Life on the Lake

In the morning, we were transferred to the Bagan airport to fly to Heho, the gateway to Lake Inle. At the domestic airports, they don’t even ask people for their id’s and let you take water bottle through security.
In Heho, we boarded a van for a 45-min ride to the lake. This part of the country is gorgeous! It’s green and mountainous with lush vegetation and blooming flowers. En route, we stopped at a family-ran paper-making shop. They make paper out of mulberry tree bark. They soak the bark first, roll it into a ball, stretch it on a large frame, and throw in real flowers and leaves to make a design. Then they dry the wet paper in the sun for a few hours, and la voila, this gorgeous organic hand-made paper comes out! One huge beautiful sheet costs $1.
The next stop was a 19th century wooden monastery. The place felt unreal! The carved walls were crooked from age and neglect, the stunning gold-plated ceilings were sloping, the pillars, once covered with a mirror and glass mosaic, were missing half of the pieces. The place was overrun with novices in bright maroon and orange robes flaming against the black monastery walls.
We arrived at the lake, which at this location looked like a canal, and boarded a long a narrow motorboat that would take us to our hotel on the lake.
There are some 100,000 people living on the lake. I mean, literally on the lake. There are villages consisting of houses built on stilts, where the only way to get around is on a boat. There are also 16 hotels right on the lake. Each village specializes in its own trade. There are fishing villages, villages of weavers and blacksmiths, cigar makers and boat makers. The fishermen here is a sight to behold. They fish on small rowboats. The rowing is done by the fisherman standing at one end of the boat on one foot. His other foot is curled around an oar. He makes graceful, dancelike movements to operate the boat. His hands are thus free to throw a net. It was fascinating to watch these lone fishermen doing their pas de deux and plies on the lake!
In the weaving workshop, we saw women weaving cloth out of the inside part of some special “secret” lotus stems; in the blacksmith’s shop, men were forging knives by hand; in the cigar shop, young girls were rolling cigars at 800 pieces an hour. This was a going-back-in-time experience.
We saw floating gardens the villages use to grow their produce. There is no limit to human ingenuity! People adapt to anything.
On the way back to the hotel, we went through one of the villages. It had a dystopian feel about it. That is how people might be living after a nuclear holocaust – primitive, self-sufficient, away from the poisoned land.
The villages are extremely poor and primitive, people are working very hard just to survive, and no modern conveniences are to be found anywhere, but I thought that the people here must be a happy bunch – living in communities, in close contact with other humans and with nature, with no stress of the modern society. Children of all ages were playing together in boats, teenagers were hanging out, adults were talking and gossiping. Healthy and stressless life it is, that is, if you can handle it.

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