HILLTOP STUPAS OF SHWE INN DEIN
The village of Shwe Inn Dein is located at the South-Western corner of Inle Lake and is one of the highlights of the region due to its hilltop forest of ancient stupas. We had a great day trip down to Shwe Inn Dein today – the boat trip down the length of Inle Lake was incredibly picturesque; the stupas highly photogenic; the friendly Pa-O people friendly and welcoming; and the rural scenery bucolic.
We started out from Nyaung Shwe early again this morning, catching a boat from the same river jetty that we used yesterday. Our journey down to Inle Lake was just as scenic as yesterday’s and we spent the trip captivated by the sights around us.
As we made our way to the Southern end of the lake we saw a novitiation procession underway. All the novitiates and their parents were beautifully dressed, and the boats extravagantly decorated. It makes sense that, like everything else here on Inle Lake, even novitiation ceremonies are held on the water!
The journey down to Shwe Inn Dein village took about an hour, the last part of it going upstream along Inn Dein River, one of many waterways that feed Inle Lake. The river was incredibly clean and clear, and criss crossed with wooden dams designed to help control the flow of water (especially now, during the dry season when water levels drop significantly).
The village itself was fairly nondescript – just a river jetty, few homes, a small school, and (of course!), a temple. In the distance, however, high up on the hill just outside the village we could see the Shwe Inn Dein stupas.
We walked through the village and neighbouring bamboo forest, and were soon in the fields surrounding the township. Some of the fields lay fallow, this year’s crop of sunflower seeds, corn, peanuts, beans, and chickpeas already harvested*.
*This area is inhabited by members of the Pa-O ethnic group, once infamous for their opium farming. Since the 1990s however, staples like cabbage, corn, rice, and canola have all replaced the opium of years before.
Shortly after the path began to climb and we started to walk amongst the ruins of the Shwe Inn Dein, a huge collection of partially restored stupas begun dating back to the 12th century. Many of the stupas were crumbling and covered in vegetation. The overall effect, however, was very striking.
At the center of the Shwe Inn Dein group is a shrine that houses a golden Buddha image. After a short rest there we continued down the other side of the hill, towards the second of the religious sites in this area: Nyaung Ohak. This cluster of religious buildings includes a central temple and a number of pagodas, all of which were in various states of repair. Many of the pagodas were decorated with sculptings of celestial beings or mythological animals. And one stupa, quiet spectacularly, had a banyan tree growing right out of it.
Continuing on from Nyaung Ohak, we passed through another small village, where the elders and children welcomed us warmly, and offered us some freshly made rice cakes.
Just outside the village we met a 76 year old woman who lives with her daughter and contributes to the family’s income by making rice cakes and selling them at the market in Nyaung Shwe. She walks 2 hours every morning with her basket of rice cakes, and then walks home. Today was a good day because she sold all her rice cakes AND got a lift home from a young man who lives in a nearby town.
We’ve often seen older citizens still working hard here in Myanmar. Unsurprising in a country without social security or old age benefits. Older people are highly dependent on their families for support, and for some this means they have to keep earning their keep until the day they die. We’ve even seen some very old people on the side of the road begging. Heart breaking.
We also passed through some rice paddies, all currently in the process of being planted. We asked our local Pa-O guide how much farm workers here get paid and found out the going rate is about 6,000 kyat per day (i.e. about $6AUD/day). To be put that into perspective: meals at restaurants here cost about 3,000 kyat (i.e. about $3AUD/day). So even though life here is proportionally cheap, $6AUD/day is still a meagre salary.
Eventually our meandering took us back down to Inn Dein River, which we followed all the way back to Shwe Inn Dein village. We had a late lunch in the village, again feasting on a simple meal of fresh fish and organic veggies before heading back up the lake to Nyaung Shwe for our last night at Inle Lake.