Intha Fishermen of Inle Lake: The Icon of Myanmar

Intha Fishermen of Inle Lake: The Icon of Myanmar

Intha Fishermen of Inle Lake: The Icon of Myanmar


 Images and article by Tania Chatterjee




The picture of one legged Intha fishermen on Inle Lake is the first picture to introduce Inle. The way the Intha fisherman ride their boat with one leg and fishing with free hand is unique and requires high skill. It is a great experience to see them fishing especially their balancing act and the ease of handling the narrow boats. You will enjoy taking great pictures of Intha fisherman on Inle Lake.

The Intha Fishermen of Inle

The lake is surrounded by hills, floating vegetable gardens and villages. People live in this lake known as “Intha”. It is amazing to experience that, Intha community or “lake people” mostly depending on this lake water and self-sufficient to survive on this lake. Their livelihood and daily activities are on water, for them boats are a way of life, just like we have bikes and cars.

Intha Fisherman in action

The unique Intha Fishermen of Inle

The pictures of Intha fishermen are not rare. You can see them on several blogs and posts. The fishermen have mastered the art of standing on one leg for hours and rowing the boat with another leg. This fishing skill is unique to people from Inle Lake. It requires high level of balance, technique and physical strength.

The fishermen balance themselves on one leg at one end of the boat; the other leg is wrapped around the oar. Their hands are free to use the conical shaped fishing net while rowing the boat. The fishermen row the boat in a typical S pattern; I later found all people in the area row their boat like this. Rowing the boats with their legs frees up their hand for other activities. Many women also row their boat like that and wending their goods.

Fading tradition of this fishing style

Globalisation and large scale fishing using long nets has replaced the traditional Intha fishing. Very few Intha fishermen still practice this form of traditional fishing. Traditional Intha fishing is a form of sustainable fishing; it is not capable to catch fish at large scale required for sustained livelihood.

The Inle Lake

Being an environmentalist I couldn’t resist telling about the Inle lake and the Intha people. The lake forms a part of UNESCO biosphere reserve. It is also a Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites).

Location, size and characteristics

To shoot the Intha fisherman I travelled to Shan state in Myanmar. It is a comfortable overnight bus ride from Yangon to Nyaungshwe. The bus goes up to Taunggyi; it is the capital of Shan state. The Inle lake is nestled between the hills. It is bordered between parallel hill ranges up to 1,500 meter high and covered by thick hill forest. The lake covers an area of 116 km2 ; it is the second largest lake in Myanmar.

Flora and fauna of the lake

Inle Lake is a shallow lake located 884 metres above sea level in an elongated, flat-bottomed valley.  The lake was formed more than 1.5 million years ago.  The lake is formed as water dissolved the limestone in the landscape. The nearby region in the lake also has several limestone features such as caves, sinkholes, springs, spurs and intermittent streams.

There are 267 bird species, 43 fish species, 10 reptile species, 9 mammal species, 3 species of turtle, 75 species of butterfly and 20 species of snails. It is environmentally a rich zone within its 116 square kilometer area. It is also home to 267 species of birds of which 82 are wetland birds. The biosphere also includes 527 species of medicinal plants, 11 species of bamboo, 184 species of orchids and 1,320 species of Angiosperms.

Human habitat around the lake

Being a travel and portrait photographer I was highly interested on the people and their habitat in Inle Lake. People in and around Inle Lake all depend on the lake for their livelihood. The Intha farmers practise specialised floating platform agriculture. The agricultural products are grown on floating islands also called Yechan.

There are many pagodas and stupas built on or near the lake. The Phaung Taw Oo and Ah Lo Taw Pauk pagodas are 800 years old. They are culturally and spiritually significant. The forms of many pagodas are similar to those of the Bagan period. Stone inscriptions at Shwe Indeinn pagoda and Than daung pagoda (1785 AD) indicate links to Bagan cultural heritage and style.

Photographing Intha Fishermen

The entire fishing technique is a remarkable experience. This unique style of fishing is believed to be dated back to 12th century and has been passed down from generation. This indigenous fishing technique is definitely an art form. On the backdrop of lake, it creates mesmerizing visual stories of life. But unfortunately, this fishing technique has drastically dropped. You can get Intha fishermen via special arrangements for concept photo shoot. Hopefully, in coming days Intha fisherman will not remain only in Myanmar postcards, this unique culture will survive for the future generation also.  

Fotorbit Pvt. Ltd conducts regular tours to Myanmar. In the Intha fishermen photo tour we create special photographic arrangements so that you get some of the extra ordinary shots. We stay you to exotic locations in Inle lake and arrange all the required photographic props to recreate the traditional lifestyle of the Intha Fishermen.

If you are interested, to join my Myanmar Photography Tour, visit FOTORBIT WORKSHOPS for updates.

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