Inle lake and Kalaw

April 25, 2009 at 11:53 pm 1 comment

Almost lost track of days. And then I remembered that the 29th is on a Wednesday and subtracted several dates until I figured out that today is Saturday. When I parted with Dmitry in Mandalay I thought I’d spent the rest of my time in Burma alone. But then Alesha arrived in Nyaungshwe (Inle lake) from Bago (by himself; Alena decided to return to Bangkok and thereafter to India which has been their home for the past 2 years). One day we hired a boat and visited several crafts shops and temples around the lake. Other days we spent trekking through the villages by ourselves.

a boatman in traditional Burmese one-leg rowing position

a boatman in traditional Burmese one-leg rowing position

with long necked - women

with long necked Kayan women

Villagers planting rice

Villagers planting rice

One of my favorite things about Burma is how much the Burmese love tea. Not only is every town and resting point loaded with tea shops (simple cafes that serve several kinds of tea and pastries) but many monasteries also serve you tea when you visit. And it’s not the Lipton variety but real tea: aromatic, delicious…

A street-side tea shop.

A street-side tea shop in Yangon

The room we shared cost only $6 and included a hearty breakfast. The only other expenses we incurred were the fruits and vegetables we bought in the market for dinner. (One of the things I missed most about home was the salads I used to make nightly)

On the 23rd we left Nyaungshwe for Kalaw, a hill town 1320 meters above sea level that had been popular among Brits during Burma’s years as a British colony. Although it’s only about 40 kilometers away but it took us several hours to reach it. First we needed to take a pick-up taxi to Shwenyaung junction 11 kilometers away where we could hire another pick-up to Kalaw, but the pick-up in Nyaungshwe only had 6 passengers (including us) and the driver wasn’t interested in driving us at the fee of 50 cents per passenger to the junction. After spending an hour waiting for more (phantom) passengers we agreed to pay double and left.

some of the passengers in the pick-up taxi...

some of the passengers in the pick-up taxi...

We had a little trouble hiring a pick-up at the junction. We sat on the roof of the one that finally picked us up, amidst the sweet salty smell of tomatoes that were being transported. The car stopped often, first for gas, than to change a tire, then to load more goods… and it drove so slowly that everyone passed us, even tractors loaded to the brim with farmers and youngsters.


Shortly before sundown we arrived in Kalaw and settled in a hotel that hadn’t had a guest in several days. Throughout our time in Kalaw I only spotted two other foreigners. They were buying a pineapple in the market and we waited for them to leave so that we could bargain. (Although we were just splitting hairs because the food is so cheap here and the prices are generally the same for foreigners and locals. This sameness – the absence of the perception of foreigners as $ generators is one of the wonderful aspects of travel in Burma)

In Kalaw we also trekked. Most of the time I stopped before reaching any interesting destination and sat waiting for Alesha to reach the peak and come back. I just couldn’t walk so much uphill, especially in the heat. I can walk for hours on flat ground, and I have no trouble walking downhill, but my lungs just don’t catch enough air to support me when I walk up and I feel dizzy and stop too often. When Alesha leaves I meditate, although instead of parting with thoughts I become saturated with them. But all the greenery that surrounds me and the little houses in the distance are so calming – that no thought is completely negative.



I hike in a skirt because it keeps me cooler than shorts – I think it’s funny.

This morning I finally reached a peak of some kind. It was a temple on top of a hill and I reached it after a dozen rest-stops. Thereafter we sat in the temple before trotting back down via a roadless slope (doing which is one of my favorite things in the world)

Alesha left to Mandalay 2 hours ago and tomorrow afternoon I’m leaving to Yangon. The bus ride is going to be 14 hours long.

Just now there was a knock on my door. Another traveler has come to stay at the hotel. He’s from Israel, alone, bald like me, and speaks Russian. He wanted to trade books and left one of his “What the Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula.

I hope the electricity does not go while I read tonight. Although Burma has natural gas resources which it sells to China and Russia, electricity has been unstable in every city I’ve visited. It usually disappears several times throughout the night and is completely absent during the day. While waiting for the bus with Alesha tonight I asked several Burmese men who I’d met several days ago why the electricity was off so often. “Ask the government” they answered and laughed. I wanted to know more but they quit the conversation by saying (without enmity) “How do we know who you are? We don’t want to go to jail.”

Before Alesha left we visted a church. It was full of youth, singing hymns in Burmese to guitar accompaniment. They were deeply enthusiastic, the way their faces tensed and the way the hand of the lad in front of me clutched emotively as he sang certain words, this sincerity and enthusiasm of the youngsters singing harmoniously in a language I couldn’t understand (and didn’t need to or want to) put me in a blissful state.


Entry filed under: travel. Tags: , , .

Bagan back to Yangon

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. dina  |  May 2, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Are you travelling alone or what?
    Where is Dmitry?


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