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Monday, 31 August 2015

Inle Lake, Myanmar - Page 2

Written by Richard Taylor
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Before the inevitable lake tour (“what the ‘tourists’ do,” I sniffed), I did a reconnaissance of Nuang Shwe, making mental notes for banks, post offices and other points of practical interest.  The town is attractively ramshackle in the midst of reconstruction but the tourist facilities are there: Hotels and restaurants and markets and pastry shops and ATM’s (remarkable how rapidly a nation changes once the door is cracked open a bit – travel books from just a couple of years ago warn of the dearth of infrastructure in Myanmar; the terrible roads, the lack of amenities, the near total uselessness of credit cards and traveler cheques, the invisibility of ATM’s).  Most striking however, were not the tourist perquisites or lack thereof but the near uniformity of tourist.  The French had descended on Inle and for the next three days the avenues, shops and restaurants were ringing in Gallic tongue.  This was often a featured soundtrack in French colonies of yore:  Morocco, Vietnam, Laos.  But Myanmar?  Formerly Burma? Formerly British Burma?  Was this the Year of Myanmar in France?  Was it being heavily promoted?


No, they explained to me.  Apparently it was just a coincidence.


The west side of Nuang Shwe has a natural border, the Nan Chaung canal, where one can negotiate tour prices at the various boat landings, the busiest below the Teik Nan bridge.  But that could wait.  I crossed the bridge to the other side where the main road forked with a dirt path that I followed through the fields and village outskirts.  Wisps of smoke were visible in the surrounding hills (I would see a lot of this, with flames as well).  The path ended with a bridge to a small monastery, where novices were kicking a ball about, ducks were gathering in the shallows of a tributary, locals were crossing a rickety bridge and attractive longboats were moored along the embankments.  Lovely pastoral stuff all of it, but no sign of the lake itself.  I’d tried to find Inle on the first evening’s arrival but failed and decided it was not a place I could walk too.


The next day, around two in the afternoon, I opted for the half-day boat tour and wandered about Teik Nan.  I was approached with various deals and packages and settled on Kupa’s offer.


Kupa helped me waddle across the other skiffs, settle in his long boat and slowly backed us out into the canal.  We were about to leave when we heard a shrill cry over the engine.  On the bank a woman was hailing us and bounded across the skiffs as sure footed as Eliza on the ice floes. This was Makai.  She was chattering at Kupa, a possible scolding for leaving without her, dropped a blanket and life jacket at my feet and took her place at the stem.  I never did determine their relationship: Husband and wife, brother and sister, father and daughter, or business partners.


Life on the banks of the Nan Chaung canal was interesting enough but after thirty minutes I began to shuffle.  How far was this lake?  Up front, Makai was now baggage wrapped in a blanket, despite a very strong sun.  Few boats were flanking us but several were returning to port, two of them covered in clouds of seagulls.  They didn’t look like fishing trawlers, mere passenger boats like our own and what attracted the birds was a mystery.


Finally, the banks widened and Inle Lake was before us.  Kupa slowed us down and we glided towards one of the most surreal exhibitions I’d ever seen – two fisherman in two separate skiffs, oars in one hand, large conical nets in the other, perched on one leg, performing an aquatic ballet on the sterns of their craft.  It looked choreographed (I expect they wait for the tourist boats) but it remained wholly bizarre, Rogers & Hammerstein sans music and like King Brynner, I declared it a puzzlement.


The motor sputtered and we continued, although Kupa was in sync with me, slowing the boat whenever I raised my camera to shoot.  Those first two dancers had been an anomaly but only in style – the other lake fishermen had a different move, steering the boats with oars wrapped neatly under one knee, leaving the hands free for casting nets – extremely powerful groin muscles on display.


(Page 2 of 5)
Last modified on Monday, 31 August 2015

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