There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Inle Lake (2), Watching People Work and a Myanmar Winery: Part 11 of Myanmar, Land of Gold

In the morning the lake had vanished. By the time we had eaten breakfast the mist was beginning to relent and the light on the reappearing lake promised another fine warm day – once it got going.

The morning mist begins to lift, Lake Inle
Sue and the boatman arrived at 9 and we set off towards Inthein, a village a kilometre or two up a creek which empties into the lake near the stilt villages we had visited yesterday.
The fisherman had been out since sunrise. They were far too picturesque to ignore and although I wrote about them in yesterday’s post, I cannot resist inserting another photo.....
Another fisherman, Lake Inle

 ....or two.

Yet another fisherman, Lake Inle

Our canoe skipped across the placid surface of the lake and made good progress up the creek despite the fast-flowing current. The vegetation grows thickly on either side and Lonely Plant describes the trip as being reminiscent of Apocalypse Now – a spell broken by the tourist sanctuary of Inthein. That is over-dramatic, life beside the creek looks far from threatening and anyway we passed a craft village en route.

Life beside the creek on the way to Inthein

We disembarked through a crowd of tourist stalls and strolled through the village passing the school, several cafés and the empty market place (Inthein is another home of the 5-day Market). We crossed a bridge below which people were beating their washing clean on the rocks, and entered another long arcade of stalls selling scarves, blankets, ornaments, carved wooden panels (which looked like they had come from monasteries), tee-shirts and assorted religious objects, including, slightly bizarrely, boxed sets of nativity characters. The manufacturers had evidently skimped on their homework - pigs were rarely present in Jewish stables!

Arriving at Inthein

Finally breaking free from the commercial world we entered an area covered with ancient stupas, many in poor repair.

Sue, Lynne and an ancient, if dilapidated, stupa
It is believed that Alaung Sithu, a 12th century King of the Bagan Empire began the stupa building here as he did in many other parts of his empire. Some years ago the government started knocking down the most dilapidated (and often oldest) and rebuilding them with modern materials. Fortunately pressure from better informed tourists stopped this vandalism and they are now committed to stabilising and, where appropriate, restoring rather than rebuilding. There is obviously much work to do.

A rebuilt stupa among the old and dilapidated, Inthein

The stupas climb a gentle hill topped by a small temple. Those at the base are the oldest but they have been added to over time and around the temple there are many new stupas – not rebuilds this time, but genuine new stupas.
New stupas at the top of the hill, Inthein

The temple was nothing special as Myanmar temples go…..

In the temple at the top of the hill, Inthein
….. though it is pleasantly situated, and it is easy to see why Alaung Sithu was taken with the natural beauty of the place.

Hibiscus, Inthein
(for Siân, who appreciates a picture of botanical interest)
We walked back through the forest.

Following Sue back through the forest, Inthein

Watched from a distance by his mother and grandmother a chubby, naked three-year-old was playing beside a stream. Using the red bowl to water his slide and keep the mud slippy he was happily whizzing down and climbing back up so he could whizz down again.

Fun on a mud-slide, Inthein
In the village we paused for a cup of tea at a café recently opened by a friend of Sue. We only wanted a drink but we read the menu, and a depressing sight it was, too: pasta, pizza, French fries, Spanish omelettes, the lowest common denominators of tourist taste.

Back on the boat we headed downstream and stopped at a silversmith’s. It is always good to watch craftsmen at work and we would have liked a closer look at the finished products but high pressure sales staff made browsing difficult.

Making silver jewellery near Inthein

Returning to the lake we found ourselves in a busy district with lots of buildings and many boats whizzing between them. We paused for lunch at the Golden Moon Restaurant which was packed with tourists. Lynne had Shan Noodle Soup, Sue had a lake fish with watercress and I did not have hot and sour noodle soup with pork as my order became lost in the busyness of the restaurant. A second attempt at ordering proved more fruitful. On leaving we paused to inspect the wine rack displaying half a dozen offerings from a local winery. Unlike Vietnamese wines which are made from grapes of unspecified varieties [I have since learned they are made from Cardinal grapes - a variety better suited to producing table grapes and raisin] eked out with mulberry juice, this winery had invested in classic European vines like Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc. I remained reluctant to pay £20 for a Myanmar wine, but Sue quietly noted our interest.

Busy, busy. Lake Inle
Our next stop was at a silk and lotus weaving workshop. Silk is familiar stuff (see Hotan for the whole story) but we were unaware that fibre can be made from the versatile lotus plant. A smiling girl demonstrated how she scored and then gently broke the stalks, before easing the two sections apart. Between them appeared thin, glistening filaments which she twisted together to form a fibre. It looked easy done by an expert, but I suspect it is a great deal harder than it appears.
Teasing out fibres from lotus stalk, Lake Inle
The blacksmith’s was a short boat ride away. One lad sat atop the bellows and pumped with two hands while a sweaty group of youths hammered away at red-hot iron. Some bare-footed and others in flip-flops they were blissfully ignorant of what we would regard as normal safety precautions, and would doubtless stay in their state of innocence until someone got hurt. All this activity was happening inside a scrum of tourists, but in contrast to the silversmith's no one was making an effort to sell the many artefacts lining the walls.
Working the red hot iron, Lake Inle
Moving on to watch yet another group of workers, we stopped at a cheroot factory. Half a dozen girls sat cross-legged on the floor rolling cheroots so fast it was impossible to follow the process, though leaves were involved as were shreds of tobacco and a stick around which the finished article was formed. Sue was reluctant to be drawn on their ages, but they looked like they should still be in school. Their youthful, nimble fingers must make a thousand a day for their basic pay, making more allows them to earn bonuses. The girls looked serious and seemed unnaturally quiet as they concentrated on the task. Then a New Zealand couple brought in their toddler and provoked a rustle of conversation and an audible cooing.

Making cheroots, Lake Inle
After a hard afternoon watching people work we returned to our hotel, pausing, yet again, to photograph the implausibly picturesque fisherman – though this chap has an outboard. The ‘chalets’ of our hotel are visible behind him
The very last Lake Inle fisherman photo. Promise.
A newly arrived Japanese coach party had been assigned to the ‘chalets’ around ours. The walls were paper thin, and we could hear every word of the conversations on both sides, and parts of those from further away.
A dinner gong clanged and they all trooped off. We followed a little later, heading for the same restaurant as yesterday. It was not worth it, the food was still dull and it was busier today and the service struggled to cope. We drank beer, but they also offered local wine, again at around £20 a bottle. As yesterday the walk back through the moonlit forest made the whole evening worthwhile.
We returned to find the Japanese coach party singing campfire songs round a pile of blazing logs. They retired to bed a little after midnight – not all of them entirely sober – but settled down quickly. They left early the next morning, their alarm calls progressing down the line of chalets, though missing us out. It did not matter we had heard it anyway – not that we wanted an early start.
When Sue arrived she commented on our interest in the wine and suggested we might like to swap the morning programme for a visit to a winery. Sue’s attitude to being a guide – find out what interests the clients and react accordingly – was a pleasing contrast to her counterpart in Mandalay.
We took the boat back to Nyaungshwe, transferred to a car and drove to the Red Mountain Winery, which sits on a hillside a few kilometres out of town.
The Red Mountain Winery, Nyaungshwe
A girl showed us round and while we looked at some very new machinery and stainless steel fermentation vats, she told us the story of the winery. The owner is a local man who searched for jade in the rivers some 50 km north of here and found enough to make his fortune. He decided to spend his money on building a state of the art winery and employing a French winemaker.
Stainless steel vats, Red Mountain Winery, Nyaungshwe
Most of Myanmar is too hot, and the wet season too wet, for wine growing. Although the Inle Lake area has no winter – or not one we would recognise – the elevation means cool nights in January and February, which is harvest time here.
The grape varieties used have been selected after experimentation with the climate and soil type and in the tasting room we sampled four of their surprisingly large range of wines. 9.30 was a little earlier than I am used to drinking wine (honest) but they were only tasting sized samples.

Vineyards, Red Mountain Winery, Nyaungshwe

The sauvignon blanc was remarkable. Despite the hot climate they had retained the sauvignon’s clean acidity, but the fruit had gone missing. The rosé was as crisp and juicy as rosé can be, while the shiraz/tempranillo was dark and smoky with good fruit and tannins. I was impressed by the overall quality, only the Late Harvest – thin and lacking in sweetness – was a definite miss. I bought a bottle of the Rosé for 8000 Kyat (£6.40), prohibitively expensive for most locals, but reasonable for its quality by British supermarket standards. We shared it with friends after we returned home.
Our final stop before the airport was Shwe Yaunghwe Monastery. The short journey took a little longer than expected as we were held up trying to pass a cart transporting the largest pig I have ever seen.
Trying to overtake a pig on a cart, Nyaungshwe
The monastery was another old teak construction. Inside children were chanting sutras under the supervision of a monk – at least most were, but there was some inattention, even indiscipline going on in the back row.

Chanting sutras, Shwe Yaunghwe Monastery

All work stopped at the arrival of some special guests, saffron robed monks visiting from Thailand. Having disrupted the lessons they then posed obligingly in the unusual oval windows for the tourists outside.
Posing visitors, Shwe Yaunghwe Monastery
We flew back to Yangon and in the evening visited our favourite Shan restaurant and ate their excellent fried dumplings. Nearby a small stage had been set up and a monk of some importance arrived to give a speech. We stopped to watch and, as is the Burmese way, we were invited into the seating area and offered bottles of water. We declined, our limited (all right, non-existent) Burmese meant anything but a short stop was fruitless.
In late November we should not have been surprised to see a local shop gearing up for Christmas, though most of Yangon’s citizens have a very hazy idea as to what Christmas is. With darkness falling the temperature had dropped marginally below 30º and I suspect Father Christmas was a little warm in that big red suit.

Santa feeling a little overdressed for the climate, Yangon
The following morning, a final run at Scott’s Market provided us with some last minute presents before our flight to Bangkok.
Myanmar, Land of Gold


1 comment:

  1. Loved the photo of the little boy on his mud slide. One plus side of being in a tour group is that numbers work for you when shopping as the sellers can't target everyone! Hilary