Biking in Inle to find a floating village

Waterway to the Front Door

Waterway to the Front Door

Sugar Cane Truck

Sugar Cane Truck

One day, my family and I biked around Inle Lake for ten kilometers to try to find a floating village. We passed crops of sugar cane, sunflowers and lentils. The sugar cane was 2 to 4 meters high. It was being harvested in the fields, then processed in a tiny factory right there, and made into sugar juice.

After biking for five kilometers we came to a little teak pier. We left our bikes and then walked to the end of the pier where we rented a canoe and hired a driver. To move around the floating village the driver paddled and we helped. It cost us 6000 kyats for an hour ($7 CAN). There are about 150 houses in the village and about 230 families.

Exploring the Village by Canoe

Exploring the Village by Canoe

A floating village is not actually floating. The houses are on stilts over a swampy area of the lake. The fisherman put their houses on stilts because during monsoon season the water rises. If the houses were not on stilts, the houses would flood and potentially be half way under water. To move around the floating village everybody has a canoe and everyone has to know how to paddle. The people in Inle have an unusual way of paddling. They paddle with one leg (see picture). This allows their hands to be free so that they can do other things, such as fishing with a net.

 

Floating Gardens & Houses

Floating Gardens & Houses

Each family seems to have at least one garden. The gardens are patches of floating earth held in place by bamboo poles. The families were growing a lot of fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, papayas, tomatoes and aubergines. The floating garden is also useful because during monsoon the water rises and so does the garden. This allows the farmers to grow food even during the monsoon season.

 

 

 

View of Inle from Winery

View of Inle from Winery

After visiting the floating village, we biked to the only winery in Myanmar where my parents tried a few types of wine. I had a cheese platter and some French fries, and my sister had some chicken fingers. The winery is located on a mountainside where we watched a nice sunset. After sunset, we biked back to our hotel to get some sleep so that the next day we could be ready for more biking – ugh! – another 10 kilometers up and down hill to find more temples!

 

 

 

Workers Cutting Sugar Cane

Workers Cutting Sugar Cane

Floating Gardens

Floating Gardens

Floating Home with Laundry Drying

Floating Home with Laundry Drying

A Kid Leg Paddling His Canoe

A Kid Leg Paddling His Canoe

Leg Paddling to Move Around the Village

Leg Paddling to Move Around the Village

Fisherman Paddling with Leg & Casting Net

Fisherman Paddling with Leg & Casting Net

Golden Buddhas, Golden Stupas and Gold Leaf – Discovering Something Very Different While Biking In Mandalay, Myanmar

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Three Buddha Statues at the First Temple

Our teeth chattered as our bicycles bumped along the roadways of Mandalay as we set out to explore this bustling city. We had set out in search of amazing temples and places that were completely off the beaten track.

Golden Buddha

Golden Buddha

Our first stop was a large local temple hidden on a small back street off the main road. As it was midday and because this temple was not a touristic site there were only a few locals inside. The entry hall was lined with red and yellow pillars, with flower patterns made of mirror. As we walked further inside the temple and into the center chamber, there stood a 2.5-meter, pure gold, diamond, jade, emerald and ruby encrusted Buddha. Quietly we tiptoed around the room so that we did not to disturb the local people in prayer, I scanned the room for security cameras and found none!

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Woman Praying at First Temple

As we continued to wander around this huge temple complex and admire all of the statues, I noticed that all of the Buddhas had slightly different faces! I couldn’t imagine how many artists it must have taken to complete all of these hundreds of unique Buddhas!

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Coal Workshop

While we were biking to the next temple, we saw a small workshop where children ages 7 to 10 were breaking big chunks of coal into smaller pieces. Their faces were completely blackened from the coal dust and their clothes were falling apart. We couldn’t believe our eyes! Once we were a block away, we stopped to discuss what we had just witnessed. My parents decided that we must bike back to confirm what we had seen – it seemed so unreal. My dad felt that the scene reminded him of parts of a Charles Dickens’ novel. We watched these children for a few more minutes both in fascination and pity.

Golden Stupa at Second Temple

Golden Stupa at Second Temple

My head was still spinning as we arrived at the second temple. This temple had countless stupas in its walls, each one different. The biggest stupa was coated in gold leaf, which was hard to focus on, as it was bright out and the gold was reflecting the sunlight directly into our eyes. In another part of this temple, there were some statues that depicted Buddha under a bhoda tree, with some of his disciples sitting around him. These followers looked oddly like Jesus, which we found strange.

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Palm Sugar Refinery

Soon after leaving the second temple, we saw a rusted, corrugated steel building, with many old and used oil barrels outside. The air smelled strongly of molasses, and my dad was curious as to what the purpose of the building was. When my dad peeked in, he saw that some workers appeared to be making a type of sugar. One of the workers invited my dad to come further inside, and he saw that the men were using a pre-industrial method to refine sugar cane.

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Small Garbage Dump

A few minutes later we came upon a small garbage dump, which we had to ride through in order to cross the river. After hurrying through it, as it was very stinky, we biked past a fairly dingy looking temple and over a teak bridge. As the bridge was long, there was a covered spot in the middle to provide refuge from the blistering sun. I felt a little uncomfortable as we walked our bikes through the roofed section because there were many young homeless men sleeping on the floor and the wooden benches. A few minutes later, we reached the other side of the river and came upon many people, who although they appeared to be quite poor living in makeshift homes without running water or toilets, were smiling and waving at us.

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The Ayeyarwady River

Soon after we had left this area, we suddenly came upon a large restaurant for tourists overlooking the Ayeyarwady River. As we were famished, we decided to stop for lunch. While we sat waiting for drinks and food enjoying the amazing view, we reflected on how great the differences were between the lives of the locals and that of the tourists.

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Long Teak Bridge

After lunch, we re-crossed the small bridge and stopped in front of the temple we had seen before lunch. My parents wanted to go in, but Matthew and I did not. After looking around for a bit, I noticed numerous coffins on the floor of the “temple”, and we realized that this “temple” was actually a crematorium and morgue! After this discovery, we decided to hurriedly get out of there because it was a bit creepy – to say the least!

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Local Market

On our way back, we crossed through a buzzing local market. There were so many people, carts and trucks that we had to walk our bikes! It seemed like the only foods for sale were tomatoes, garlic, onions, pickled vegetables and potatoes! One stall sold only onions. They had hundreds of huge mesh bags full of them! Another had thousands of different types of tomatoes for sale. As we made our way through the market, we noticed that everyone was looking at us and smiling and waving.

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Gold Leaf Right After Pounding

 

 

Shortly after this, we finally arrived back at our hotel. After cooling down for few hours, we got back on our bikes in search of a gold leaf market. Gold leaf is created by placing small sheets of gold between thousands of pieces of paper. The papers are then placed into a bamboo box, and workers continuously pound the containers with a sledgehammer thinning the gold until it becomes what is known as gold leaf. This process normally takes upwards of 5 days. At the gold leaf market, we noticed that men were the ones pounding the gold leaf, women were cutting the leaf, and children were responsible to make the packets that held the leaf. Pounding the leaf appeared to be very demanding and the children looked sad as they did their work. Gold leaf is important in Myanmar because it is often applied to Buddhas and stupas for good fortune and health. Typically only males are allowed to apply the gold leaf. Females are not permitted to do so in Myanmar – which I found very sexist!

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Pounding the Gold Leaf

When I started out on the bike ride in the morning, I had no idea what I might see. I had assumed that I would see Buddhas and stupas and maybe run into some monks. What I actually saw was very different. For the first time, I witnessed child labour and extreme poverty. Again, I feel very lucky to live in Canada.

 

 

 

 

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Tons of Tomatoes at the Local Market

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Buddha and his Followers