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Gallery: Myanmar's leg rowers of Inle Lake
How the Intha people have perfected life on a lake
On a placid lake 900 meters above sea level, a man expertly rows through the calm waters, using just his leg to propel his teak boat.
He is one of Myanmar's Intha people, who have have lived, worked and worshipped on the waters of Inle Lake for generations.
The Intha go about their business aboard a fleet of small wooden boats, rowing with one leg along the channels that separate their fertile floating gardens.
It’s thought that they may have fled from the Mon region in the 18th century to escape fighting between Thai and Burmese forces.
Living off, and on, the water
Today, some 100,000 Intha live and work on the water, building houses on stilts driven into the lake bed. Some seek Inle’s fish in slender boats using conical-shaped nets, while others tend their vegetable gardens.
From time to time a fisherman will tap the boat's hull with his oar, hoping to scare a fish out into the open.
When the fisherman spots any movement, he thrusts his conical-framed net to the lake's shallow bottom then releases the ring that holds the net taut within its frame, and the billowing mesh drops.
Quickly, with one well-balanced and precise motion, net and fish are brought back on board.
Floating gardens are created by matting reeds that grow around the lake into long buoyant rows. Mud from the lake's floor is then piled on top and mixed with the hyacinth weed for fertilization.
The gardens are then anchored to the lake's floor using long bamboo stakes. Some of the Intha make their living by towing parcels of land behind their boats and slicing off sections for gardens according to their customers' needs.
Inle Lake -- which covers around 116 square kilometers -- provides a constant source of moisture, and its moderating influence on winter temperatures allows crops to grow year round, supplying the whole of Shan State with eggplant, tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, peas and beans.
The lakeside market is incredibly colorful. Hundreds of Intha in teak boats cram the main channel of Ywama, and somehow everyone manages to manoeuvre through the throng.
Floating vendors trade in all manner of items from flowers, kindling, tobacco and cooking utensils to cheroots.
Buddhists and jumping cats
There are more than 100 Buddhist shrines and monasteries on and around Inle Lake.
As in the rest of Myanmar, most of Inle's residents are Buddhist, and the influence of Buddhism in day-to-day life is evident as thousands of people routinely make their offerings, filling the monasteries and temples with their chants, and infusing the air with incense.
In the first light of dawn, the locals of Nyaungshwe stir from their homes to wash along the riverbank and fishermen head out on to the water, leg-rowing down the main highway, a muddy brown channel complete with signposts and mile markers.
The Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery, a beautiful old teak building completely surrounded by water and floating gardens, is also known as the Jumping Cat Monastery. Its monks have trained the numerous resident cats to leap through a small hoop.
Donations from people who come to witness the curious spectacle help with the upkeep of the monastery and the cats’ needs.
The best, easiest and most comfortable way to get to Inle Lake is by domestic flight from Yangon to Heho airport (41 kilometers northwest of Inle Lake). Air Bagan (www.airbagan.com) & Air Mandalay (www.airmandalay.com) have flights on this route.
From the airport, take a taxi for around US$20 to Inle Lake. It should be possible to arrange something cheaper going back to the airport. A cheaper, less comfortable option to Inle Lake is to take the bus from Yangon (around 20 hours) for about US$16.