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Myanmar And It’s Fabulous Treasure Chest….Sheer Delight! Part 2

Munmi Barthakur

In Part 2 of my Myanmar travel diary, I'm going to narrate our exclusive experience of Inle Lake, which was the main destination of our fascinating road trip in this country.

From Bagan, we set out to Inle Lake next morning after a superb breakfast included in the price for a night. The best way is by bus. There are VIP as well as budget-friendly buses to reach this marvelous place in approximately eight to ten hours. If you want to take a flight from Yangon, you can also do that and reach Heho, the local airport in a matter of hours.

Snugly nestled amongst the lush mountains in Shan State, the lake is a gigantic body of water sprawled across nearly 116 square kms. But the interesting fact is that it is shallow water enabling habitation. The villages existed peacefully − in harmony with the somewhat frail ecosystem. We had visited in November and it was fantastic during that time. Hailing from the North-eastern part of India, we were obviously unfazed by the inevitable showers occasionally drenching us.

Photo Credits: Floating Villages Inle Lake:Easy Tour China
Photo Credits: Inle Lake:BBC.com

As with seasoned travelers, we made Nyaung Shwe the base and true to its reputation, it was easy enough to explore. We reached at night and checked into the Nanda Wunn Hotel, which was very good. With its sprawling, comfortable, wooden bungalows and its central location-bang in the heart of the city-it is a popular choice. The canal is easily accessible with a short walk keeping in view the main road. Tired to the bones as we were from our long journey, we dozed off in seconds. Next morning, as we were roused from our deep slumber by the sounds of nature, we rushed out barely tasting the wholesome breakfast laid out for us. Taking deep breaths, we savored the sights and sounds of the beautiful, serene surroundings.

What we did was that we availed the services of a local boy to take us out in his boat. In retrospect, it was a great decision, as we enjoyed leisurely boat trips on the lake over the next couple of days. I strongly recommend you to do this so that you can indulge in a private exploration and enjoy to your heart's content.

Now that we have got that done with, let me list the tourist attractions at Inle Lake. Though there are simply loads of things to do, here are a few I think would capture your interest. The floating villages and the gardens around the shores were a sight to behold! The first thing which struck us were the fishermen with their cone-shaped nets and deft paddling technique − standing at the back of the boat, they would expertly take you on a smooth ride with one leg on the boat and the other on the paddle. Foreigners on a photo shoot found these quaint fishermen an attractive subject. Near the exit of the canal from Nyaung Shwe, there are plenty of them always willing to pose if they spot a boat with tourists, especially foreigners. Just a moment of fun in the midst of their mundane duty, I suppose. If you have a desire to actually watch them fishing or even participate in case you are an avid fan of fishing, you have to venture deep into the interiors of Inle Lake.

Photo Credits: Phaung Daw Pagoda: Yangon Life
Photo Credits: Thuang Tho Market: Backpacking Foodies

Next we headed out to visit the charming floating villages surrounding the lake. This was a fascinating experience! Actually the wooden houses are built on stilts in an astonishing symmetry giving the impression of a floating village. The maze of houses, bridges and power line poles formed an intricate network. A Haven of beauty, this place is a must visit! Do please try to squeeze in some time to visit the Nam Pan Village, located in the southern part of Inle Lake.

Gliding across the placid waters with our pleasant young boatman gave us a most intimate experience. We were a privileged witness to the unique lifestyle of the village people thanks to the narrative commentary and introduction by our boatman. We also saw the array of floating gardens towards the south-west of the Lake. It was a beautiful sight-the neat plantations floating in serene contentment in their designated places.

The best part of our journey was that our boatman had no complaints when we took our own sweet time to explore these gardens. Make sure you don't hesitate to tell him to stop for a moment or two to muse and enjoy the sojourn! Also do not fail to point out to him that he should take you to those other smaller villages, not easily discernible, so deeply embedded are they amongst the maze of vegetation.

Another sight on the list worth a mention is the Phaung Daw Pagoda and the rather off the beaten track Thaung Tho Market! It gave me a feeling of being "far from the madding crowd"- a world of its own. Do keep in mind that if you plan to see this market, it should be the first destination in your itinerary as it is rather far-towards the south of the Lake, which is already about 20 kilometers from Nyaung Shwe and then row alongside a canal for another 12 kilometers or so.

The Thaung Tho market is unusual in the sense that it appears to be a temporary arrangement − the stalls are just simple roofs propped on wooden pillars for support on the rugged, mud floor. Though only clothes and fruit are sold here, the main attraction is the spectacular view of the pagoda at the top of the hill. There is a long, covered stairway leading right up to the hill. We loved the pagoda, which was beautiful, surrounded by a dense forest of stupas seemingly it's Guardian Angels.

Photo Credits: Inn Dein Market:Dreamstime.com
Photo Credits: Inn Dein - Wordpress.com

Our next destination was the village of Inn Dein − a Pagoda complex. It comprised a magnificent compilation of souvenir shops, displaying bright, touristy knick knacks and of course, the stupas and pagodas. We were stunned to see such a huge number of pagodas, some dating back to the 12th century. Not all pagodas are ancient as a matter of fact. There are a whole lot of modern constructions too. What was most intriguing was how architectural technology has evolved so much from those ancient brick structures in the 12th century. If you venture further into the area towards the end, you will notice a narrow, isolated path. The view of the imposing mountains from here is splendid!

So have you made a note in your mind about a visit to Myanmar and especially to Inle Lake? I certainly hope so! Along with Bagan, Yangon and Mandalay, it should be included in your itinerary. The remnants of the traditional architecture is however in danger of being submerged by the modern influx of tourism related transformation. Do visit before the pristine atmosphere is camouflaged by stark modernity. If you plan this trip, make sure you keep aside at least three days for Inle Lake.

This gorgeous place is a must visit and I'm sure you would come back full of fascinating experiences which are bound to be etched in your mind.

Photo Credits: Banner Left: Uniheartstravel.com; Banner Center: Burma Tour; Banner Right: Myanmar Travels