It is 3 in the afternoon, and my mind starts to wander about ten different things at once. Things like a cat hugging her kitten while sleeping and how my diet coke is not cold enough in spite of being in the refrigerator all night. In the midst of all this wandering, I decide to learn about Myanmar, looking for something unusual in the country. I come across the one-leg rowers of Inle Lake – sounds fascinating, right? So my obsession starts and I start digging deeper on this.
Little did I know – for a while now, people from all over the world have been aware of the leg-rowers – and have witnessed them first-hand. While, I was probably still making my plans for the weekend! Inle Lake lies in the heart of Shan State, attracting tourists for its floating gardens, villages built on stilts, stupas, clear water, and the fascinating leg rowers. The leg-rowing technique is used by the fishermen to catch their daily fish, and can be found only in Inle Lake. It is believed to be dated back to the 12th century, and is more of an Intha tradition than just a fishing technique. People living on or by the lake are called Intha, and are depended on the lake for their livelihood, fish being the staple diet.
Now, how do they catch their fish using this unique method? I had to know – believe me, it looked tougher than I could depict. This technique requires them to stand on the stern of their flat bottomed wooden boat, while wrapping one leg around the oar. One arm remains free, which allows them to capture the fish in the cone shaped net, and also to get a better view of the lake, making their job easier. The water hyacinth and floating islands form a thick maze underwater, which makes navigating difficult, but this technique makes it easier to view the waterways.
It is as difficult as it sounds, requires a lot of patience and dedication to master it, which is why they start out at a young age. I can only envisage how much time and energy has been invested into learning this technique. They have been passing on this tradition from one generation to the next, and take immense pride in it. And I thought watching David Blaine, the illusionist, do his tricks is the most intriguing thing I would ever see! Women, however still use the old method of using the oars with their hands, while sitting at the stern.
I write this with extreme regard – with times changing, the Intha’s have still managed to keep this tradition alive till date. And hopefully it continues to prevail in the years to come. A festival called Phaung Daw U Pagoda is a 20 days long celebration, where they parade Buddha images from the pagodas around the lake on a raft pulled by hundreds of leg-rowers. They even have leg-rowing competitions, which is taken very seriously by all the participants. Many of them start practicing for it months in advance.
Reading and writing about it, is making my mind itch, and wander to Myanmar. If you happen to visit Myanmar, do not miss out on getting a glimpse of this fascinating world living on water. A beautiful country open to visitors with some of the warmest people. Happy exploring!