How to ‘single legged-ly’ row a boat like an Intha

Ever tried rowing your boat with your legs instead of your hands? No, not in a paddle boat where you pedal your legs to propel the boat, but with an oar rather, navigated by the leg and foot, in a regular small canoe or boat.

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I bet you would think it’s a crazy idea to row an oar/paddle with your leg when you are so accustomed to using your hands. Not so for the Intha fishermen on Inle Lake in Nyaung Shwe township, Shan State of central Myanmar. Single leg rowing on their flat boat is their way of life and their heritage.

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Morning pilates sessions

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The calm poise, in harmony with nature

In the unique watery kingdom of Inle, the one legged rower, is king.

Intha fisherman navigate the waterways, and row canoes with one leg, like it is second nature. Graceful, elegant, majestic. Their beautiful silhouettes are best caught at dawn or dusk, as these boat men sojourn across the lake with water homes on stilts, juxtaposed against the surrounding hills and villages. It is a thing of beauty. 

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Edge of tomorrow

One of the craziest spectacle you will see when you visit Inle Lake in central Myanmar is the Intha fishermen. They wrap their leg around an oar to paddle their boat, leaving their hands free to manage the fishing net or to do other tasks. Only the men perform this dexterous feat while the women row with their hands.

The Intha or “sons of the lake” are part of the Tibeto-Burman ethnic group. They speak an ancient form of Burmese. They live in numerous small villages on the lake itself and work generally as fishermen, transport boatmen and vegetable farmers on floating gardens.


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How they keep balance on a single leg while rowing on a wobbly boat leaves you awe-struck. Mind you they are standing on the stern and sometimes on the bow of a small open face boat. To propel the boat or change directions, they tuck the handle of the oar under an arm then proceed to paddle the oar with the leg.

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Inthas’ even have a wild boat race on the lake at least once a year. We tried it and believe us when we say Dragonboat races are so much easier.
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Their distinctive rowing technique isn’t just the only thing unique about the Intha people or the lake itself. There are silk weaving factories, metalsmiths, temples, flea markets and villages to visit and hiking trails to attempt. An opportunity to view a fisherman’s graceful pose as they go about their duties though is a must however spotting them is akin to spotting whales. As over-fishing and pollution has reduced the number of fishes in the lake, there are fewer fishermen on the lake and the ones seen out won’t always be on their feet rowing.

Here is a video on how to row an oar with a single leg like an Intha. Do you think you can master it?

Easy you reckon?
If you tried to row a boat ‘single legged-ly’, let us know how you fared.

Getting to Inle Lake.
Inle Lake is located by Nyaungshwe town. You can arrive by flight at Heho airport, 46km away then take 45 minute taxi ride to the lake. You may also take a 12 hour bus from Yangon to Shwenyaung then catcha taxi to the lake. If you have even more time on your hands, you may want to catch the 30 hour train ride from Yangon which stops at Shwenyaung. A tourist tax may apply you as you enter Nyaungshwe town.

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