullocks, cutting crops by hand, and flailing hay. We saw stooks of hay in the fields, which we remember from childhood. We then arrived at our hotel, The Amazing Nyuang Shwe, to recover ready for the next day!
Parasol making process:
We spent two days on Inle Lake, which was magical. Our tour company owns 25 boats on this lake, all powered by longtails, and seating up to 4 guests and the guide. For us it was incredibly comfortable, arm chairs with good seating, and being powered along at 10 knots or so, but stopping or slowing down to watch fishermen or other strange sights, like harvesting seaweed for use in the floating gardens.
Our first stop was at Inn Dein, another temple of pagodas high above the lake, all of which were built on the hillside to mark a victory at one battle or another against the Thais. Each one contained a Buddha, many of which disintegrated in the weather over time. Many have now been restored by donors, others are in various states of collapse.
Here a flavour of the scene:
Family run workshops and cottage industries are in abundant supply and not there simply as a tourist attraction.
We were then taken to a silver smith family company, and shown all the processes from melting the silver to creating jewellery, which provided a useful opportunity to cater for an upcoming birthday! However the jewellery in question was a far cry from that still worn today by some of the women of the Kayan Lahwi tribe, or Padaung people. Once thus adorned, theirs cannot be removed as neck, wrist and calf muscles are wasted over time. It is said the bronze metalware was originally worn to protect women from being bitten by tigers when their menfolk were away hunting. Here some photos and explanations:
We then returned to our hotel via the floating gardens. Again, something we have never seen before and unique to the area. The local soil is clay, and this is dug out from the banks of the lake, mixed with weed collected from the bed of the lake, and then placed in the floating gardens to grow vegetables, such as tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflowers, cucumbers and cabbage. They are for local consumption only, but there is a constant stream of longtail boats to and from the market villages around the lake.
Lake Inle is beautiful, surrounded by mountains on each side, a constant flow of fresh water feeding in, plentiful fish, and peaceful and tranquil.
Our second day involved an early start, and a visit to the floating market, which again was fascinating, seeing handicrafts, fruit and vegetables from a wide area. After a visit to a temple and pagoda on the lake, we returned to our hotel and then straight on to Heho airport for our flight to Mandalay.
Next: Bustling Mandalay