March 2009. Inle Lake, Myanmar.
It was only 5.30 in the morning but it seemed quite warm. I put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, but as soon as the boat started I knew I was going to be cold. At first the boat went slowly but when it picked up its pace I was shaking. How come it never got to me that going through a huge lake in a boat at 5.30am could actually make me cold, even if I was in South East Asia? It was too late to get back to get some extra clothes, so all I could do was to sit and enjoy.
And I did.
Inle Lake is not your usual lake. It’s quite big (about 22km long and 11km wide in the widest place), but that is not what makes this place so special. What makes is special is how people have chosen to use it.
Imagine a lake inhabited by over 70 000 people living in tens of villages, all of them on the lake or on its shore. And when I say ‘on the lake’ I mean ‘on the lake’. The villages are built on the long piles and even have schools and medical centers. Not to mention temples, floating gardens, wine and jewelry factories, markets and number of other things you don’t find on a typical lake.
But the most amazing thing one can do when on the lake is to watch the fishermen. The lake is full of them in the early hours of the day when it’s easier to catch fish. The unique thing about Inle Lake fishermen is the way they row. They actually do it with their leg! They stand at the stern on one leg and wrap the other leg around the oar. The lake is covered with reeds and floating plants, so it is quite difficult to see above them while sitting. So the men row standing. It is a spectacle that can be watched for hours.
I was fascinated. And before I knew, I completely forgot about the cold.