A Day on Inle Lake
We were at the end of second week in Myanmar and had arrived in Nyaung Shwe, the large town at the northern end of Inle Lake. There is a canal that connects the town to the lake and all the commerce, both tourist and civilian is done on shallow draft boats, 'long-tail' boats, of various sizes.
These boats run large diesel motors without much muffling that connect to a long shaft and propeller. These are necessary because both the lake and its many inlets are very, very shallow, not more than 4 or 5 feet in most places. Fisherman in shallow draft dugouts, wielding both nylon gill nets and the traditional conical wicker traps ply the lake for fish. If a tourist boat stops to take pictures, it is expected that you give the fisherman a tip and this practice has resulted in many fisherman abandoning the actual fishing to cluster around the opening of the canal to the lake and 'performing' for tips.
Our original plan had been to do the long excursion to the lower lake but the low water had blocked that passageway so we were content to do tours of the various sights around the lake and along the inlets that ran through the very extensive marshes the made up much of the western shore.
There are several large islands that have been built by the local Intha people who drive bamboo stakes into the shallow lake bed, then weave bamboo mats to 'fence' an area which is filled in with dirt from the marshes to create new clear islands where they can farm. The Intha live in villages of stilt houses both in the water and on these artificial islands. Most of the Intha men are either fishermen or work as silver craftsmen and tours of the lake always stop by these workshops for the tourists to see the people at work – and of course buy some silver.
We had planned to be at Inle for 2.5 days and, on the second day, our boat driver stopped at one of the typical Intha silver workshops that was right near the 'floating' market (which wasn't floating because the water was so low.
The workshop was really interesting. There were no electric tools and the only modern assist they had was from a small gas cylinder they used to solder silver. I watched for a while, took a bunch of pictures and then wandered into the showroom.
I typically have a very high sales resistance to souvenirs but I saw a bracelet I really liked and thought it would make a nice gift. I asked the young woman who managed the place if they had five of them. She was taken aback for just a moment and then said that they only had the one I saw but they had enough silver wire and a silver ingot to make the other four. If I could come back in 4 hours, she would mobilize the entire shop to produce the other four.
I took an almost abnormal amount of pleasure in being able to bring back souvenirs with a real provenance and ones that I had actually watched being made.
It was a great day on the lake.
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