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Published: April 30th 2012
Leg-paddling fisherman at Inle Lake
This unique technique leaves both arms free for casting and gathering the net. At Inle Lake - the final destination of our trek.
We walked for three days through the fertile countryside of eastern Myanmar, from the altitudinous cool of Kalaw, along the tops of steep hills, through valleys and villages, to the serenity of Inle Lake and its unique leg-paddling fishermen.
We eschewed some of the more straightforward routes, and ventured south, climbing forested mountainside and then east into tracks less travelled by tourists. Villagers welcomed us into their homes, offering us locally-grown tea and snacks. All ages were happy to pose for the photos that you can see in this blog, and some of the younger ones were keen to practise their English, eager for contact with the outside world. Most of the people we encountered were from the Shan ethnic group, which makes up roughly a tenth of the country's population, in addition to clusters in nearby Thailand and China.
Less keen to see us was an aging soldier guarding the strange spectacle of two ornate chairs under an umbrella, facing an isolated reservoir. Presumably awaiting the visit of dignitary or two for high tea.
Much of the landscape was agricultural, growing rice, tea, ginger and other staple crops. Individual villages tend to work together, to meet their
collective needs. The rest, they hope to sell at vibrant markets in local towns.
Much of the work is done by hand, with good use also being made of the powerful water buffalo. The only visible machinery, aside from the ubiquitous heavily laden motorbike, was the occasional irrigation pump. We also witnessed two rickety bamboo waterwheels, providing refreshment from the clear river to adjacent fields. It was a vision of life that may not have changed much for centuries. While tourists often crave these sights, it’s not so wonderful for those who have to eek out such a living, day after day, year after year.
The river provided an opportunity for a cooling dip – a welcome break from walking under the relentless sun, and a valuable opportunity to freshen up. After staying in a simple village home the night before, where we at least had a ‘bucket-shower’, we would have no such luxury in that night’s accommodation, a monastery.
Inle Lake is firmly established on the tourists’ map of Myanmar. No wonder, when if offers so many strange sights amid calm wide waters. Its fishermen have developed a unique technique of paddling with one leg wrapped
around their oar, leaving two hands free for casting and gathering their nets. Rickety villages on stilts hug the outer edges of the lake. There are cats who’ve been taught to jump for food, by monks at one of the myriad of temples. There’s a village where the women have elongated their necks, by encircling them in ever more metal rings. Some stand passively for you to gawp at them, in an unfortunate parody of a freak show.
Of all the things Inle Lake had to offer, we looked forward most to a proper bed and shower, after two nights of sleeping on blankets in bamboo buildings and walking over forty miles in three days of searing heat. So there we rested and prepared ourselves for the long bus ride back to Yangon, and on to Bangkok and the 21st
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