We are going to take a double-decker pickup towards Kalaw. In fact, it is an ordinary pickup, with the difference being that people sit on a roof. Interestingly, local women are not allowed to sit on vehicle’s roof, because it is “not appropriate”.
The car keeps overheating, but the situation is under control as long as we regularly fill up radiator with water. It is very tight and bumpy journey, lacking anything but suffering. This is our sacrifice to be there and walk the famous trail from Kalaw to Inle Lake.
We start the following morning. A tropical downpour greets us for a good start. The first kilometer of trail goes through dense coniferous forest. Several meters behind us we notice a monk carrying a massive load of luggage on his back, so we help him carrying some of it towards monastery.
Our guide Sounar uses every opportunity to show us various common fruits in Myanmar, some of them resembling blackberries, raspberries or strawberries, similar to dates, sweet or even salty.
It is a trail with lots of knowledge about nature. We find out that the older a bamboo tree is, the lower part of its stem branches out with flowers. Bamboo is a basic building material here. Its growth usually lasts up to 20 years while the bamboo walls have a lifespan of about 15 years.
When someone wants to build a house, most of the families around would chip in a bamboo tree each and that is often enough to build the house. If a village works together, the construction can be ready in one day!
Residents of the area use traditional means of transportation, such as wooden carriages pulled by two cows. Cows are also used in agriculture. We meet farmers working in the field, plowing the soil, planting rice, chilli, sesame, mustard and garlic. The crops naturally determine daily routines of women and children in the villages. They do the preparation, sorting and packing part. You can smell garlic and chilli peppers from the distance. Coming closer than a meter to a big pile chilli seeds makes your eyes burn.
On our hike we visit numerous villages whose names are catchy and easy to remember: Lupyin, Sarpin, Linnpan, Kyout Su, Let Pan Pin, Nan Tine, Te Yet Pin, Yoar Let, Ye Koung Tao, Hte Tain, Nann Yote, Kyout Su and Inn Tain.
Each village is peculiar in regard of its people specialization. For example, on the ground floor of the house in Kyout Su, where we spend the first night, there are few cubic meters of garlic scattered across the floor. On the second floor you can smell the intense scent, but at least we sleep peacefully without worrying about vampires. We spend the evening play chinlone with villagers. It is a small, stiff and bouncing ball made of bamboo.
We go to sleep shortly after a dinner prepared on hearth. We wake up before dawn to eat breakfast and start walking to make some distance before sunrise.
In one of the villages Sounar shows us the process of preparing kunya, a tobacco-based stimulant used daily by most of people in Myanmar. Generally speaking, it is a piece of tobacco wrapped in a green leaf together with few extra ingredients, such as cardamom, cloves or fruit juices. The product is put into one’s mouth, then gently chewed, kept idle for several minutes and then chewed with more intensity. Saliva and teeth turn dark red and the excess amount of liquid is spit on the ground marking the typical red splashes on the ground in populated areas. Kunya is still very popular despite its apparent devastating impact on teeth and health in general.
It feels like it is going to rain again, so we wait through that taking a midday nap on a monastery on the way. Unexpected guests are welcome to pay a visit in a monastery. You are welcome to rest here as well, just remember that you are not supposed to point your legs toward the Buddha statue.
During the day meet several more people manufacturing bamboo baskets and bamboo housing walls. One adult can on the average produce three small baskets, one large basket or one medium-sized bamboo wall in a day. We spend the night in Hte Tain.
After a few hours walk we finally reach Inle Lake. We come to the village Inn Thein and jump into the water, watching out for motor boats passing by with tourists. There is a major souvenir marketplace, but we find Inthein more interesting. It is a huge complex of pagodas and stupas.
The river and lake crossing all the way to Nyaungshwe takes about hour and a half.
Inle Lake is famous for its markets, which can be easily reached by boat. We visit some of these places. At one of the markets, Maing Thauk, you can find almost everything. Fresh fish, fruit, local spices, silverware, ancient papyri or bronze pipes for smoking opium.
Fishermen on the lake also deserve some credit for their denying-the-gravity postures while still keeping the balance. The fishermen can stand on one leg, use the other leg to operate a paddle and hold a fish basket with their hands. Admirable graceful movements. The only question is if the fisherman’s income comes from fish he catches or tips he gets from tourists?
During the day we get to know two Dutch girls who encourage us to visit the Red Mountain winery. We decide to rent bikes with an intention of going there. I presume this is a state-owned winery. We start our visit with wine tasting. For about 2000 kyatts (approx. € 1.5) per person, each one gets four glasses of different wines. We order a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon as it appeals to all of us. The weather deteriorates and at some point we need to wait through the thunderstorm. In that case it means ordering a few more bottles of excellent Burmese wine…