For world traveler, Inle Lake is undoubtedly a fairy tale worthy place and if you happen to visit this place in around October, you will treat yourself with majestic festivity of Annual Paung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival. It’s an extravaganza of color and devotion which is yet to get its due share in world travel map.
Exploring Myanmar – Paung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival
During my solo trip to Myanmar, I reached Nyaungshwe town early morning around 5:30 AM from Bagan and was very well received by boat vendors asking me to join them on a boat ride. Being a golden hour fan, I wasted no time in checking in and boarded a long tailed boat for I had only 18 hours of pit stop at Nyaungshwe which is the gateway to Inle lake. Nyaungshwe and Inle lake are famous for the floating market, beautiful Inle loongyi and Shan bags, Intha leg rowers and its scenic beauty.
I planned to visit Inle Lake primarily for two purposes; first for the natural beauty of this vast lake and second for its leg rower tribe of Intha people. I had no idea that my excursion would coincide with the sacred month of Thadingyut when Inle lake becomes the natural grand opera orchestrating a show of pomp, frolic and devotion during Paung Daw Oo festival.
Though I belong to the land of festival i.e. India, but I must say this festival is the most photogenic of all festivals I have ever seen. Paung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival is one of the biggest festival of Inle Lake and considered as one of the most sacred and colorful festival of Myanmar. The festival gives life to Inle Lake and infuses its horizon with psychedelic colors and trance rhythms. Local tribal people living around Inle Lake stitch together a magnanimous show of symphony, color and rhythms which transcended me to some other world.
Brief on Paung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival at Inle Lake
The festival starts on the first day of the waxing moon day of Thadingyut and ends on the 3rd day of the full moon. This is September/ October on the Western calendar and as per Hindu Calendar it coincide with Sharad Poornima. Burma or Mynamar share close historical & cultural ties with India and during this time two main festivals take place in India too – Vijayadashmi, Sharad Pornima and Diwali.
Paung Daw Oo festival starts from Paung Daw Oo Pagora which is the most sacred place in Shan State and houses five golden images of Budda that, according to legend, date from the twelfth century BC.
During this festival, four of the five Buddha statues from Shan State’s main Pagora Paung Daw Oo are taken around to all the villages of Inle Lake over a period of 18 days. The fifth statue remains in the Paung Daw Oo Pagoda, guarding their resting place. Images of Buddha are placed in ceremoniously gilded barges pulled by hundreds of famous Intha leg rowers. Tis elaborately gilded royal barge is called “Karaweik” which is the mythical bird of Mynamar. Tens of other long boats manned by countless one-legged rowers are strung together creating magnificent procession which then passed through the narrow water ways of Inle Lake. Thousands of people from villages around the lake and in the surrounding mountains bring fruits, sweets and flowers on lacquer trays in their own boats of varied shapes and pay gratitude as the holy barge passes.
My Moment of Serendipity at Inle Lake
After experiencing the unplanned festivity of Paung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival, I could understand the meaning of serendipity. Without my permission or briefing me, my boat man took me deep into the river, I kept asking him to show me leg rowers for golden our photography and he kept accelerating his boat through low hanging clouds.
And then suddenly we stopped at a place and when I inquired he told me the reason for his haste for he wanted to secure a vantage point for me and of course for himself to witness soon to be unfolded Annual Paung Daw Oo Festival. We were the first to reach there and shortly the place was flooded with all kind of boats carrying locals from all walks of life. I was still clueless for I knew nothing about this festival and then when procession of colorful boats with famed leg rowers started to appear in the horizon I was in classic catch-22 situation whether to enjoy the scene trough all my senses wide open or capture the scene through my lenses.
Every passing boat and every passing moment put forth a ceremony which was quintessentially unique. It was a floating carnival for me which I never imagined. I found it more fascinating because I have natural affinity to anything water.
Inle Lake – A place like no other
I spent close to 4 hours in magical Inle Lake which giave me an opportunity to witness and experience things which are worthy to be classified as first in life viz. long tail boat ride, cruising through low hanging clouds, witnessing annual festival and all this culminated to photography Intha Leg Rowers.
This vast lake has many more things to do and experience such as floating villages, floating farms and floating markets which have to be visited. Though serendipity favoured me in the morning, it rained whole day and I could not explore Inle Lake and the town. However, I have no regret as I could see more than I planned for.
Burma or Myanmar offered a different world to me where life is still simple and life is still snailing. Festival at Inle Lake showcased true spirit of Myanmar and gave me a peep into rich heritage of the country which is so essential to know a country and its people.
This is Burma – A Land Like No Others
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