In a country so blessed with tourism jewels – including real gems – it’s hard to pick the one for the crown. But if pressed I would nominate Inle Lake as a real sparkler, although one in danger of being loved to death despite its status as a wildlife conservancy area.
Nestled in the hills of Shan state, this 116sq km body of water – Myanmar’s second largest freshwater lake – is best described as a Burmese Venice, a true floating city. Life is lived IN the lake – homes, “roads”, hotels, gardens, shops, businesses all perch above the water. The lake itself is a super highway criss-crossed from dawn to dusk with longboats propelled by powerful outboards carrying all daily necessities and tradable goods. Longboats are moored outside houses just like cars. Even a trip to the corner store or post office means hopping aboard.
The Inle Palace Resort where guests can drift off the sleep to the sound of lapping water.
A misty and smoky morning looking across Inle Lake.
A longboat loaded with bags of rice off to market.
Another load of tourist head down the main “street”.
The lake is an abundant source of food: a species of carp is a local staple and vegetables, particularly tomatoes, grow in clever floating gardens made from grasses dredged from the lake bottom and anchored by bamboo poles. The original hydroponic gardens? The diligent fishermen propel their craft with a unique leg-rowing technique and entrap their prey in cone-shaped bamboo devices – a popular tourist publication image. Small craft industries abound including silk making from lotus roots, cheroot manufacture, gold and silver-smithing and tool making.
Floating gardens and fishermen’s huts.
The family “garage”.
Need to post a letter?
Fishing Lake Inle style.
All this activity, and the tens of thousands of tourists it attracts, is stressing the fragile ecosystem. Longboat noise and diesel fumes are disturbing the peace and polluting the air; sewerage and other waste from hotels and villages are affecting water quality; logging and agricultural practices are creating a build-up of silt and nutrients. Sounds a bit like what’s happening to the Great Barrier Reef.