Welcome to an enchanting land of golden pagodas, velvet shoes and lotus flowers. After decades of darkness and fear, the horizon is full of hope as visitors are being encouraged to explore the treasures of this unique Asian country once more, says Harriet O'Brien. Photographs by Martin Morrell
Early one morning I watched a farmer propelling a small piece of land across a lake. Around him jet-black cormorants and sharp-white egrets fished the still waters. On the misty shores behind, golden pagodas glinted from the tops of forested hills. It was a staggeringly beautiful scene.
It was surreal, too. The farmer was taking his plot to a floating nursery garden where the enterprising locals grow tomatoes, cauliflowers, beans and other crops. Cleverly created out of water hyacinths and silt, these lush little rafts (like island-allotments) are anchored together in a large plantation and tended from narrow longboats.
The serenity of the watery scene before me was shattered as a motorised longboat sped into view. It was filled with Burmese tourists who waved and cheered at me and the farmer. Then they zoomed out of sight. They left a wake of joy that was shortly augmented by another boat of happy, waving Burmese visitors. Like so much else in this extraordinary country, the floating world of Inle Lake was utterly enchanting.