Monday, 22 February 2010

Samkar: The Second Lake

This was just an all-round awesome day! We reunited with Marije and Seth at 7:00am and we all clambered into an engine-powered wooden boat! It was interesting to watch over the quaint typical housing with people dressed in longis, showering using a bucket that they would dunk into the dirty canal water and pour over themselves. There were others who were trudging through the muddy banks, either with their goods or allowing their water buffalo to bathe in the refreshing coolness of the water; not that it was needed at this hour! Shan state has a large variation in temperature throughout the day, just like in Luang Prabang where were were just over a week ago. The sun’s rays have the ability to absolutely frazzle anything in their path, but in the early morning it can be quite cold. As we continued on our boat trip, the bitterness of the combination of cold ambience and wind chill kept us all shivering in our hoodies and wrapped up in the boat’s complimentary blankets.
Today was to be very meaningful because we were to explore the section of the Inle lake area for which foreigners need permission to access, and a guide that we had to meet further out on the lake. Burma is not touristic, especially when comparing how many Westerners we’ve seen in other countries, but it was still fantastic to get away from the few tourists that explore the Nothern part of Inle. Everything we saw was real life as from the closure of the Northern lake into a meandering streak with long grass curving towards us, which created an illusion of narrowness. We encountered more of the creative masterpieces for houses that stood on stilts, and we observed the people of Inle as they fished, or as they paddled smaller, basic boats full of vegetables to trade at the markets. Sometimes the boats were so full that it looked as if they were about to sink, but the experienced people of the Inle waters knew their limits! Armed with our Pa-O guide, we passed the check point into the restricted zone: Samkar, where Pa-O farmers, Inthe fisherfolk and native Shan tribes happily co-exist.
Once the lake had reopened up into another vast body, we gazed for as far as our eyes could see to the surrounding mountains and the green landscape was interrupted by the occasional red blossoms that were hanging on some of the trees that were lower down with us in the valley.
That day there was a lakeside market at Lont Kant, and here we bought some very tasty deep-fired snacks. Then it was off to Samkar itself to visit the ancient stupas and large village, before a tasty lunch of fried rice with vegetables.

This managed to soak up the rice wine we had been quaffing at the small still which had been set up just where a spring from the mountains disgorged its pure, chilled water into the lake. This rice wine came in two versions: 40% and 60%. Cheers!
The trip back north was magical, observing water buffalo and villagers bathing in the river, as well as smartly dressed women walking from village to village. This rural idyll is being carefully preserved, and must surely rate as one of the most fascinating, beautiful, peaceful and well-balanced places we’ve ever visited.

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