No market visit today, it’d likely be same same but different – the difference being the location, the same being the tat and the touts. Instead first up it was a visit to a small factory to watch sugar cane be turned into blocks of yummy tooth-rotting sugar. We also had to haul ourselves up a steep bank, to get to see the ‘factory’ which resulted in me nearly hauling Mr Lien back into the boat as he tried to help me up the incline – small man assisting a large lady twice his size – never going to work.
Factory would maybe imply a level of health and safety or maybe a hygiene rating, this however was four pots of boiling sugar heated by a raging fire of sugar cane fibre in a bamboo barn, and the resulting molten mass being poured onto matting into a large mound where it would set and then be cut into blocks about 4″ by 7″.
The stirring was overseen by a man with a giant spoon in one hand and a cigarette with a not inconsequential amount of ash on it in the other – secret ingredient perhaps?
Boxes used for transporting litre bottles of spirits were piled up filled with the stuff to be supplied to sweet and dessert manufacturers or to locals. I think it’s fair to say that the Burmese have a sweet tooth and no one was going to be too bothered by a visit from environmental health anytime soon.
From here it was back to the boat and a descent down the bank on my arse (deliberately, I hasten to add) to head to Inndein, located on the west side of the lake. The earliett stupas were built in 272 BC – 232 BC by Thiridama Thawka Shwe but a larger number date from between the 14th and 18th centuries. It was time for a few more pagodas and stupas. You really can have too much of a good thing, if by too much of a good thing you mean too much of any structure relating to Buddhism then yes, I think I may have reached a limit, both consciously and unconsciously. On arriving at Indein not only did my camera indicate it would shortly die but I also discovered that I’d failed to charge any batteries.
I took a few photos with my phone I then managed to delete most of the remaining day’s snaps from my phone on returning to the hotel... I was totally and stupefyingly stupa’d out, and on the plus side, you don’t get to see photos of the over 1000 of the darn things. Still, I managed to get another shot of the proverbial tree growing out of a stupa and it’s all about the sharing, so here you go.
The water flowing over the weir at Inndein was incredibly clear and clean, a beautiful blue. This was one place where there were a lot of tourist tat shops, and stallholders or hawkers. The hawkers were probably some of the most persistent of the entire trip, all selling their identical ‘home made’, made in China scarves. Two or three of them would spot you and dove-tail an attack, trying to capture you in a pincer movement. The best thing was to not engage with them and the repeated use of ‘no thank you’, it eventually worked.
Suitably topped up with my daily stupa quota it was time for culture of a different kind. We headed to Inle Heritage, in Innpawkhon, It is a socially responsible organisation with a large complex of hotel where you can stay in rooms on stilts, restaurant, organic garden, aquarium, cooking school and home to rescuing and re-establishing the Burmese cat through a breeding programme. Certainly a broad church. The main building is a beautiful reconstruction of an Intha heritage house. The site aims to educate people about the damage occurring to the lake and are working to reduce their own footprint on the lake with composting, waste water management. They also train young adults in tourism, taking in those from less privileged backgrounds and giving them on the training.
The cats area was open to see the fiends and you could wander around trying to see all 34 residents. Most were fast asleep, and you could probably have juggled with them and they’d still stay comatose. One grumpy little mo-fo was having none of it though, growling if anyone tried to stroke him, death stares to other cats, he was having a total ‘I van’ to be alone’.
After a late lunch we pootled, or rather puttered, off to Ko Than Hlaing weaving workshop, a large three storey building where cotton, silk and lotus flower stem are all loomed. Mr Lien knew all the ladies, he seems to know everyone on the lake, and had brought them a few pounds of the solid sugar to have with their lunch.
Ikat weaving was a popular weave, with the silk weft being tied into the patterns that would later woven into the warp on the looms.
Weaving with lotus flower stem is a big thing on the lake. The lotus is a highly religious flower associated with Buddha. The idea was imported (borrowed /stolen) from Thailand where it would be used to make shawls to give to head honcho monks or to wrap a Buddha statue in when the weather got a bit nips. The stems are carefully cut and the extremely fine fibres, as thin as spider web is removed and rolled together to form a thicker fibrous thread, like hemp. The thread is almost hemp like but despite its rustic look it’s very soft.
Not much was going on as it was lunchtime which was good, I could wander around and be nosey and I felt less like a visitor at the zoo viewing the exotic animals in their habitat.
Our final stop for the day was Hpaung Daw U Pagoda, which house five Buddha statues. The statues are completely misshapen from the layers of gold applied to them, looking like weird shiny gold snowmen. I have one blurry photo, showing men applying the gold leaf, the ladies aren’t allowed as per usual.
They form part of an 18 day ceremonial procession that happens during Thadingyut (September to October) when they are taken around to various villages. At some point in the 1960s the barge carrying the statues (it’s in the shape of a hintha bird, so a bit distinctive) was hit by a freak storm and the statues were lost into the waters. After a few days four of the statues were recovered but the fifth remained missing till it mysteriously appeared one morning covered with weed, sitting on the steps of the pagoda. Believed to have been restored by magic, and not trusted to do a runner, it’s now grounded and whilst the other four get to go out for the annual parade it gets to stay home alone.
We were done for the day, and it was time to head back to town, it was nice to be heading back in relative daylight and we could see where we were going as well. I felt thoroughly spoilt to know that I wasn’t going to die getting hit by a random boat.
My last day on the water was going to be a cottage industry overload with a few cats thrown in for good measure, and at least one religious building. Woo-hoo