Certain moments stay with you forever. This one at sunset with the local Intha fishermen of Inle Lake in Myanmar is one.
A visit to Myanmar offers a unique glimpse into rich Buddhist tradition, ancient culture and stunning natural beauty. I spent two and a half weeks exploring the country by motorbike with an inflatable paddleboard strapped on the back. First, I traveled to the Mergui Archipelago in the south, to paddle amongst its 800 beautiful islands, and then motored to Bagan to take in the iconic sight of its 3,000 stunning temples. I was delighted to enjoy some chill time at Inle Lake after. This region is known for this serene lake—13 miles long and seven miles wide—and a popular tourist attraction. I had read much about its fringed marshes and floating gardens, where stilt-house villages and Buddhist temples rise above the water, but books can never really compare to how it is in real life.
Arriving in the late afternoon, I pumped up my board just before sunset. Setting out into the evening light felt like a dream. The water was glass, serenely calm, and every paddle stroke a moment of peace and release.
Soon after setting out, I came across some local fishermen and witnessed their unique technique of single-leg rowing and fishing. The Myanmar fishermen in this region are known for practicing a distinctive rowing style, which involves standing at the stern of their narrow, wooden fishing boats on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar for propulsion. This unique style evolved out of necessity. The lake is covered by reeds and floating plants, making it difficult to see above them while sitting. The one-legged technique provides the rower with a view beyond the plant life and reeds and allows them to keep one hand free to deploy their distinctive conical fishing nets.
It is a seriously delicate balancing act. I tried to mimic it a few times but ended up falling in the lake. The skills of the fishermen are taught starting in childhood and acquired over many years of practice. They make it look easy.
Though we shared little common language, the two men were keen to let me hop aboard and did their best to give me a lesson in using the nets to catch fish and in their unique rowing style. In exchange, I shared with them my inflatable paddleboard—a concept they couldn’t believe at first but loved it once they tried. In just a few short moments of instruction, they were paddling in such sweet style. Together we shared a laugh that will stay with me forever.
Jimmy Martinello is a photojournalist based in Squamish, British Columbia.
Worlds collide on Myanmar’s Inle Lake where Traditional fishermen still travel in small, wooden, motorless boats. | Photo: Jim Martinello