Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Myanmar Part 10 (b) - Inle Lake day 2

Awake not long after dawn, we enjoyed a slow and relaxing breakfast at the hotel. Today’s plan was to get out onto the lake and do the ‘standard’ tour that most people do. I was keen to see Indein village and the stupas there. But mostly, I wanted to see the lake, the photos of which were the first photos I ever saw of Myanmar.

We walked along the quiet streets of Nyaung Shwe to the canal (or river) where all the boats depart. Instead of pre booking, I knew it should be easy enough to simply find a boat ourselves and negotiate a rate ourselves. Sure enough, a block from the main boat docks, a boatman approached us asking if we wanted to hire him. After discussing what we did and did not want to see, we came to a rate of 17000 kyats for the day, including Indein (which seemed to be the market rate). We followed him back to the boat jetty with some chit chat about where we were from and where we had been. He was a quiet, almost shy guy, with skinny arms and a long face. Smiling, he told us how quiet it was and how busy it had been only a few weeks before.
Coming to the river/canal, many slender canoe-like boats were lined were up along the banks. This time of year, the river was low, as were the tourist numbers. Many sat empty, with piles of removable, wooden seats stacked up at the rear end. Climbing into the narrow craft was a bit tricky. Being so narrow, and us westerners so large, the boat rocked side to side and I could just see us tipping into the murky water. Luckily it didn’t happen and we were soon on our way down the busy waterway. The channel was like a major highway with many boats coming and going, loaded with sacks of produce, people being ferried about their day, as well as us tourists. I waved and smiled at all the passing faces, who eagerly smiled and waved back. You would never engage with commuters like this at home!
It didn’t take too long to be out on the open lake. From the channel entrance, the lake stretched out over the horizon. We could see the banks wide on either side, but the lake seemed to go on indefinitely. Dotted everywhere were fishermen. Within a few minutes, we had seen so many of them rowing their boats with their legs in the famous Inle Lake manner. With the blue-grey mirror surface, and all the reflections, I was in photographer’s heaven. The sun not yet overhead, the breeze from boat’s movement was cooling in the face of the heat of the day, and the whining of the boat’s lawn-mower engine buzzed in my ears. There was a picture postcard photo in every direction. Snapping away, I tried to capture this amazing place, but no amount of photos would really do the beauty of this stunning area justice.

Our first stop was a lotus silk weaving factory. The building looked like a large wooden house perched upon stilts rising above the lake’s surface. With great interest, we watched the worker carefully cut the stem of the lotus stem, then gently pull the ends apart to reveal the fine, threadlike silk strands, which were then gathered up and spun together to form the silk yarn. I was amazed at the labour-intensive process. From what I can remember, it took thousands of lotus stems to produce enough silk yarn to make a small ball. Not to mention many days work repeating this process over and over. Is there any wonder why even the smallest scarf cost over eighty US dollars?

As much as the workshop was interesting, it really was a tourist trap, retail outlet. There were hundreds of other silks and woven apparel for sale, with some regular silk with lotus silk blends. But the softness and uniqueness of the pure lotus silk won me over and I forked out the cash on a lovely turquoise coloured scarf (as a side note – it is the warmest scarf for its size I own, and is cool to wear in heat to protect against sun too).
Next stop was a cigar factory. I wasn’t keen but Mr. J smokes and likes a cigar. Again, it was a small wooden shop on stilts. Two lovely local women were hand rolling cigars very efficiently. They make a few hundred per day. Man, my hands got tired just watching them! So J bought some tobacco and cigars and we were on our way.
At the far end of the lake is Hpaung Daw U Pagoda. Surrounding the large, red-roofed temple was a constant stream of boats ferrying worshippers (and a couple of weary tourists) to and from this holy place. A large tiled terrace was off to one side, and many stalls lined every path to each entrance. I had read about the aggressive stall holders so I was ready to face the onslaught, but we were lucky. With it being low season, many traders had packed up and left and we were left alone with the exception of a few persistent kids selling postcards. 

Inside, the central alter had five, gold blobs, under which were some old Buddha statues. Over the years, they have been covered with so much gold leaf that they were no longer recognisable. I wish I knew what made them so venerated and I’m sure there is a myth about how they were made, or found or something that made them so sacred. I think they were given to the community by one of the great kings… there must have been an incredible legend and huge reverence associate with them.

Otherwise the interior of the pagoda wasn’t that remarkable. Maybe by now, I had seen so many ornate and intricately designed temples that this one did not stand out. Sure, there was a golden vaulted roof over the alter covered with gold panels depicting the gold blobs. Paintings of the Buddha’s lives hung on the outer walls, which were also draped in the traditional universal Buddhist flag.
A few men were rubbing more layers of gold leaf on the blobs. Women are not allowed into the inner alter and cannot approach the blobs. Instead, they sit close by praying while their husbands complete the ritual and their children run about the tiles floor of the large open room. Once again counting my good sense coming in low season, we found only a few dozen local families there, but had heard that there are times it is so crowded that you can’t see the inner alter at all.
Returning to the boat after walking around and checking out the surrounds, our boatman suggested lunch at a local eatery on the other side of the pagoda. I do not know its name, but it was not the more well know place called ‘Htun htun’. This one was on the diagonally opposite bank from the temple with a shaded deck and tables overlooking the river and pagoda. Taking a seat, the lovely staff brought us cool towels to refresh as we reviewed their modest menu. We each had a lovely plate of fried noodles with the usual as well as beers for the total sum of around 1200 kyats.

Full and refreshed, we then set off to Indein through the narrow waterways that connected it to the lake. In some places the water level was only inches deep and there were a few passes where our driver really had to push to get us through. All along the way were stilted villages and floating vegetable gardens. With the water so low, we couldn’t see much above the river bank. It took about half an hour to get there, where we were dropped off at a river side dock. From there, it was a short walk to the long covered walkway that marked the entry to the pagoda complex that is Shwe Inn Dian Pagoda complex.

From the signs near the main pagoda, and an inscription on a large stone tablet, I’ve put together the following information about Indein:  “The Shwe Inn Tain pagodas complex is located near the Inn Tain Kone village, on the western bank of Inlay Lake, Nyauny Shwe township, southern Shan State. According to the stone inscription from the reign of King Bodawphya, a small original stupa donated by the king Thiri Dhammasoka (273-232 BC) and King Anawrahta encased in the present pagoda. The two kings donated sacred ground for religious purposes with retainers to look at the pagoda during 11th to 18th centuries, in the reigns of Bagan, Inwa, Nyaungyan and Konboung kings, it had a complex of 1054 pagodas, with different types of traditional architecture and carvings. 
There are two pagodas which has inner grottoes, decorated with mural paintings. There is an encased pagoda donated by King Thiri Shamasoka (273 – 232 BC). There is one brick stairway on each side except on the western side. The eastern stairway is the longest one (2000’ x 12/5’) owing to the successive renovation. The groups of stupas exist in the entrance of the eastern stairway. According to the inventory of monuments in 1999, it listed altogether (1054) pagodas. The different types of traditional architectural designs, art and craft work created between 14th and 18th centuries can be seen in these pagodas. Moreover, the mural paintings can be studied in two temples. For the sustained preservation of these pagodas which have high cultural heritage value, necessary renovation, conservation and preservation works have been undertaken by the department of archaeology, National museum and national library of culture and regional authorities and pagoda trustee since 2006.”

Here's some photos of around the lake area (more info coming soon...)

To be continued.... - K

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