Caught in a Time Warp
Inle Lake in central Myanmar is a place where you feel like time stands still, the extraordinary is ordinary, and all is right with the world. It is a lake with 70,000 tribal people who live on the shores and fish and farm for a living. It is a lake with 48 square miles of serene surface. It is a lake with a market that travels from one village to another throughout the week. It is a place with nearly 1,000 stupas and nearly 100 kyaung or monasteries. It is a place where I felt at peace even though my flat bottom boat was vibrating rapidly from the high powered engine that pushed us at near hydroplaning speeds over the surface.
The communities are built on stilts that keep homes, temples, shops, schools, and government offices well off the surface of this shallow lake. When I saw the green crops on the shores and fields nearby, I knew immediately that the grass would not be greener anywhere else.
People commute in boats that are 10 times as long as they are wide. Some boats are paddled by hand and others have motors.
The fishermen have a unique way of propelling their boats. They wrap one leg around an oar and move it in a circular motion. This leaves their hands free to fish with their conical nets. The picture here shows how they do it.
This place is so special that the government charges foreigners a hefty fee just to be there for a week – and the foreigners pay without objection.
Inle Lake is caught in a time warp. You feel nothing has changed in years and that nothing will change for years to come. It is idyllic.
There is no need to read plaques to understand the history of the place. Everything is obvious. This is a place where “what you see is what you get.”
I came across only two community issues. One was a question about whether the oil residue from the occasional tourist boat would threaten the lake. The other question was concerned with whether the local tribes people were benefiting enough from the growing tourist influx.
All the tourist hotels were located in one village – there was no sprawl around the lake at all. The shores were pristine. I had heard that the hotel and restaurant costs in Inle Lake would be exorbitant. I found them quite reasonable even though I was traveling on a budget.
I made one mistake at Inle Lake: I went there for a day when I should have stayed for three. I won’t make that mistake the next time. Here are a few more photographs from my visit to Inle Lake.
All photos by Jan Wall – All Rights Reserved