How Kachin rebels allowed us to discover one of the most memorable place in our burmese trip.
Not the gravy train
Leaving in our first class sleeper (11 000 kyats, 18 hours and almost 600 km), we had a solid plan: arrange a 3-days boat trip back to Mandalay from Myitkyina through Sinbo, Bhamo and Katha. We figured that slowly drifting down the Irrawaddy river would give us a glimpse at the Burmese traditional way and rhythm of life -what a romantic thought!
After a restless might (thanks to the train’s jolting and bumping but also to our bacterially adjusting digestive systems), we stop at dawn in the middle of nowhere to wait for the passage of a counter train. As it turns out, there is only one track, and very few places with a passing siding!
We finally arrive around 8 AM -barely 2 hours late on schedule, feeling as fresh as fishes left to rot in the sun for a couple of days. We soon find a Chinese hotel, decorated with Chinese vases and filled with Chinese people -so is the whole city, just a few tens of kilometers far from the border and a longtime trading center with China.
We don’t feel like lingering in this town and venture out looking for a travel agency to set up our boat trip… That’s where reality hits us : a sorry woman explains that Kachin rebels groups are fighting the government forces in Bhamo’s region. Hence a total ban on foreigners boat travelling down to Katha. Our plan falls completely apart!
Worn-out from our night, we’re starting to feel somewhat discouraged. All we want, after 8 days of travel only interrupted with a 4-days stay in Mandalay -nice but not so bucolic- is to find a peaceful place to rest in nature!
Chastened by the train trip, we do not feel like going back the 18 hours to Mandalay. Opening googlemap we spot a lake not that far away, and a quick research shows that at least one guesthouse is set on its shore. Our mind is immediately set on the Indawgyi lake which, as it will turn out, is everything we could dream of -and more.
Lone Ton, lone town
After a 4 hours train ride, we get picked up from Hopin by monks who won’t take any form of payment to cover the 1,5 hour-drive to Lone Ton. We give them our only food left: Dragibus candies…
In this quiet fishermen place, you may treat yourself with delicious banana pancakes, watch the mist get up from the lake in the morning or rent a kayak and reach the eastern shore, or the incredible Shwe Myitzu Pagoda on water.
Beds at the Indaw Mahar guesthouse are rustic at best: planks of wood covered in a thick blanket; but they have mosquito nets and there is nothing like the view from the veranda… You might even get hot water if there is no powercut when you need it ;->
Like in so many other places in Myanmar, freedom of movement is restricted around Indawgyi lake. Bikers are not allowed on the northern road leading to some mines. An incident involving two foreigners found at a jade mine site in 2011 led to a complete ban on motor vehicules for tourists in the area.
Now on, motobikes can’t cross the northern Lone Ton checkpoint unless the driver is a local guide. And more generally, you’ll need a guide if you ever want to get off road, even by foot.
Luxe Nature, calme et volupté
Indawgyi Lake is believed to harbor bad nats (of the spiritual world), so its shore remain sparsely populated. NGO and the government ceased that opportunity to create a wildlife sanctuary, recently followed by an ecotourism pilot project: all money from leisure equipment rental goes to the wildlife program.
The lake is an important migrating and local bird area: it’s a sight to behold, especially with binoculars. There are also gibbons populations and some elephants (wild and workers), but you need to set a proper expedition if you want a chance to see those, which we didn’t try.
Indawgyi really was an exceptional site; even the tourists there were cool and interesting -big up Jenni, David and Francesca! The lake also offered us the most spectacular sunrise, the day before our departure, and for that alone we will always remember this magical place.
After a few days of absolute relaxation -except for the hard beds maybe- we sat off to Katha, beyond the conflict zone, determined to make our boat trip to Mandalay finally happen!