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The leg-rowing fishermen of Inle Lake – Myanmar

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The iconic sight of Inle Lake in Myanmar is the leg rowing Intha fishermen. Most lake traffic consists of long, flat-bottomed boats. These days they generally have noisy diesel motors, but the traditional fisherman still use the leg rowing technique. They stand at the stern and wrap one leg round an oar whilst gripping the hull of the boat with the other foot.

Inle Lake Fisherman

Preparing the net

This upright position has a number of advantages – they can see across the lake to spot the dense hyacinth weeds that are scattered just below the surface of the lake. At the same time they can keep watch for the tell-tale bubbles of shoals of fish.

The deceptively simple looking basket net has a spear sticking through the top of the frame. The spear is used to stir the weed below, exposing the fish. The fisherman can feel the fish bumping against the frame and releases the net to capture the fish.

The leg can also be changed to allow for travelling greater distances, which could be useful on the 22-mile long lake. Women still row in the customary style, holding the oars whilst sitting in the boat.

Inle Lake Crop Harvest

Harvesting the crops on Inle Lake

Inle Lake Farming

There are also fruit and vegetable crops growing on the surface of the lake, so the standing position allow the fishermen to see beyond the trellises. The floating trellis frames rise and fall with the level of the lake, keeping the crops above water level.

Inle Lake Weed Gathering

Gathering weeds on Inle Lake

Inle Lake Fisherman

Inle Lake fisherman preparing his basket

The gardens grow in floating beds of lake-bottom weeds, and workers can be seen gathering these from all over the lake.

The most abundant fish in Inle Lake is the nga hpein, or Inle Carp. It can be kneaded together with potato or fermented rice to create htamin gyin – it’s a popular local dish but I’m not really a fan.

The Inle Lake fishermen know they are big tourist draws, so can often be seen pottering along on a diesel engine, then switching to leg rowing when a boat full of camera toting tourists draw near. Others aren’t so keen and turn away to get on with their fishing. The guy in the video above seemed quite new to fishing, and loved the attention.

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Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.

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