See Burma Buddhist festival's 'human paddle' spectacle

3rd Oct 2013

One of south-east Asia's favourite religious festivals and events is getting under way in Burma.

The boat-dominated Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival takes place in the aesthetically compelling, historically important Inle Lake region from October 5 to 22.

It climaxes with spectacularly unique, costumed boat races which see rowers use their legs instead of oars.

The deeply revered Buddhist Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda site is home to five small gilded images of Buddha.

These have been covered with so many gold leaves down the ages that their original forms cannot be made out.

The event, which mirrors the people's authentic celebration of their faith and local culture, is a fitting and colourful introduction to any traveller on group tours to Burma, now officially known as Myanmar.

Four of the five Buddha images are removed from the pagoda during the festival for a river procession.

The fifth image stays behind to protect the others' resting places in the pagoda.

Each of the four images are put on elaborate pagoda replicas aboard a barge in the shape of a mystical goose or swan.

Spectators are then treated to the sight of these intricate barges being towed by boatloads of renowned Inle Lake leg-rowers along the shores of the lake in a vast procession of ornately decorated vessels.

The gold-leaf covered images normally make stops and even stay the night at the main temple of the villages along the lake's shores.

This allows onlookers to pay homage to these holiest of Buddha images.

This water parade ends as the images return to the Phaung Daw Oo Monastery, welcomed by a Myanmar government official.

The event's final day is also commemorated with boat races near the home pagoda with participants donning traditional costumes.

These races are distinctive because rowers use their legs as paddles to propel the boat.

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