Inle Lake, located in Myanmar's Shan State, is characterised by peacefulness, wilderness, and the unique people who have been shaped by a lifetime on the water. Shan State is a highland area of central Myanmar that covers around one-quarter of the country and shares borders with China to the north, Laos to the east and Thailand to the south.
1. The Lake
Inle Lake is the second largest freshwater lake in Myanmar. It is 23km long and 11km wide. The size is ideal for exploration; taking roughly 45 minutes to travel from end to end by boat. It is located on the Nhaung Shwe 'plain', around 3000ft above sea level and surrounded by limestone ridges that extend to approximately 5000ft. It is a beautiful, peaceful place.
2. Monsoon climate
There are 3 distinct climatic seasons; the cool, dry northeast monsoon 'winter' (late October to mid-February), the hot, dry pre-monsoon season (mid-February to mid-May), and the rainy southwest monsoon (mid-May to late October). I visited during December and the weather was consistent and predictable with pleasant sunny days and cool evenings, nights and early mornings. Considering the breeze, a jacket was a must when out in the lake at these times.
The dry season also sees the arrival of migratory seabirds, including cormorants and gulls alongside stalks, egrets, swallows and kingfishers.
Historically, primary industry has dominated the local economy and continues to be of significance. The unique fishing techniques provide the opportunity for the perfect tourist snapshot.
Traditionally, fishermen slammed down large conical wooden baskets on to the shallow lake bed. Then they would bang and rattle their ore inside the basket to scare any trapped fish towards the nets that line the outside. Finally, the nets are compressed, entangling the fish, before the basket and catch are brought up to the surface. This routine is accompanied by incredible balance and control by the Intha people who have spent their life on the water. For a small fee, tourists can see local people provide demonstrations in traditional clothing. This was one of many examples from around the lake of traditional practices being maintained through tourism.
The modern fisherman has moved on to using lines of netting that allow them to cover a greater area (a few metres) and secure a larger catch. Furthermore, traditional clothing has been replaced with a contemporary universal comfort: sweat pants. These modern techniques still require considerable balance and skill.
4. Floating gardens
Unique floating gardens dominate the central and western areas of the lake. Farmers use weeds and water hyacinth to make strong floating beds. These are held in place by bamboo scaffolding. Crucially, the floating beds rise and fall with water levels in the lake. The nutrient-rich water allows for the growth of green and red tomatoes that are softer and tastier than those grown on the land. The produce is sold across Myanmar.
5. Weaving and Tobacco
Another traditional industry that has been flourishing around the lake for over a century is weaving from the lotus flower. Fibers are removed from the central stem of the plant before being moistened and rolled into thread.