By Maung Tha (Archaeology)
Inle Lake in Shan State south, Nyaungshwe Township is one of the well known destinations in Myanmar among international tourists. It is situated 2,900 ft. above sea level in the middle of Shan mountain ranges that rose high above it. Inle Lake, where varieties of water resources exist was surrounded by geographical scenic views and was Myanmar’s second largest fresh water lake. Indawgyi Lake in Kachin State Moehnyin Township was Myanmar’s largest fresh water lake.
In 2003, Inle Lake became ASEAN Heritage Park and an Import Bird and Biodiversity Area. In 2015, it was recognized as UNESCOs Biosphere Reserve area and on 10 August 2018, it became Myanmar’s fifth Wetland of International Importance Ramsar Site.
A Ramsar site is a wetland site designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. If a proposed site meet any of the nine criteria set, it is designated as a Ramsar site. Moeyungyi Wildlife Sanctuary in Bago Region, Bago Township was designated as Myanmar’s first Ramsar site in 2004. Indawgyi Wildlife Sanctuary in Kachin State Moehnyin Township became a Ramsar site in 2014 and Meinmahal Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary in Ayeyawady Region Bogale Township became Myanmar’s third Ramsar site in 2017. Also in 2017, part of Gulf of Mottama was designated as Ramsar site.
Environmental challenges or problems of global warming, climate change, rising sea level, air and water pollution are threatening the natural environment and ecosystem of humans as well as living creatures and plants. Because of this, countries of the world were using various means to reduce the damage to the ecosystem and to conserve the natural environment. Bio diverse wetlands with habitat for waterfowls and migratory birds became natural environment that need to be protected and preserved.
In order to protect and preserve wetlands that support environmental protection, an international convention on wetlands was held for the first time in Ramsar, Iran on 2 February 1971. The day was designated as World Wetlands Day. 169 countries were party to the Convention on Wetlands also called the Ramsar Convention and Myanmar became one after signing it on 17 March 2005.
Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and to recognize the ecosystem, economy, culture, science and recreational values of wetlands.
According to a study jointly conducted by Japan’s Ministry of Environment and Myanmar in 2004, there were 99 important wetlands in Ayeyawady river floodplain, 85 in Chindwin river floodplain, 6 in Thanlwin river floodplain, 5 in Sittaung river floodplain and 3 in Rakhine coastal area. Wetlands types include marine waters; sub-tidal aquatic beds; coral reefs; rocky marine shores; and sand, shingle or pebble beach. Inle Lake was marine water type of wetland.
Of the nine criteria to be considered as a wetland, Inle Lake met six that include supporting vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered species or threatened ecological communities; regularly supports 20,000 or more waterbirds; and regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of waterbirds.
Geography of Inle Lake
According to geologists, more than 10,000 years ago Mogaung, Nyaungshwe, Heho, Lashio, Mogok and Kengtung regions in Myanmar had huge lakes and Nyaungshwe basin was a huge lake. Between 7,000 to 10,000 years ago, the lake volume receded to become Inle Lake when human starts to settle in the area.
Inle Lake stretches nine miles from north to south and was 3 miles wide from east to west in the widest part. Water area differs during the summer and the raining season and according to Myanmar encyclopedia, the average area was about 25.8 square miles. Average water depth was 7 ft during the dry season and 12 ft during the monsoon season. During peak raining season, the depth can be up to 20 ft at the deepest point. Inle region had a fair temperature between 45 to 90 degree Fahrenheit and receives an average rainfall of 60 inches.
Creeks and rivers flow into the lake from the east, west and north and the lake water flow onto Baluchaung in the south, merge with Nanpaung River and then flow into Thanlwin River.
To maintain the eco system and bio diversity of Inle Lake, an area covering 131,887.77 acres (206.07 square mile) that include Inle Lake and Moebye reservoir was designated as Inle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary in 1985.
270 bird species, 43 fish species, 34 amphibian species, 3 turtle species and 34 butterfly species are found in Inel Lake area. Out of these, 20 snails species and five fish species are unique to the region as it was not found anywhere else in the world. From November to January, more than 20,000 gulls can be seen while migratory birds were also seen during the winter time.
Socio economic situation of Inle region
Increase in population, development in agriculture and travel business affected the natural environment of Inle Lake. Due to the increase of agriculture on floating man-made island on the western portion of the lake during the 65 years time span of 1935 to 2000, the lake area decline from 26.67 square mile to 17.99 square mile. At the moment the water and floating islands of Inle Lake cover an area of 14,326.18 acres (22.38 square mile) and 5,797.6 acres (9 square mile) was designated as Ramsar site.
Nyaungshwe Township had a population of 171,954 out of which 110,109 were Inntha. Shan, Taungyo, Danu, PaO, Kayah and Bama numbering 70,000 lived in Inle Lake. People in Inle region earn a livelihood in agriculture, goldsmith, blacksmith, weaving, fishing and horticulture.
Islands on which agriculture or farming was conducted include natural as well as floating man-made islands were made by gathering lake-bottom weeds and tying it on bamboo poles. The floating man-made island anchored by bamboo poles rise and fall with changes in the water level making it resistant to flooding.
People travel by boats in Inle Lake. Big boats were motorized while smaller boats were rowed uniquely by leg while the leg rower stands on his other leg. This was one of the uniqueness that can be found only in Inle. Mostly man rows in this unique way while woman tend to sit and row in the normal way. However, in boat competitions, both men and women with their legs while standing upright.
Food, market and products
Inle carp (Cyprinus Intha) locally known as Nga Hpein was the most abundant fish in Inle Lake and was the most consumed fish in the region. Sour rice or htamin gyin, fermented rice kneaded with potato and fish ate together with fried tofu was a famous dish of Inle region that was well liked by almost all who had tasted it.
Markets in the region, like other markets in Shan State were five-day market that traded or buy and sell once every five days. This was where locals came to buy and sell their products as well as merchant from afar came to sell products from other regions. There were also markets in the lake where both the sellers and buyers came in boats to buy and sell. These ‘boat market’ are of great interest for both local as well as foreign visitors.
Cheroots, clothes weaved from traditional hand looms, bags, silk ware, silverware, gold jewellery and ornaments were produced in the region. Buddhist monk robe made from lotus was a famous and expensive product of the region. As it was weaved from lotus strands, considerable time and human resources was used to make it.
Inle and Hpaung Daw U Pagoda
Of the many pagodas and religious structures in the region, Hpaung Daw U Pagoda believed to be built by Bagan King Alaungsithu in 1112 was the most widely known and famous. The pagoda festival was held annually in the Myanmar month of Thadingyut. The four Buddha images normally kept in Hpaung Daw U Pagoda were carried on a ceremonial barge to 21 locations in Inle region during the festival period and stay overnight in each location for enabling the locals to pay homage. Villagers dressed in traditional Inntha costume from each location came out to greet the barge on boats to greet the barge and this was the time where boat races were held.
Inle Lake can be reached from Nyaungswe, Inntane or Mongthauk and boats were used to cross the wide lake and to make pilgrimage to pagodas around and in the lake. Pagodas, mountain ranges rising high above the lake, floating islands, gulls flying along the boats and leg rowers were some of the many interesting sights and locations that await for visitors, whether pilgrims, local or international visitors.
Inle Lake is the heart of Shan State attracting both local and international visitors alike for long. The best time to visit the region is during September and October but nowadays, visitors were visiting it all year round.
Inle Lake became Myanmar’s fifth Ramsar site while travel business continued to develop. Care must be made toward conserving the natural environment, local traditions and cultures and ancient religious structures of the region. World famous Inle Lake must be protected and preserved together for sustainable existence. Translated by Handytips