Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Inle Lake by boat - part 2

After tearing ourselves away from the Burmese cats, we rejoined the others for a lunch stop, before getting back into those pesky boats. My anxiety wasn't helped by the fact that we seemed to break down again. Thankfully, after drafting in circles in the middle of the water highway for a while, we got going again.

After a morning of crafts and cats, by now of course, it had to be time for a temple, and we were soon at the precarious jetty of the Phaung Daw Oo Paya, a place famous for its five gold Buddhas.

Well I say Buddhas, but we will just have to take their word for that, as there has been so much gold leaf offering, that now they just look like golden blobs, or maybe a little pile of Ferrero Rocher. We asked Myo whether, as it seemed to us, it was disrespectful to effectively destroy a Buddha image in this way, but he assured us that because gold is a valuable offering, it is fine.

During the annual pagoda festival, four of these twelfth century Buddhas make an eighteen day boat tour around the lake's villages. They are taken out in a replica royal barge, which is decorated with a craving of the head of the Karaweik, a mythical bird.

They used to take all five out, but in the 1960s, the barge capsized, dropping all of the Buddhas into the lake. Only four were rescued, but when they back to the pagoda, the fifth one was miraculously already back on its shrine. They took this as a sign that this Buddha image does not wish to leave the pagoda, so now only the other four make the rounds.

Back onto the boats - which thankfully had moved to the slightly better landing area - and on to a place making mulberry paper and the rather beautiful paper umbrellas.

They also host a couple of visiting Paduang women, the ladies that wear the brass rings around their elongated necks. Now this was something of a dilemma for us, as we were both fascinated by this, and wanted to take photographs, but we also find the idea of women having to damage their bodies this way quite wrong, especially when we had heard that these days it is often done just to attract tourists.

So we were quite pleased that the two ladies were happy to discuss their neck rings and how they feel about them. The older lady has been wearing her 24 rings, the maximum number, for many years, and whilst she could remove them, her neck would not support her head, so it would be unwise. We picked up a set of rings and they are very heavy.

The younger girl only wears 17 rings, and she assured us that she did it through her own choice, and that with the lower number, she could safely remove them if she no longer wished to wear them. She did say that most girls now choose not to wear the rings, and they are not pressured into doing so. I hope that this is true, and have no reason to think she was not being honest.

As to why the Paduang women started wearing them, there is consensus that it was to protect them from a danger, but we have heard two different versions of what that danger was. One account is that the danger came from hungry tigers that would attack villagers, and the rings protected the areas they would bite at; the other is that it was to make the women unattractive to neighbouring tribesmen, who otherwise might kidnap them.

Back in the boats, we wound our way through the floating gardens, where the locals grow their fruit and vegetables on islands or on a sort of gazebo on stilts that they grow things over.

Our final stop of the day was at the Nga Hpe Kyaung, or the Jumping Cat Monastery, so called because the monks taught the cats to jump up through little hoops.

Sadly, though there are still cats there, they no longer jump. In another case of differing explanations, one reason is that there were complaints that Buddhists shouldn't make cats do things like that, whilst another is that the huge number of visitors were putting too much pressure for more frequent performances. The jumping cat photo is therefore borrowed from the Lonely Planet book.

So with our final stop of the day complete, it was back into the boats for the forty minute trip back. After so many ins and outs successfully completed, to my surprise, I actually found myself starting to relax a bit. After all, as one of our group had confidently said to me, "Don't worry, nothing bad will happen."

Famous last words there as it turned out. We were the last boat to arrive back at the jetty, and when we got ashore, we were surprised to see that one of our group was soaking wet from head to toe. It turns out that whilst she was trying to get out of the boat, it drifted away from the edge and she fell into the water. So, so much for me feeling better about these boats - back to hating them it is!

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