Dawns. The long, thin motor canoe has padded seats and blankets, a true luxury! Our guide navigates a small canal, the large lake just in front of us. A canoe unlike ours is navigating towards us, surrounded by a multitude of birds. Prying eyes reveal the reasons for the uproar: two friendly monks throw generous handfuls of corn overboard. They distribute smiles and welcome us to the new day: so begins my first incursion into the Inle Lake. Myanmar is the country of the unknown, the protected, the enigmatic. After years living under a severe dictatorship, the place has been gradually opening to tourism and is changing rapidly. Trying to absorb the interest of tourists, who come behind his mystical aura, the country is full of magic and places stopped in time, especially outside major cities. Among the main attractions of Myanmar, Inle Lake offers a good balance between some tourist infrastructure and real authenticity. This means that, while you can find small hotels and inns, restaurants and grocery stores are able to serve the tourist, you will also come across people making fabrics from fiber found in the stem of the lotus flower, floating markets where spices, flowers, fish and natural remedies are sold, and numerous monasteries worshiping ancient traditions. Food production in floating gardens somewhat resembles Lake Titicaca, the cultural contrast with the West is striking. Myanmar is the largest Buddhist nation on the globe and in the Inle Lake Burmese can be seen one of the most beautiful spiritual reflections. The lake provides the opportunity to connect with curious practices, passed down from generation to generation. Fishermen, for example, use a technique in which the paddle is controlled by the feet, while hands maneuver one type of cone used for catching fish. The floating markets, which in certain places in countries such as Thailand are not always authentic, here the main venue is still used for the exchange of groceries and a meeting place for the population of the villages, a window to understand the way of living and thinking of the local people. As in the rest of the country, Tanaka (a type of white powder extracted from timber) is applied to the face of women and the garments are a show of originality – women wear cheque prints over their hair and, among men, the sarongs are indispensable. The trip begins in Myanmar inevitably cities of Yangon and Mandalay, which receive international flights (the country is rarely connected by road), but it is in places like Lake Inle (and also in Bagan) that the country reveals its essence.
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