Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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Some of the 1,047 ancient stupas that crown a hilltop at Shwe Indein Pagoda near Inle Lake, Myanmar

Click on title to view photo in large format: These are just a few of the 1,047 ancient stupas that crown a hilltop at Shwe Indein Pagoda near Inle Lake, Myanmar. Legend insists that the shrines were built by Ashoka the Great, who lived from 304–232 BCE, however there is no archeological evidence to support this claim. The currently accepted theory is that they were constructed between 1174 to 1211, during the reign of King Narapatisithu, who was the last important king of Pagan (today known as Bagan). Each of the stupas is unique. Some are the original brick, others have been Read More

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The sun was setting when our tour boat arrived at an area of Inle Lake frequented by the famous one-legged fishermen of Myanmar. We drifted up to a young man in a grey and red track suit who was balancing on the front tip of his flat-bottom boat. From his birds-eye perch, he navigated through dense vegetation in the shallow lake, using a paddle strapped to his other leg as the only means of propulsion. Using his free hands, he pulled a gossamer net into the boat, pausing only to retrieve tiny fish that had become tangled in the netting.

Traditional fishermen on Inle Lake balance on one leg at the front of their boats, rowing with a paddle attached to the other leg. The elevated position allows them to navigate through dense vegetation that grows in the shallow lake waters.

Traditional fishermen on Inle Lake balance on one leg at the front of their boats, rowing with a paddle attached to the other leg. The elevated position allows them to navigate through dense vegetation that grows in the shallow lake waters.

The fishermen of Inle Lake have been perfecting this remarkable feat of balance over generations. Unfortunately, the lake itself is teetering on the brink of imbalance. It has always experienced severe fluctuations in depth over the course of each year. During the dry season, the lake ranges from 7-12 feet deep, but summer monsoons can increase the depth to as much as 17 feet. The surface area of the lake also expands significantly during the rainy season, as flooding inundates surrounding low-lying lands. Read More

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In Bagan, Myanmar, man applies gold foil to the inside of a lacquerware cup

Click on title to view photo in large format: Applying gold foil on laquerware at a factory in Bagan, Myanmar. The painstaking process of making lacquerware is done completely by hand, whether crafting a tiny cup or an entire dining room table with seating for 12. This factory in Bagan is one of many where visitors can watch the process from start to finish, beginning with Read More

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Traditional fisherman with cone net on Inle Lake, Myanmar

Click on title to view photo in large format: Traditional fisherman on Inle Lake, Myanmar, balances on one leg at the bow of his wooden boat while rowing with a paddle tied to his other leg. The lake is so shallow for much of the year that fishermen must stand up to navigate through the thick vegetation that blooms beneath the surface. These fishermen are a dying breed, as many are using more modern fishing techniques. Despite modern techniques, however, fishermen are finding it difficult to Read More

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Shop owner at the Scott Market in Yangon, Myanmar, applies traditional Thanakha paste to her face. Made by grinding branches of the Thanakha tree into a powder and then adding water, the paste is used as a protection from the sun and as an enhancement to beauty

Click on title to view photo in large format: Shop owner at the Scott Market in Yangon, Myanmar, applies traditional Thanakha paste to her face. Made by grinding branches of the Thanakha tree into a powder and then adding water, the paste is used as a protection from the sun and as an enhancement to beauty. Though men are also occasionally seen wearing Thanakha, it is more commonly used by Read More

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The soles of my feet were black as tar by the time I’d made a circuit of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Fortunately, the folks at Viking River Cruises were waiting for us with wet wipes. I cleaned and massaged my aching feet without complaint, for the famous Buddhist shrine, which requires visitors to remove their shoes and socks before entering, turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.

The gold-plated Shwedagon Pagoda, surrounded by some of the 2,000 shrines, halls, and stupas that spread across the site

The gold-plated Shwedagon Pagoda, surrounded by some of the 2,000 shrines, halls, and stupas that spread across the site

Today, Shwedagon Pagoda is the most dominant landmark in Yangon, especially since the 325-foot high spire, along with scores of temples, ordination halls, and shrines that surround it, crowns a prominent hill in the city center. Initially, however, it was a much more modest structure. Although archaeologists estimate it was originally built by the Mon people between the 8th and 10th centuries, legend insists that the Pagoda was built 2,600 years ago during the life of Gautama Buddha, in order to hold eight of his hairs. Through the centuries, the pagoda suffered periods of decline and earthquakes, followed by rebuilding. With each iteration, it grew larger, taller, and more extravagant, eventually reaching its present height. Read More