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A Little Water…Floating Gardens, Fishing, and Farming on Inle Lake

Growing up I didn’t much care about the word “ecosystem.” I took many classes on Florida history (they made us study state history extensively–at least twice before graduation!), and the Florida Everglades was one of those places I took for granted until I reached adulthood, started to care more about the environment and realized “holy cow, there are some intricate and interesting ecosystems!”

Inle Lake Fishermen, Burma

Men fish the shallow waters of Inle Lake from long, flat wooden boats at Inle Lake in Burma (Myanmar).

This epiphany carried over to the present, and into my days navigating the marshy waters, thin canals and open expanse of rippling waters on Inle Lake in Burma last month. The most iconic photos of Inle Lake picture the fishermen, their conical nets resting on long wooden boats as the men paddle with one leg wrapped like a vine around the wooden oar digging into the placid lake waters. It’s a beautiful, practical custom that, in all its “foreignness” to the Western eye, pulled my focus as I marveled at the old-school nets in place of a modern fishing pole, the lazy motion of leg-led rowing and not a boat motor. The male fishermen stand on the bow of the boat so they can see down to the lake floor, and their legs are a powerful way to more easily row through the marshy weeds that grow nearly to the surface since Inle Lake averages just seven feet deep.

Boats on Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).

Looking deep into the weeds and water grass, the fishermen on Inle Lake fish for both trade, and for their dinner!

But that’s just one tiny, indelible piece of life on Inle Lake.

The super productive ecosystem around this shallow 44.9 square mile lake created a separate lake culture, different from the Bamar majority in Burma, and even different from the Shan minority group, even though Inle Lake is within Burma’s Shan State. Instead, an Intha culture and language grew, specific to Inle, where the lake and its ecosystem have allowed the culture to thrive.

traditional wooden house, Inle Lake

A tall wooden stilt house sits over the canal waters, laundry drying in the sun and boats stored underneath!

The villages embraced their creativity over the years in order to make this lake environment their home. Myths even surround the founding of the culture–some believe a former king banished part of the Royal Army from Burmese land, and to keep their word they created moved onto water! Floating land created from dried and hardened weeds and floating hyacinth secure the floating huts and bamboo villages to one fixed spot.

No joke, floating land.

floating tomato gardens, inle

Dense vegetation on the floating gardens, in particular, stop-light red tomatoes grow well in this ecosystem.

And once the Intha mastered the floating land, then agriculture became a cinch—after all, they have an endless supply of water. So, as our driver navigated the canal waters, I watched farmers slosh around their cultivated square farms of land, marveling that oxen and humans both easily traipsed around the water farms.

Some farms are kept on much thinner land, and miles of fragrant tomato plants tumbled over each other on the lakes surface, beautiful birds dipping into the canals near the gardens when they spotted fish from above. So, now you’re wondering, okay, they have stilt houses, floating land for farming, and gardens, but why doesn’t it all just float away?

I puzzled over this mystery, I even spent time musing out loud about hundreds of 10 foot tall bamboo sticks poking out from the lake in every direction. Ah, the sea of khaki colored bamboo affix a garden to the lake surface. Then, the gardens are tended, sold, and moved if need be in the future.

Floating gardens, Inle Lake

The tall sticks hold the floating gardens in place on Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).

Genius!

The entire lake sustains a purpose-built community around the ecosystem.

Fishing.

Crops.

floating gardens burma

A worker tends to his floating garden on Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).

Animals.

water buffalo, burma

A giant water buffalo is out for his late afternoon snack and a stroll in Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).

Temples.

Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).

Temples floating on the shallow surface of Inle Lake

And the seagulls.

Feeding the seagulls was a highlight of the trip. Over the past five months I watched Ana guffaw with laughter at random moments, and smile with patience and curiosity as locals explained the inner workings of something to her, and even frown with concern at the treatment of street animals.

Ana is delighted to watch the seagulls circle overhead while we fed them on Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).A hand feeding the birds at Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).

And the seagulls on Inle Lake brought sheer joy. She abandoned all thought of being a serious preteen and she and her friend M (from GotPassport.org) threw chunks of deep-fried dough with childish abandon. The birds swooped down to pluck chunks out of their hands and noisily fought over bits flung into the air. And as the sun set over Inle Lake, we cozied into our warm blankets and all enjoyed the bite of cool in the air and the squawk of birds tailing our speeding longboat.

Sunset Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).

Warm blankets and a content smile accompanied a spectacular sunset :)

Far from subtle, behind us a maze of saffron and pumpkin exploded into the sky nearest the setting sun, while a quiet rose tint settled on the surrounding mountains and we jetted back into the small town center for fresh dinner and a warm bed.

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  • Akshaye

    Shannon!! its beautiful in snaps..am sure it could have been awesome experience!!

    • ShannonOD

      Thank you Akshaye! Visiting the lake and exploring that area of Burma has been a real highlight of my travels. :)

    • ShannonOD

      Thank you Akshaye! Visiting the lake and exploring that area of Burma has been a real highlight of my travels. :)

  • http://blog.rachelcotterill.com/ Rachel Cotterill

    That’s just amazing. I really want to go there, and you’re not helping my wanderlust with your beautiful pictures :)

    • ShannonOD

      Thank you Rachel! I felt the same way before I went…it’s worth moving higher on your bucket list, for what it’s worth :)

    • ShannonOD

      Thank you Rachel! I felt the same way before I went…it’s worth moving higher on your bucket list, for what it’s worth :)

  • http://www.theroadtoanywhere.com Dean Wickham

    I’ve read a lot about Inle Lake lately. It looks and sounds so beautiful. Great photos!

    • ShannonOD

      Thanks Dean! With the country just beginning to open up political policies, I think this is the year for tourism to really grow in Burma! :)

    • ShannonOD

      Thanks Dean! With the country just beginning to open up political policies, I think this is the year for tourism to really grow in Burma! :)

  • Andi Perullo

    Seems like they have it figured it out! I love visiting floating villages. That last shot is spectacular!!! 

    • ShannonOD

      Thank you Andi, they really do have a special vibe to them, the communities are so different from how my daily life is lived! :)

    • ShannonOD

      Thank you Andi, they really do have a special vibe to them, the communities are so different from how my daily life is lived! :)

  • Andi Perullo

    Seems like they have it figured it out! I love visiting floating villages. That last shot is spectacular!!! 

  • http://twitter.com/TheHogga Lindsay Hogg

    Amazing shots! If I ever get to Burma I’ll have to check this out!

  • http://twitter.com/TheHogga Lindsay Hogg

    Amazing shots! If I ever get to Burma I’ll have to check this out!

    • ShannonOD

      Burma’s worth putting on the bucket list, it’s one of the more rewarding places I’ve visited as of late! :)

    • ShannonOD

      Burma’s worth putting on the bucket list, it’s one of the more rewarding places I’ve visited as of late! :)

  • monaperdue@mac.com

    So enjoyed your pictures and lovely-written commentary. You answered lots of questions I forgot to ask while there in December. I LOVE Myanmar and want to return late fall before it changes too much. I’d love reading your “top ten” list from your visit. Just discovered your site today. Thank you.

    • ShannonOD

      I agree about returning before too many changes, though it’s really intriguing to travel there now, as the country is opening and filling with more hope. I’ll get to work on a list of top experiences, and safe travels back there this fall! :)

    • ShannonOD

      I agree about returning before too many changes, though it’s really intriguing to travel there now, as the country is opening and filling with more hope. I’ll get to work on a list of top experiences, and safe travels back there this fall! :)

  • monaperdue@mac.com

    So enjoyed your pictures and lovely-written commentary. You answered lots of questions I forgot to ask while there in December. I LOVE Myanmar and want to return late fall before it changes too much. I’d love reading your “top ten” list from your visit. Just discovered your site today. Thank you.

  • http://www.anywhere-but-home.com Naomi

    How interesting – I never knew that there was such an intricate system in Inle Lake!!

    Will definitely have to visit whenever I get to Burma ;)

    • ShannonOD

      I highly recommend visiting Naomi, and Inle Lake is a highlight! :)

  • http://twitter.com/thatbackpacker Audrey Bergner

    Wow, this place looks fascinating! It makes me think of the floating villages on Titicaca, except a totally different culture and climate! :D

  • http://twitter.com/thatbackpacker Audrey Bergner

    Wow, this place looks fascinating! It makes me think of the floating villages on Titicaca, except a totally different culture and climate! :D

    • ShannonOD

      I haven’t seen the Titicaca villages, but I’d be really intrigued to see what types of plants they grow, and how the climate has changed the way of life! :)

    • ShannonOD

      I haven’t seen the Titicaca villages, but I’d be really intrigued to see what types of plants they grow, and how the climate has changed the way of life! :)

  • Naylayoung 155

    Tks for your information! I’m from Burma but i just know a bit about Inlae lake! However, your information is very useful for my cultural presentation!

    • ShannonOD

      Honored you found it useful since you’re familiar with the culture already!  Cheers and thanks  :)

  • http://www.removalsuk.com/index.htm British Company

    Sounds gorgeous, looks amazing and I want to be there too… How much did you spend for this journey?

    • ShannonOD

      It wasn’t too much, $20 for the whole day I think, though the total trip to Myanmar was a bit more than that! :)

  • http://acoupletravelers.com/ acoupletravelers

    Looks gorgeous. Will definitely be making a stop there when we get to Burma (hopefully in March 2013)