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Sea of Stupas

Jude Carvalho


A boat ride along the Inn Thein creek, one of the many rivers that run from Inle Lake, will take you to the magnificent world of Indein Village. It’s situated some 8 kilometres west from the thriving body of water that houses the region’s iconic floating gardens and leg-rowing fishermen who have graced the covers of many a travel magazine.


If you’re interested in knowing more about Inle Lake, specifically the floating gardens, do check out this article  to read about this writer’s intimate trip to the area.


For this instalment, we’ll be taking a look at the sea of stupas found in Indein Village, which can be mainly divided into two bodies: Nyaung Ohak and Shwe Inn Thein. There are a total of 1,054 stupas and pagodas in the area, and walking among them will give you a firsthand glimpse into the architecture of centuries past.


It’s not a place you can just visit on a whim, however, as the waters tend to drop during the hot season, leaving this marvellous locale accessible only during the rainy and cool seasons.


Village Life

One thing of note in Indein Village is its 5-day rotating market, which somewhat reminds me of the Floating Market from Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere. Much like the market in the novel, this 5-day market never stays still, but rotates among 5 locations across those days. It might have even served as inspiration for his book, though that’s just a guess on my part.


While the charm of the village itself is aplenty – the colourful textiles for sale and on display, the locals hefting stacks of hay and timber, artisans at work carving out their next art pieces, old women smoking on self-rolled cigarettes, hawkers conduction-cooking crackers with hot sand – the myriad of stupas right beside it proves to be a major draw as well.


Endless Stupas

As per the usual for mass bodies of structures that have stood through the centuries, most of the stupas here have yielded to the test of time, with nature emerging and reclaiming what’s hers. Foliage and roots have begun to nest and snake through these structures, a testament of this site’s journey through the ages.


There have been restoration works carried out, which can be seen on some of the more pristine stupas, but the numbers are just too great, and it’ll take an enormous effort to properly preserve the thousand-odd stupas here. Therefore, these buildings will have to contend with nature’s slow but persistent force for now.


Just one stroll through these narrow passages will leave you in awe of how far humankind has come, and how civilisations have thrived long before your grandparents were even born. Many sites and structures in Myanmar have the power to evoke this type of emotion, a feat not many places in the world are able to do.


This is where stone, clay and gold intermingle. Shades of grey, red and yellow reach towards the sky, like masts of a thousand ships moored on land since the time of our ancestors. Take a deeper look and you’ll even get a glimpse of their lives through the various carvings and murals of Buddha, guardian lions (chinthe) and celestial beings (deva).


It’s excursions such as this that remind us of who we are and where we come from, a reminder that the things we build today might serve as a memory to those who’ll roam the Earth generations after we’re gone. There are many places to visit in Myanmar, some fun, others alluring, but nothing beats a trip across time in this wonderful place located just behind the Indein Village.


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