The California Native International Adventures

Since 1983

From The California Native Newsletter:

The Leg Rowers of Inle Lake

Fisherman on Inle Lake By Lee Klein
"Row, row, row your boat..." On Myanmar’s Inle Lake, the words to this old song take on a whole new meaning—for Inle is the only place in the world where you can find people who propel their boats by "leg rowing."

A beautiful, clear, natural lake surrounded by high green hills, Inle is about 14 miles long by six miles wide. On the lake and along its rim are 17 bamboo-and-wood villages, built on stilts, where about 150,000 people live, mostly members of the Intha tribe.

The Intha’s lives are centered on the lake—even their name means "sons of the lake." Intha farmers grow flowers and vegetables, including tomatoes, cabbages, beans, cauliflower, melons and papayas, right on the lake—in floating beds of water hyacinth and grasses, staked to the shallow lake bed with bamboo poles.

Even more unique are the Intha fishermen, who prowl the lake in their small wooden boats and fish by scooping the water with conical-shaped fish traps. Visitors to the area love taking photos of the fishermen who propel their crafts by "leg rowing," a technique believed to date back to the 12th century. Standing up on one leg in the narrow stern of the boat, a fisherman wraps his other leg around an oar and, with a circular movement, propels his boat forward. This "leg rowing" gives him a better view of the waterways and makes it easier to navigate around the floating islands and water hyacinth which make the margins of the lake into a maze of passageways. It also frees his hands for managing his fish trap.

Many of the lake’s villagers work in the small crafts factories, which are also built on the pier-like villages, where they produce silk and cotton textiles, cheroots, and silver and gold leaf craft ware.

Shopping takes place at the "five-day market," a colorful rotating marketplace which shifts its ocation around the lake on a five-day schedule, much like our farmer’s markets at home. People of various ethnicities—young women with orange and black plaid turbans, old ladies smoking huge cigars, and men wearing their wraparound longyis (sarongs), congregate at the marketplace to bargain for all types of goods and produce.

Here, also, can be seen the "long-necked" women of the Padaung tribe who, with a stack of heavy brass rings around their necks (giving them a somewhat giraffe-like appearance), come down from their villages to make money by posing for tourists’ photos.

Located around and in the lake are several monasteries, and each is worth visiting. The most photographed of these temples is the Nga Phe Kyaung—the eccentric "jumping cats" monastery where for the past 20 years, monks, who enjoy the publicity, have trained their resident cats to jump through small hoops, to the delight of tourists.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a strange country—the government is a repressive military dictatorship, yet the people are some of the nicest and friendliest in the world, and as you travel through the countryside, you feel very welcome and safe. The unique cultures of the country, the archaeological sites—highlighted by the thousands of ancient temples at Bagan—and the beautiful scenery make Myanmar a destination well worth adding to your next trip to Southeast Asia.

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