Lake Inle, a tonic for the soul

With the local bus departing from Bagan eastward, scenes of the fiery red temples of the plains were no more. Like a new kid on the block eager to show off his toys, I was treated to a tasting platter of Myanmar’s geographical greatness- its friendly yet unfamiliar road side villages, its dusty terrains, its green rolling mountains, and eventually a scene of a vast carpet of grass soaking in the late afternoon sun, granting only the sneakiest peak of the pristine lakes hidden beyond. It was 10 hours later that I arrived at Nyaungshwe, gateway to the capital of Myanmar’s placid lake side living, Lake Inle. The contrast with Bagan was incredible.

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Lake Inle was not part of the original plan. As I would like to visit Luang Prabang in Laos, the easiest means of getting there is to catch a Monday flight from Chiang Mai, Thailand. With 3 days to spare after Bagan, my next destination was a tossup between Mandalay and Lake Inle. The latter just sounded so much more interesting, and I was not disappointed.

Arriving at Nyaungshwe, the largest town in the vicinity, it is hard to fathom the vastness of Lake Inle. Nyaungshwe itself has not much going for it, though it’s the most convenient base to explore the region, with good array of travellers’ amenities (by Myanmar’s standards). It was here which I witness one of Myanmar’s wonder- a ferris wheel ‘powered’ entirely by human strength. Sadly, it being off season during my travels, I didn’t actually get to see it work.

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The only way to explore Lake Inle is to hop on a hired motored boat, the choiced method of transportation for locals too- though the tourists’ version is probably less rickety, its boatman speaks a few word of English and the actual boat itself even comes with a wooden armchair and life jackets (which i wore during the entire trip with no shame, much to the amusement of the locals who zoomed me past).

The boat journey from Nyaungshwe was a slow meandering past the town’s canals into the main lake, followed by an exhilarating full speed burst toward the southern end of the lake. Formed around the lake are interesting floating markets, villages on stilts, gardens, water-bound temples and ancient ruins. Amidst the sun set, stunning views of local fishermen peddling their boats with their bare legs were as unforgettable as they were timeless. It was a fascinating sight of how peoples’ lives revolve around the lake, and how the latter came to life at the presence of its inhabitants.

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Whether it is the image of the fishermen taking a bath at the muddy water at the end of a hard day’s of work; or of their wives using the same canal to wash up their dishes after a sumptuous meal; or of their kids cheerfully cooling themselves in the scorching sun, life at Lake Inle is a demonstration of contentment at its simplest.

Lake Inle is almost non-descript, yet strangely intoxicating. It’s a tonic for the soul.

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