Situated up on the mountains of Southern Shan State this lake is unique, for its beauty and as well as for its famous Phaung Taw Oo Buddha statues. Surrounded by tall mountains all around, many small chaungs (streams) feed the lake but there is only one outlet to the south call Bilu Chaung( Creek of the Ogre). In olden days the lake was much said to be bigger than its present size. At present it measures approximately 4-6 miles in breadth and 11-13 miles in length depending on the seasons. The lake is home to the Innthas or People of the Lake. Many Inntha villages dot the waters of the lake. Dependent on the lake for all their daily needs, the Innthas had developed unique styles of daily life. Their houses are built on stilts and there are no streets but only small waterways to permit them go around the houses. Even schoolchildren would come to the schools in their own small canoes. For long distances travel there are motorized long-tailed boats but for casual use the Inntha have a different style of propelling their small canoes. How they row these small boats is another novelty. They stand up on the stern (or bow) of the canoes and wrap their legs around the long oars to row. They are known popularly as "Leg Rowers of Lake Inle". The method of fishing is also interesting. A bell shape bamboo, strung with net, is lowered to the bottom and the fisher spears the trapped fishes from above. There are also Buddhist monasteries in the villages each with its own set of ancient Buddha statues.
Nyaung Shwe is the entry point to the lake but it has its own history. Said to have been founded in 1359 A.D by sawbwa Sao Seng Hpa it was the seat of a powerful feudal dynasty, the Principality of Nyaung Shwe but has retreated into history when the Sawbwa(the hereditary ruler) relinquished their power to the central government in the mid-1950s. However, the Sawbwa of Nyaung Shwe became the 1st President of the Union of Burma (Myanmar) when it gained Independence in 1948. His haw or the Royal Residence is now a museum housing many Buddha statues. The 5 day Market brings various ethnic groups living around the town; the Pa O, the Bamar, the Shan and the Palaung all in their distinctive native dresses.
The Phaungdaw Oo Buddha Statues.
Known all over the country as the Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda it is a collection of 5 Buddha statues housed inside a magnificent pavilion inside the lake at Nant hoo village. The legend of these Buddha statues dates back to Bagan period when it was said King Alaung Sithu of Bagan Dynasty kept these statues at the bow of his royal barge and left them here for the subsequent generations to worship. Then after many centuries the statues were rediscovered and put on public display for the pilgrims to worship by the Sawbwa of Nyaung Shwe. Anyhow, whatever the reasons, these 5 statues are unique. These statues are on silver stands on a raised plinth in the middle of the pavilion. Male pilgrims climb up to paste gold leaves or symbolically tie small square strips of Holy Robes on these statues. And after generations of devotees all the 5 statues had lost their original forms and became round golden globes. The square pieces of yellow miniature Holy Robes are taken home as ampulets to ward off evil and misfortune.
The Phaungdaw Oo statues are taken around the Inle Lake during the month of Thadingyut (October). Four of the statues are reverently taken onto a gilt barge, which in turn is pulled by hundreds of leg rowers on countless long boats to visit the villages inside the lake. At some village it would just be a short stop and at some villages the statues would stay for the night. The statues also spend three days at Nyaung Shwe, which would be one of the best days to experience the piety of the Myanmar people.
This collection of Shan style pagodas is about 29 miles to the south of Taunggyi, deep in the Pa O region, mostly from the 19th century, although local lore would put the date way back into history. The drive to this pagoda complex passes through many picturesque countryside, dotted with Pa O villages and wide fields of garlic and other cash crops. Kekku pagoda complex are open the whole year round but the best times to visit are the Fullmoon Day of Thadingyut(October) and Fullmoon Day of Tazaungmone(November). On these days Pa O villagers arrive in hundreds and camp around the pagoda for days and turn it into both a religious ceremony and a country fair.
Sagar was once the seat of the hereditary prince of the area known as Sagar Sawbwa. Sagar was the border between the Shan and Kayah Principalities in times past and the Sagar Sawbwa was a powerful Lord of the region. Until recently it was out of bounds for foreigners but now visitors can experience the beauty of the boat ride from Inle along the Bilu Chaung (Ogre Stream) that empties from the Inle lake to reach the immense Moebye Dam and beyond to the Land of the Long-neck Women of Kayah State. Now just a small rustic village but the authentic Shan and Pa O rural life of the Sagar villagers would charm every visitor. The boat ride not only passes small Pa O villages on the banks of the Bilu Chaung but also the Takaung Mwetaw Pagoda Complex just at the entrance to Sagar.
Some say the 5 day market rotation practised in the Shan State is to make the collection of taxes by the rulers easier during its feudalistic days but carried into the present times. But whatever the reason these 5 day market are a good place to study the daily lives of the simple village folks and just get involved in the beauty of a traditional market day. Here are mountain men in their baggy Shan traditional trousers and women folks in their colorful traditional dresses; some maybe here selling their fresh garden produce or some are here to stock up their kitchen before the next market day. But whatever it is a visit to any of the 5 day markets in the villages around Inle Lake would be a great opportunity to get colourful photographs of these simple folks.
The name of this small town in the southern Shan State is said to be linked with a giant spider and his appetite to devour a virgin every day until a Prince came to slew him and saved the young girls. But the real attractions are the countless Buddha statues enshrined inside the cave towering above the town. The Pindaya Caves are limestone caves million of years old with stalagmites and stalactites inside but with typical Buddhist traditions the cave had been turned into a maze-like hall with hundreds of Buddha statues, some dating back centuries, inside. The pond at the centre of the town is also believed to be the place where the female mythical half-human half-bird creatures called Keinnari played ay bathing time.
At more than 4000 feet above sea level this is a best place to escape the heat of the central Myanmar plains. During the colonial period Kalaw was also favoured by many British expatriates as a hill station and around town are scattered many villas and bungalows reflecting the architecture of the home country. These houses can still be seen dotted under the tall pin trees in town. One building that will interest the visitors is the Kalaw railways station which replicates the small rural train stations in the UK.