Indawgyi Lake Development
To most people visiting Indawgyi Lake, things may seem pretty quiet. The largest village, Nan Mun, has just over 1,000 households and Lon Ton, the only place where foreigners are officially allowed to spend the night, has just over 250. That said, the social fabric of the lake has been quickly changing.
In 2012, there were 17 official foreign visitors to the lake for the entire year. The numbers for last year haven’t been released yet, but they are anticipated to be around 600. To put things into perspective, Inle Lake, receives about that same amount of visitors each day. Nonetheless, that is an incredible amount of growth and as accessibility and the visibility of Indawgyi increases, the traditional cultures around the lake will find themselves face to face with an increasingly interconnected and globalized world.
In the last five years, there have been incredible changes at Indawgyi. Electricity and paved roads arrived in 2014 and 2015 with the last remaining villages on the far-flung reaches of the lake being connected this year. Furthermore, the steep decrease in the prices of sim cards and phones has created a new dynamic in a region where nearly nobody had a any type of phone five years ago to now a market penetration rate of nearly 90%. Nearly everybody has a Facebook account and its truly is the way locals access the Internet and receive news.
In 2018, two things have really stood out. The government has expanded the road between the mountains all the way to Shwe Myintzu Pagoda to enable it to allow steady two-lane traffic. This signals not only a growth in tourism, but the idea of using the western edge of Indawgyi as a corridor between the mining region of Hpakant and Mandalay.
The second development is that Lon Ton Village is in the process of becoming Indawgyi City. The hospital and post offices are being upgraded, a new hotel has recently opened, and the framework of the local government will change. The sounds of saws, the increased number of shops, and even more subtle signals of development are all here.
Change isn’t necessarily good or bad. It is something that is happening regardless of any opinion on it. There are serious social and environmental issues here and hopefully some of this development will help to remedy them. Concurrently, Face of Indawgyi is focused on not only archiving and celebrating the culture as it has existed traditionally but also documenting the process of development itself in action. In effect, it is not only cultural preservation but recording transformation as well.
Indawgyi is a special place and we hope that tourism can help to preserve what is good about it while also showcasing and solving the social problems here. We don’t want Indawgyi to become just another tourist destination, but are aiming to find the right balance to ensure it can maintain its unique identity for generations to come.