Burmese Venice in the Mountains

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Early Tuesday morning, Winsome, Bonnie and I arose and boarded a taxi for the hour drive back to the airport serving Mandalay. From there, it was a short trip by airplane, up over and into the mountains toward Inle Lake. It must be a rule some place that generally airports have to be an hour away from the communities that they serve, so once more, we were in a taxi for a long ride. This time, the scenery with its winding roads and descents reminded us of being back in West Virginia. We even passed a cloverleaf of railroad track and bridge scaling the mountainside.

Eventually, we arrived in our hotel, a quaint place sporting duplex bungalows. Advertised as having air conditioning, we were disappointed to find out that the units didn’t actually do much anymore other than decorate the walls and give the pretense of added value. Lodging was adequate, and at night at the altitude where we were an open, screened window plus a pedestal fan running and aimed at the bed, we were comfortable.

Bonnie and I had thought that our two-month trip abroad to Asia would be a perfect opportunity to eat less or more responsibly, do a little more walking, and possibly loose a little weight. Our thinking was that since often we do not like some of the strange foods very much, we can discipline ourselves and promote better health. What did we find in the town in which we were lodging, just two short blocks from our bungalow but a Burmese operated Italian restaurant – with the best Italian food that we have ever experienced anywhere. Throw out the diet! We ate pizzas, homemade noodles and meat sauce (with actual meat in it, unlike many places in America) and gnocchi pasta. They have two restaurants in two villages, and we ate at both of them. The food is not prepared until the order is placed, and one can watch the food preparation. The pizzas are baked in a wood-fired oven. Everything pleased our pallets!

Wednesday, October 12 was a Buddhist holiday at Inle Lake. We boarded a canoe type boat with an odd looking motor while it was still dark, and for an hour and a half we traveled in the cool morning air, first miles down a river and then the length of a long, open lake. Bonnie penned in her trip diary, “The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. as we were to meet out front at 5:00 a.m. for our trip to Inle Lake. In the early morning dark hours our motorcycle truck took us to the water’s edge where we tried to dodge mud and boarded a long boat…”

Our destination was to intercept a parade of boats, roped together, which towed three huge pagoda boats of monks and offerings of food and flowers around part of the perimeter of the lake, taking the Buddha images from one pagoda to another. These villages are on top of the lake! The streets are waterways. We had arrived at the Burmese version of Venice. Here babies learn to swim before they learn to crawl. Small children paddle themselves around the villages in dugout canoes.

It was a remarkable day with visiting numerous shops by boat and traversing unsteady planks from porch to porch. We observed floating gardens of tomatoes and other crops. Three million people live in the area, almost all of them living atop the water in wood or bamboo buildings with liquid streets. The cats we saw in the villages seemed out of place above the lake with the rest of the inhabitants. My dear wife chronicled our activities when she wrote:

…we traveled to a blacksmith shop and watched the men pound metal into a small scythe. The blacksmith shop is located in a building on the water. We also visited a weaving shop complete with spinning thread from the Lotus plant. Since it is a festival day only a few workers were present, and we did not get to see all aspects of work. We stopped by the boat building site to discover that there was too much water in the workshop, and they could not show us how they build their boats. We did see them making cigars by hand.

We visited an umbrella shop where they make the paper, hand carve the handles and make each umbrella by hand. Since these umbrellas are made from paper, I would not recommend using them in the rain, just to protect one from the sun. They showed us how their paper is made. The bark of the Mulberry tree is boiled for 8 hours. The gooey mess is then pounded. A handful of this mush is then mixed with a container of water. A tray made of screen is placed in a vat of water, and the bark mush is evenly spread on the screen. The tray is lifted from the water and flower petals and leaves are randomly pressed on top of the bark mush. This is left in the sun to dry (about 2 hours). The paper is then peeled from the screen and is ready to be attached to the wooden umbrella supports or cut into various sizes and bound into little books. Sometimes the flower petals and leaves are omitted and the dried paper is dyed before making the umbrellas. …We also visited a Silversmith, a monastery…

The fogged crested mountains, overshadowed by dense clouds in the morning commute were replaced by end of day with dark storm clouds and heavy rain. Traveling back toward our lodging, the sun and rain mix created the largest and brightest rainbow that we have ever seen anywhere. The colors were not pale, but vivid and distinctly bright. In between the coming to Inle Lake and the leaving of it, the intense Burmese sun scorched my exposed flesh and the wind on the lake whipped my features, despite wearing a ball cap. Eventually days later, my face and especially my nose peeled off.

Inle Lake was an excursion, not a teaching opportunity. We need to punctuate our trips abroad with tourist activities on occasion, at least to validate the tourist visas on which we travel. It does not hurt to experience some recreation, too, from time to time. However, the trip to Inle Lake was also a marvelous opportunity to educate ourselves more fully on Burmese culture and thinking. Among the activities to which Winsome took us was a puppet show, in what to you and me would be the attached garage of someone’s dwelling. Throughout the country – and many countries – grand things occur on a small scale, which require an adjustment of expectations and an appreciation of humble things.

One of the unique characteristics of these mountain lake villagers is that little ones and adults paddle their canoes while standing and rowing with their legs. The fishermen have a singularly different way of fishing, too, with nets stretched over bamboo, inverted trumpet-like cages, by which they trap a disturbance in the lake mud and spear the intended prey with a three pronged spear. Among the remarkable oddities were the girls and women from one tribe that sport brass rings on their necks, adding more rings year by year until they carry several pounds.

Thursday, we made the hour trek back to the airport, up the mountainous, winding roads past tremendous views. Our next destination was Yangon.

Explore posts in the same categories: Children, Good Eats, Good Friends, Myanmar (Burma), Overseas, Postcard Perfect Picture, R&R, Travel, Weather Related

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