Inle Lake: "White Socks, Jumping Cats"

January  15, 2005

 

From Yangon I flew north to Heho, purportedly the smallest commercial landing strip in the world; taxi to Nyaungshwe to visit Inle Lake.

Nyaungshwe. A busy little town with several shrines, monasteries and stupas to climb. I chanced upon a workshop - women weaving bamboo mats. And the staff at my hotel were the most hospitable, generous, gentle: "More tea, sir? More tea, sir?" And local food specialties so delicious I dare not describe.

Inle Lake. "Inle Lake is 22k long, roughly 11km wide, 875m above sea level and outrageously beautiful - it has very calm waters dotted with patches of floating vegetation and busy fishing canoes. High hills rim the lake on both sides; the lake shore and lake islands bear seventeen villages on stilts, mostly inhabited by the Intha people."

"The hard-working Intha are famous for propelling their flat-bottomed boats by standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar. This strange leg-rowing technique offers relief to the arms - which are also used for rowing - during the long paddles from one end of the lake to another. It enables the rower to better see the floating islands and water hyacinth. It's sometimes necessary to stand up to plot a path around the obstacles - and to spot a fish."

My day cruise on Inle Lake was comfortable, colorful and in the morning, cold! Jacket, sweater, shirt, scarf and socks! Yes. Yes. I know, fellow GQ readers, white socks and sandals - scandalous. Hey, maybe I start a new style trend.

(I just found this entry in my guidebook: "During January and February, the nights and mornings around the lake area are cold, so you should bring socks and a sweater." So, THERE!)

The highlights of the day: noisy, crowded, multi-tribal market; houses on stilts; farms on the water; unique temples; and the famous one-leg rowers.

And finally, the "Jumping Cat Monastery." Believe it! Fellow cat lovers, these felines are trained by the monks to jump through small hoops!

Nyuangshwe. Inle Lake. Don't forget my "Bike Ride."

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