Myanmar is the land of pagodas, a country of high-stilted houses. They simply call themselves the friendly, generous people and with places so In-thar, Son of the Lake or In-thu, Daughter of the serene that they cure the stresses of the world Lake. The astonishing thing about them is that just by being there. One of the places is Inle although they live right in the midst of the Shan race Lake, a blue sea in the Southern Shan State 11 miles and its sub-races, the In-thar have a different long bordered with mountain ranges that in different language, that of the Dawai, which is a type of weather turn from blue to green to mauve and grey. Myanmar with a different pronunciation and several Inle at 2,918ft above sea level is wonderful in any different words. In fact the language is very much like season: deep blue skies and cooling breezes in the one spoken by a coastal race the Dawai that lives summer; spectacular sunrises and sunsets on the over 600 miles south on the Tanintharyi coastal foamy clouds of monsoon; and sparkling light and region. By word handed down for generations the deliciously chilly nights in the cold season.
In-thar believe they originally lived there as Dawai people but that somehow a group travelled or were Nature has graced Inle with many beautiful things, taken to the mountainous land-locked region of the not least the people who actually live on the lake in Shan. Naturally enough they would settle on and around the biggest body of water they could find, with deep nostalgia for the sea they had left. Inle Lake in ancient times was believed to be a hundred miles long, and thus the migrants simply called themselves ‘children’ of their new home. Indeed, they make Inle a home to their unique lifestyle that is seen nowhere else.
The ingenuity of the In-thar ensured that they not only survived but flourished in unfamiliar settings. Living right on the vast expense of water in high-stilted houses and keeping a boat or two for transport, they row standing up on one leg as they maneuvered their skiffs between clumps of reeds. Even the children are adept at this and in the morning one older boy would row a long skiff with younger children sitting docilely in single file, their faces fresh with Thanakha bark paste and their school uniforms neatly pressed.
Farming right on the water is something the ingenious In-thar do well: they collect floating bunches of weeds, tether them to the lake bottom with bamboo poles and expand their length by patiently piling on silt and weeds. Thus they make floating vegetable beds that need not be watered, and besides could be towed away after removing the bamboo spikes. This hydroponics system of cultivating was devised by the In-thar centuries before modern science learned of its values.
They also fish standing in their boats: A loosely woven bamboo basket with a flared opened bottom is pushed downwards with one foot into the water when the man spots fish, and a pole inserted through the top alarms the fish so the swim upwards. Then, a string is pulled to close the bottom of the net that lines the basket, effectively trapping the fish. The basket is then lifted up, the net loosened and the fish upturned into a covered pail. After he returns home the fisherman after choosing a fish or two for the family dinner would keep the rest in a cage he has constructed in the lake, so that they are still alive for market day. At Inle Lake, the market is a roving one that makes a complete circle of all its stops every five days, and thus it is called Five Day’s Market. Both sellers and customers come by boat apart from the on-land village where it takes place. The Shan and Pa O races who prefer to live deeper inland and farm in the lush valleys arrive on foot over hill and mountain to sell their farm produce, home-spun wares and to buy what they need.
Villages such as Indain and Taung To, the first on the Northwest bank and the other on the Southwest are two of the five places enjoying market days. They are also the site of ancient pagoda complexes, believed built in the 12th century but by the architectural style, probably built in the 16th century or later. The mystery of these hundreds of small beautiful shrines of brick and marble is that no records exist of their origin. Each square shrine is topped with the slender spire in the Shan style, and the pillars and openings decorated with stucco or marble figures exquisitely formed. There are birds and dragons, ogres and celestials, and the mythical bird people Kainara, who have stood guard for centuries over the Buddha images set inside the shrines. Some images have been destroyed a long time ago and some are damaged but all are beautifully made with peaceful faces and serene smiles.
Buddha images are highly revered in this land of devout people. The Hpaung Daw Oo Pagoda of Inle has five small images that were discover in 1,359 in a cave, and by now so often covered with gold leaf that they have lost all original features. Every year in September, four of the five make a round of twenty villages of Inle region with great ceremony, carried on a golden barge crested with a Hintha bird on its prow and escorted by a hundred small boats. The fifth is never removed from its shrine after 1,974 when on their rounds, the barge suddenly capsized in clear weather and all five sank to the bottom. Only four were recovered and when the pilgrims came back crying their hearts out, they saw to their amazement that the fifth was already back on the shrine, dripping wet and with a weed clinging to the side. The spot where the barge overturned is now marked with a pillar with a Hintha bird at its top.
During this festival, which lasts for about twenty days, each village greets the four images with fanfare and celebrates every moment of the one-night stopover. Small robes are offered to the images as well as others enshrined in the village monasteries, and the best robe in the world is spun from the stem of the lotus, a craft created and perfected by a child of the lake and found nowhere else in the world.
Nearly one hundred years ago a weaver by the name of Daw Sar U (Madam Sparrow Egg) experimented with the filaments formed by the sap upon breaking apart the stems of freshly plucked lotus flowers. When she spun the filaments of five or six stems, it resulted in a strong enough thread that could be woven. It was painstaking work, however, needing many days of monotonous work only to gather enough skeins. She presented a whole set of robes to a highly revered Abbot of her Daung Taung Monastery, who gave her the name Daw Kyar U (Madam Lotus Egg) in recognition of her efforts. Textile specialists all over the world wonder at this rarest of fabrics, handwork of an In-thu.
The Children of Inle Lake are also famous for many crafts: exquisite silver jewelry and utensils, elegant lacquer ware, lustrous glazed pottery and hand-woven cottons and silks of excellent quality. Even their blacksmiths are famous country wide for the tools they fashion with ancient methods but so fine that goldsmiths use them instead of imported steel.
No one knows exactly where they came from, or why, but their unique way of life and their creative talents make them one of the many jewels in the crown of the country.