Lotus weavers of Inle Lake, Myanmar

A flock of birds fly over Inle lake in Myanmar.

Surrounded by lush green hills of the Shan state, Inle a freshwater lake is the second largest in Myanmar. Intha which means sons of the lake, the people who live at Inle are a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group, who have developed a remarkable sustainable lifestyle based around the lake. They’re self-sufficient, live in houses built on stilts, grow vegetables on floating gardens and have developed a unique style of rowing boats.

Inle lake, Myanmar

Standing on the stern with one leg wrapped around the oar, the Intha men row with their legs! This helps keep their hands free for fishing and a higher level allows them to see any weed obstruction ahead of the boat.

Intha fishermen and their unique rowing style.

But the most exceptional thing about the Intha people is the magic they weave with lotus fibers – Lotus textiles! A Buddhist symbol for purity the lotus flower is sacred in Buddhism and the textiles were first made for a Buddhist monk’s robe.

Filaments from the Lotus stem
Lotus fibers spun into a yarn
Lotus yarn bundles washed and drying outside the weaver’s workshop.

Filaments drawn from a cut lotus stem are twisted into a single thread and the fibers spun into a continuous yarn. These yarns are then washed, dried and woven on traditional frame looms.

With a texture like raw silk & linen, lotus fabric is soft, lightweight and naturally waterproof. Burmese believe the lotus fabric has calming and meditative properties. On a traditional frame loom the fabric is woven along with other natural yarns like silk, cotton and linen, with lotus yarns more as highlights. A small neck scarf with only lotus yarns requires about 4000 lotus stems and costs a few hundred $$!

A scarf in silk with lotus yarns as stripes

We trekked from Kalaw, a hill station through the tribal villages of the Shan hills to Inle Lake. After a 3-day (60 km) trek to Inle Lake, relaxed and went on boat rides exploring the lake. Nearest airport Heho is around 40 kms, an hour’s drive from Inle lake from where we took a flight back to Mandalay. Other than cycling around the villages surrounding the lake, and a boat ride over the lake, I would recommend an early morning or sunset cruise over Inle Lake and a visit to the lotus weaver’s workshops. Despite being touristy the extraordinary world of the Intha people is quite interesting!

Fishing by the moon, at Inle lake in Myanmar.

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