Picture by Matt Maessen
Shwe Myint Zu Pagoda
"Ranges of mountain embrace the lake on three sides, creating an illusion of the mist being hold in their arms. It slips away when the Sun gets higher in the sky. Then the largest lake of Myanmar reveals itself, stretching its 16 miles from north to south and 7 miles from east to west": Vasilisa introduces Indawgyi Lake (Great Royal Lake), the largest natural lake not only in Myanmar but also in Southeast Asia.
Not many foreigners have arrived until now at this nearly pristine area in Kachin State. It's a long and not an easy way - and this has protected the Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, a paradise for nature and bird lovers. In the semi-evergreen forests around the lake live wild elephants, leopards, bears, sambhur deer, serow, gaur, wild boar and more mammals. The lake with its wetland is also one of Myanmars important bird areas. 10 endangered species can be found. During the month of January Greylag Geese, Oriental Darter and Purple Swamphen are prominent. The lake is a major stop for migratory birds from Siberia and attracts thousands of them from December to March. Read more by birding expert Ngwe Lwin. See picture of Indawgyi wetland. A large group of rare sarus cranes has been seen here lately. See this Indawgyi picture gallery. Indawgyi Lake is accessible from the start of October until the end of May. ndawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary has been nominated for Unesco World Heritage
There is only one village, where you can stay: Indaw Ma Har Guesthouse in Lon Ton Village (see picture) is the only guesthouse, where foreigners get beds (around 7000 Kyats per night). Internet access ist not available, electricity you will get in the evening for 2 to 3 hours. Nearby you find a a few noodle shops. The guesthouse is the base of Inn Chit Thu (Lovers of Indawgyi) Tourism Group. This organisation made up of local people rents out kayaks, bicycles and motorbikes and can organise trekking and fishing trips. Young villagers were trained in ecotourism and provided with kayaks and mountain bikes (read more).
Shwe Myint Zu Pagoda is situated in the lake. It was built during Konebaung area. Every year during the ten days before the full moon in March a festival is held. When the time arrives, two sand pathways are ocurring, formed by waves - one for pilgrims and one for deities, as the legend says. After the festival time they disappear. People come from all over Kachin state to sell things and have fun. There are boat races, concerts and more attractions. See video. And there is also a legend, how Indawgyi Lake was created by a dragon queen, who was not amsued.
At the north of the lake you find Shwe Taung (Golden Mountain) with a monastery and pagoda on top, from where you enjoy great views of the lake. It’s only a 25 minute walk up from the lake.
Probably you can not move everywhere by bicycle: The access to some areas nearby is restricted. Foreigners are not allowed to go into the mountains on the west side of the lake due to the conflict between Myanmars army and the Kachin Independence Army. Also the access to the nearby jade mining area of Hpakant ist not allowed. This means that trekking routes start in some distance from Lon Ton. There are trekking routes in the south-eastern mountains and the eastern mountains (behind Hepa) you nead a guide for 10 000 kyats per day.
There are around 30 villages around the lake with predominantly Shan and Kachin people living here, who mainly practice agriculture. Perhaps the most picturesque village is Lwemun on a hillside up the western shore. You can discover two monasteries, a spirit shrine and a shrine which tells the story of Indawgyi Lake. On the east shore you find Hepa, where some houses are built on stilts above the lake. In Namde you turn off to Shwe Myitzu Pagoda. Nammilaung has high wooden fences around all the houses and a teak teak monastery.
The price of a one day’s motor boat hire at Indawgyi Lake is 50000 to 60000 Kyat.
The nearest train station is Hopin. You can either take a train north from Mandalay (around 20 hours) or south from Myitkyina (6 hours). But read this experience in Mandalay to Hupin train. From Hopin you can reach Lonton Village at Indawgyi Lake by shared pick-up truck (around 5000 Kyat, 3 hours) or by private taxi (from 80,000 Kyat; 2 hours). Read about this jeep ridev.
See Indawgyi Lake Gallery by erhardpeter.
Community-based tourism: A responsible alternative at Indawgyi Lake?
He Pu Village and Shwe Myint Zu Pagoda, Northern Myanmar
A Primitive Paradise Awaits at Indawgyi Lake