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Inle Lake
Location Shan State
Coordinates 20°33′N 96°55′E / 20.55°N 96.917°E / 20.55; 96.917Coordinates: 20°33′N 96°55′E / 20.55°N 96.917°E / 20.55; 96.917
Primary outflows Nam Pilu
Basin countries Burma
Surface area 44.9 sq mi (116 km2)
Average depth 5 ft (1.5 m) (dry season)
Max. depth 12 ft (3.7 m) (dry season; +5 ft in monsoon season)
Surface elevation 2,900 ft (880 m)
Inle Lake is located in Burma
Inle Lake
Location of Inle Lake

Inle Lake (Burmese: Inlekan.png; IPA: [ínlé kàn]) is a freshwater lake located in the Shan Hills in Myanmar (Burma). It is the second largest lake in Myanmar with an estimated surface area of 44.9 square miles (116 km2), and one of the highest at an altitude of 2,900 feet (880 m). During the dry season, the average water depth is 7 feet (2.1 m), with the deepest point being 12 feet (3.7 m), but during the rainy season this can increase by 5 feet (1.5 m).

The watershed area for the lake lies to a large extent to the north and west of the lake. The lake drains through the Nam Pilu or Balu Chaung on its southern end. There is a hot spring on its northwestern shore.

Although not a large lake, there is a number of endemic species. Over twenty species of snails and nine species of fish are found nowhere else in the world. Some of these, like the silver-blue scaleless Sawbwa barb (Sawbwa resplendens), the Crossbanded dwarf danio (Microrasbora erythromicron), and Inle danio (Inlecypris auropurpurea), are of minor commercial importance for the aquarium trade


People and culture

Inle Lake with its leg-rowing Intha people is a major tourist destination in Burma.
Leg rowing.
A floating tomato garden on Inle Lake

The people of Inle Lake (called Intha), some 70,000 of them, live in four cities bordering the lake, in numerous small villages along the lake's shores, and on the lake itself. The entire lake area is in Nyaung Shwe township. The population consists predominantly of Intha, with a mix of other Shan, Taungyo, Pa-O (Taungthu), Danu, Kayah, Danaw and Bamar ethnicities. Most are devout Buddhists, and live in simple houses of wood and woven bamboo on stilts; they are largely self-sufficient farmers.

Most transportation on the lake is traditionally by small boats, or by somewhat larger boats fitted with outboard motors. Local fishermen are known for practicing a distinctive rowing style which involves standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar. This unique style evolved for the reason that the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants making it difficult to see above them while sitting. Standing provides the rower with a view beyond the reeds. However, the leg rowing style is only practiced by the men. Women row in the customary style, using the oar with their hands, sitting cross legged at the stern.

Lotus thread is used to weave a special robe for the Buddha.
On the way home from harvesting weeds in the lake
Htamin jin (fermented rice) served with hnapyan jaw (twice-fried Shan tofu) is a popular local dish.

Fish caught from the lake - the most abundant kind is called nga hpein (Inle Carp, Cyprinus intha) - are a staple of the local diet. A popular local dish is htamin gyin - 'fermented' rice kneaded with fish and/or potato - served with hnapyan gyaw (literally twice fried - Shan tofu). In addition to fishing, locals grow vegetables and fruit in large gardens that float on the surface of the lake. The floating garden beds are formed by extensive manual labor. The farmers gather up lake-bottom weeds from the deeper parts of the lake, bring them back in boats and make them into floating beds in their garden areas, anchored by bamboo poles. These gardens rise and fall with changes in the water level, and so are resistant to flooding. The constant availability of nutrient-laden water results in these gardens being incredibly fertile. Rice cultivation is also significant.

Hand-made goods for local use and trading are another source of commerce. Typical products include tools, carvings and other ornamental objects, textiles, and cheroots. A local market serves most common shopping needs and is held daily but the location of the event rotates through five different sites around the lake area, thus each of them hosting an itinerant market every fifth day.[1] When held on the lake itself, trading is conducted from small boats. This 'floating-market' event tends to emphasize tourist trade much more than the other four.

The Inle lake area is renowned for its weaving industry. The Shan-bags, used daily by many Burmese as a tote-bag, are produced in large quantities here. Silk-weaving is another very important industry, producing high-quality hand-woven silk fabrics of distinctive design called Inle longyi. A unique fabric from the lotus plant fibers is produced only at Inle lake and is used for weaving special robes for Buddha images called kya thingahn (lotus robe). [2]

Environmental concerns

Beida (water hyacinth) clogs up the smaller streams.

Inle lake is suffering from the environmental effects of increased population. The surface area of the lake has shrunk within living memory. The surrounding hills have also been stripped bare of trees harvested for their firewood. Deforestation and more intense agriculture on its western and northern watershed areas have brought in increasing amount of silt and nutrients into the shallow lake. This silt fills up the lake, the nutrients encourage the growth of weeds and algae. Fortunately, eutrophication has not been reported yet. The practice of farming on floating gardens also encroaches into the diminishing area of the lake, since over time, the floating beds become solid ground.

The water hyacinth, a plant not native to the lake, also poses a major problem. Its aggressive growth fills up the smaller streams, and clutters even larger expanses of the lake, robbing native plants and animals of sunlight. Large-scale mechanical control, using dredges and pumps, has been used with some success over the last twenty years. On a smaller scale, public awareness education and small-scale control have been successful. At one time, all boats coming into Nyaung Shwe were required to bring in a specified amount of water hyacinth.

Another cause for concern is the planned introduction of non-native fish species, such as Grass Carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) intended to improve fishery.

Sanitation in the villages around the lake is an ongoing concern for public health authorities, due to untreated waste water flowing into the lake. To ensure fresh and clean water, some villages now have enclosed wells and public access to the well water.

Noise pollution is also a noticeable issue. The noise from the cheaper unmuffled diesel engines driving the outboard motors is significant, and can be a distraction to the otherwise tranquil lake.


Sunset at Inle Lake

The best time of the year to visit is during September and October. The ceremonial Hpaung Daw U Festival, which lasts for almost three weeks, is closely followed by the Thadingyut festival of lights. Inthas and Shan turn out in their best clothes in great numbers to celebrate the Buddhist Lent. Traditional boat racing, with dozens of leg-rowers in Shan dress in a team on each boat, is a famous event during the Hpaung Daw U Festival.

Floating farm

Inle Lake is a major tourist attraction, and this has led to some development of tourist infrastructure. Many small and large privately owned hotels and tour operations have arisen during the past few years. Local shops are flooded with consumer items, both local and foreign. The nearest airport is Heho which is 35 km away. There are flights from both Yangon and Mandalay. Yangon is 660 km distant by road, Mandalay 330 km.

Inle Lake is in the heart of Shan State, which has been the location of much of the civil and political strife over the last two decades. Political imprisonments and disappearances are common. Significant debate exists regarding the moral implications of spending your tourist dollars or Euros here.


Inle cuisine is different from Shan cuisine, as it incorporates local natural produce. The most well-known Inle dish would be the Htamin jin - a rice, tomato and potato or fish salad kneaded into round balls dressed and garnished with crisp fried onion in oil, tamarind sauce, coriander and spring onions often with garlic, Chinese chives roots (ju myit), fried whole dried chili, grilled dried fermented beancakes (pè bouk} and fried dried topu (topu jauk kyaw) on the side.


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