There are a few more places in and around Inle Lake that are very unique and interesting.
Nga Hpe Kyaung Monastery, which lies in the north of Ywama built on stilts on the Inle Lake village. It was built on stilts on the lake in the 1850s and is the biggest and oldest wooden monastery in that region. The monastery houses numerous ancient Bagan, Shan, Tibet and Ava-style Buddha images.
The monastery was founded by one of the Shan chiefs with the aid of Buddhist missionaries from India about one hundred years ago. It is built entirely with the rich local teak wood; it is very large and graceful in appearance. It has withstood the test of time and even after one hundred years is still beautiful and well preserved and seems to float above the exquisite lake like a mirage of peace and serenity.
Over the last 20-30 years the monastery has become well known for its celebrity cats, and so not much attention is given to the Buddha statues. About ten years ago when we visited Bagan this monastery was full of cats. Cats of all shapes and sizes that virtually had the run of the monastery. They were to be seen and found everywhere and the monks seem to have a lot of love for these cats. The cats were trained by the monks to jump through small hoops like a circus. The monastery became so famous that people came to Inle Lake to see the monastery and of course the performing cats.
But when we went back last year when I was writing the book, there were no more cats. Somehow over the years the numbers dwindled until there were no more cats. I found one very large, very fat and very beautiful cat that lay there. He was too fat and too old to perform and had had his day. Now it was time for him just to relax and enjoy the serenity of the monastery. He was still loved and fed by the monks and seems to be in seventh heaven.
Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery
Built in the 19th century, Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery stands just outside Nyaung Shwe.It is constructed entirely from teak wood and features large oval windows, ornaments made of mosaic and a beautifully carved gilded ceiling. Most of the monks who live here are novices seeking to learn more about their religion and see if they want to make this their calling.
While there, they learn the discipline of a monk’s life and the basic tenants of Buddhist faith. Just as regular monks do, they have to wake up early and wash with cold water. Their beds are mats unrolled onto the wooden floors. They have just two meals a day, and eat only food that has been given as alms. Most of these boys will go back to their homes at the end of the week, although some may stay on in training as full time monks.
The week spent away from their families in a monastery teaches young boys the values of their society, the need for them to embrace responsibility for their actions and the ‘cause and effect’ of their actions upon themselves and others around them. It is a very important tradition that is very much alive today as it was many hundreds of years ago.
The monastery is not decorated with carvings like the royal monasteries and pagodas in Mandalay. It is dedicated for regional poor boys to live. It also provides them an education and meals more than they will have at their home.
The monks live in a dormitory, where each has his own space. Monks, who live here, have meals, take baths and wash their clothes together. The dormitory’s area is a half of the monastery building. The other half is a temple with an ornately carved ceiling and the Buddhas.A walkway around the central sanctuary has a Buddha at each niche.
Indein is a small village west of Inle Lake, known for its market and two groups of ancient pagodas. During the summer the water level is too low and so it cannot be reached. But during the rainy season and winter it can be reached by boat through the Inn Thein creek a long narrow canal.
The village is best known for its many ancient pagodas in many shapes and sizes and in various states of preservation. Most are ruins and overgrown with bushes, while some have been restored.
Nyaung Ohak pagodas
Around Indien village there are two groups of pagodas, Nyaung Ohak and Shwe Inn Thein.The first site near the boat landing is Nyaung Ohak, which literally means “group banyan trees”. Most of the pagodas here have not been restored and are in various states of repair; some are well preserved, while others have plants growing out of them. Many pagodas are decorated with sculptures of celestial beings or mythological animals such as naga serpents and Chinthes.There are also some shrines with Buddha images.
Shwe Inn Thein pagodas
A climb form Nyanung Ohak leads to the second group of pagodas named Shwe Inn Thein.It is on top of a hill and a 700 meter covered walkway leads up to the pagodas. The walkway is lined with stalls where vendors sell Shan shoulder bags, longyis, shirts and other items.
This site is believed to date back to the days of the Indian emperor Ashoka, who sent out monks in the 3rd century BC across Asia to spread Buddhism. Centuries later two Kings of the bagan empire, Narapatisitu and Anawratha built pagodas at the site. The site contains hundreds of pagodas, collectively known as the Shwe Inn Thein pagodas. Most are from the 17th and 18th century: the earliest one with an inspection dates to the 4th century.
Many of the unrestored stupas have the hti, a top element like an ornamental umbrella missing. A number of stupas have been restored by donors, both Burmese and foreign.
At the center of the Shwe Inn Thein group is a shrine of the Inn Thein Buddha image. The shrine is believed to have been built by King Ashoka and houses a golden Buddha image in the meditation mudra (position). It is a very pleasant place to visit as the pagoda hill is quiet and calm, a cool breeze blows and the sweet rings of the bells hanging at the umbrella of the stupa can be heard. From the top of the hill the view of Iindein village and the surrounding area is quite amazing.