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Trekking to Inle Lake

MYANMAR | Thursday, 10 January 2013 | Views [1878]

Meeting of the trekking group in front of the gas station

We meet at Kalaw's improvised gas station, although no gas is needed for this 3-day trip through isolated villages and gentle slopes of east Myanmar. A 50-year old expert in green turban and sporty tightened lungi skirt folded above his knees is ready to guide a group of ten enthusiasts to trek 20km a day to reach the famous Inle Lake. He is called Mr Robin, or as later we would rename him An Eagle Eye. It’s mid October, drizzle is constant and heavy rain is precisely scheduled for every afternoon. We’re equipped with raincoats specially designed for us on Kalaw’s market. It’s a green thick nylon just cut with scissors by a tailor on the market. The man brilliantly concluded that we need regular 2 square meters and “a bit more” of material to enjoy trekking and rain properly. Temperatures are around 28°C during the day which normally wouldn’t be a problem, but humidity is fatal. The nights on the other hand get pleasantly chilly, around 18C.

Custom-made raincoat

The group split in two, first group led by Mr Robin went through villages and farmers’ fields while Matija and I decided to join the second group going through the protected forest. Our group was guided by a young kind-hearted helper Sai. The way through the forest was not an easy one due to many ascents and the muggy paths and especially because of small leeches that would stick on you immediately. Luckily, we all had long pants so we only had to get them off the material not our skin. We reunited at lunchtime in a villager’s home on top of a hill where we enjoyed the view while served homemade chapattis and mango curry.

Beautiful view on the Buddhist stupa in Burma

In the afternoon most of the terrain was uphill but what slowed us down (aside from constant photographing) was Sai attempt to try everything edible along the way. First we sniffed our brains out with Thanaka tree bark. This is a crucial ingredient of a famous tiger balm and it smells exactly like it. Aside from the regular crops – rice, tee, chili, ginger that we were passing by, Sai would dig out other plants and picked different berries that he thought we must try. The taste that swept us of our feet was definitely something called lime-pepper.  It is exactly what the name says; pepper with limey acidity but multiplied by ten. Each of us just put one pepper berry, chewed on it and didn’t even swallow but the effect was incredible. You literary experience refreshment like those guys in numerous chewing gum commercials and your lips and tongue continue to vibrate for a long time afterwards. 

Annie is eating some fruit that is supposed to have more vitamins than 30 lemons

Kids running home after school through rice fields

One of the main reasons of our trekking was to visit local villagers and schools. Mr Robin is full of stories and doesn’t mind sharing them. He talked about their traditional way of life, and problems they face.  We were carrying some basic supplies for children and were giving them out to their teachers in every school we passed by. The hilly countryside is really stunning but for the locals it is also an obstacle to get to the nearest city. Therefore, medical help or just simple everyday supplies reach the villages slowly. The main means of transportation are motorbikes but one cannot really carry a lot of things driving on such a terrain. Our contribution to the children was notebooks and pencils, toothpastes and brushes and basic medicine. The locals were genuinely thankful for these simple things and the children honestly excited that sometime soon, when their current pen stops working they would be given a new one.

Kids were posing in front of their school

Burmese kids learning the math in the classroom in the local school

Local Burmese kids singing in front of the flag and school before the class begins

In the late afternoon we were following railroad tracks to reach a train station where the market was just closing. We were just in time to stock up on some beer for the evening. We would be sleeping just a few kilometers further in a house of a municipal mayor. The accommodation was very simple and all ten of us were in one room on straw mattresses but with a little help of a few beers and an incredible dinner, we had no problem falling into sleep. The food that our cook prepared was a real fusion feast. I don’t know if it was because we were really hungry and tired, but the dinner was extremely flavorful though not too fiery, the basis was Myanmar cuisine but bits of Chinese, Thai and Indian flavors and cooking techniques accompanied it.

The second day of trekking was a bit harder due to heavy rain that poured all night and turned every path into a muddy and squashy terrain. The scenery was still stunning though and our enthusiasm was still the same. At lunch time we made a stop at the local medicine man where we learnt about the local herbs and their usage. In the next village we noticed that all the women were wearing the same kind of scarves folded into turbans on their heads. The scarves were intensive orange or purple color; woven in the village and worn on head to help the women carry bamboo baskets from the field and to transport goods. At the time of our trip those baskets were usually filled with peanuts and carried to dry on straw mattresses in the sun. Afterwards they were put in jute bags and beaten with sticks till nuts leave the shell. The locals assured us that exactly hundred thrusts are necessary for all the nuts to be released from the shell. The locals sell 1 wiss of cleaned peanuts for 1200 kyats which is equivalent of 1 euro.

 local burmese women unshelling the peanuts and preparing them for sale

Soon this bamboo stripes will become a house

That evening we arrived at a Buddhist Monastery where we were served and amazing dinner and lulled to sleep by stories about the Buddhism and monks’ lives. In the morning, and by morning I mean 5am, we were woken up by the monks chanting their prayers. After breakfast, we met a head monk who gave us his blessing for the rest of our journey. This last day was much easier and after only a two-hour walk we could already see Inle Lake in the distance. From this point on we had only a fertile valley to cross, and the endpoint of our trekking was only a couple of hours ahead us.

Monks praying in the monasteryWe slept the third night of trekking in this Buddhist monastery


Tags: buddhist, burma, inle lake, kalaw, myanmar, trekking


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