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INCREDIBLE INLE

Ever wondered how it would be to live the simple life? If yes, then pack up and head out to the pristine and picturesque Inle Lake, a fresh water lake located in the Nyaung Shwe township of Shan State, Myanmar. Here you can experience rural life at its very best and enjoy a kind of peace and calm, probably never experienced before.

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Despite being one of the top tourist destinations in Myanmar and attracting over hundred thousand tourists every year, Inle continues to remain raw, exotic and untouched. DSC_0438_Fotor

The locals, called Inthas who live in the neighboring villages and also in stilted-houses built right on the lake, seem to remain almost oblivious to the world beyond it, depending primarily on farming or fishing as the main source of livelihood.

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One of the most fantastic sights on Inle is seeing the local fisherman, practicing a completely unique style of rowing that involves them standing on one foot at the edge of the boat and rowing with the other, firmly wrapped around the paddle. Other produce like fruits and veggies are grown in plenty on the large floating gardens. Apparently the high nutrient-level in the water makes it possible to grow almost anything on the lake. Other source of income come from the sale of hand-made goods made in the several small-scale cottage industries also set along the lake.
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One particular product that is completely unique to Inle and found in no other part of the world is the Lotus Silk. During the monsoons, lotus stems are cut and twisted to reveal a thin fiber. Thousands of this fiber are then spun together and handwoven to make this luxurious fabric. DSC_0511

The fact that the locals are devout Buddhists are obvious from the vision of the numerous pagodas and Buddhist temples cropping up on various parts of the lake, some new and some like the Shwe Indein Pagoda located on the Indein Village, dating all the way back to the 17th century. A trip to the village, located on the western banks of the lake is an absolute-must to see the ancient ruins of over 100 stupas and also catch a panoramic view of the village atop the hill that houses the pagodas.
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Another major temple that is a must-stop at Inle is the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda. No visit to the lake is considered complete or auspicious` without paying your respects here. The pagoda houses 5 Buddha stupas, completely covered in gold to the extend that it is impossible to recognize its original form. Only men are allowed to place the gold leaf on the shrine that is believed to have magical powers. In the 1960’s during the festival procession, the royal barge carrying the stupas had capsized. The search party were only able to retrieve four of the five idols. But when they returned, they were simply amazed to find the fifth statue back in its place.
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Simple is beautiful and Inle stand proof of it. So come and fall in love to what can only be described best as the perfect synthesis of beauty, peace, divinity and harmony. A place like no other.

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK-Part 4: Under the sea fun at Port Douglas

After departing Daintree we made our way through Mossman, the gateway to the famous Mossman Gorge. On reaching the main Mossman Gorge Center, we had to take a ticket to get on board a shuttle that took us to the various hiking trails that led to walking platforms and scenic viewpoints, all surrounded by lush green tropical rainforests and over looking the Mossman River.

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Though swimming was not recommended in the river due to the rocky granite boulders that are in plenty, we were told it was okay to soak our feet in its cool waters. My personal favorite and I bet my dare-devil daughter’s as well was walking over the suspension bridge over the river. It was a lot of fun and a bit scary trying to balance ourselves on the dangling bridge and pretending as though we had magically found our way into some Indiana Jones movie. DSC_0683

It was almost noon by the time we reached our last and most highly anticipated destinations, Port Douglas. I will be honest and admit that this was the part of the trip I was the most nervous about. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing scary about this cute little town with its boutique style shops, pristine beaches, breathtakingly beautiful coastline and sea-side cafes. Here I had even gotten the part I had been so eagerly waiting for, the romance element of our entire trip. But even while walking hand in hand with my husband, enjoying the beauty of the pacific ocean, I couldn’t help but the think of the big adventure that we were about to embark on the very next morning, an adventure that drove almost all adrenaline junkies to this part of the world. An adventure called The Great Barrier Reef.
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I could almost hear the sound of my heart beat amidst the splashing of rough waves as I boarded the monstrous catamaran that was going to take us to the Agincourt Reef, a ribbon-like reef located on the edge of what is best referred to as the ultimate underwater playground. Pronounced a world heritage site, The Great Barrier Reef is considered to host the largest coral reef systems in the world. On board we were given a number of safety instructions to a few easy ones like don’t throw food in the water or stand on the coral to more eerie ones that drove my anxiety to a whole new level like to not touch any marine animals as many have the ability to sting or disable a person to learning hand signals viz. we see a shark.

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Each one of us was given a lycra suit and also given a number of optional tours that we could sign up while we were there. For the non-swimmers and the less adventurous there was the underwater observatory, a mini submarine drive and a helmet dive to explore all the reef had to offer. For the extravagant and those wanting to enjoy the beauty from a distance there was the scenic helicopter drive and for the rest there was diving, snorkeling and guided marine biologist tours to get up close and personal to pretty coral gardens and exotic marine life ranging from sting rays, clown fish, parrot fish turtles and for the few lucky ones you may even spot a Minke whale.

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It was a full day tour and I must admit, snorkeling in the middle of the deep blue sea and amidst choppy waters was definitely a lot harder than I taught. There were moments I ran out of breath and moments I felt my arms could no longer move, moments I wished I was back in the comfort of my hotel. The chilled salads and cold cuts served on board did nothing to my Indian palette but I was here, right in the midst of the largest and the most spectacular reef systems in the world. I had embraced, survived and conquered this majestic reef in my own little way and that was a feeling I would never forget…
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