Geography and Climate
The country's largest freshwater lake sits peacefully among the Mangin Mountain Range in Kachin State, the northernmost province of Myanmar. The forests blanketing nearby mountains are untouched primary growth forest while the watershed surrounding the lake is a mix of scenic woodlands and rice paddy fields. The sanctuary is one the last remaining in-tact grasslands throughout all of Southeast Asia. It is also considered the country’s most important wetland site as it is critical for the conservation of migrating water birds that flock in thousands from all over Central Asia and Siberia.
Like much of Myanmar, the year at Indawgyi is divided into two periods: dry season and rainy season. The former lasts from October to May. The first two months provide the best visibility since they directly follow rainy season, and during this time it is possible to view the entire lake. The coolest months are November through March when average temperatures stay a lovely 25ºC (77ºF) and below, but even during the summer months it rarely goes above 30 (86ºF) degrees. The rainy season offers a serene contrast to the dry season. There are rarely major storms. Instead, gentle rains create a peaceful environment perfect for getting away from the stress of everyday life.
Three distinct groups – the Shan, Kachin, and more recently Burmese – live in the valley surrounding Indawgyi.
Most villages are remnants of the Shan States, which once extended as far as modern day India and south China. While commonly known as Shan, the name is misleading. Shan people call themselves 'Tai', and the specific group living around Indawgyi identify as 'Tai Laing.' They speak a different language that is believed to originate from northern Myanmar but, like all Shan people, have rich histories and localized practices in farming, fermenting, and salting of foods that creates a distinctive cuisine. Until now, no one has been able to document the unique customs of the Tai Laing people around the lake. Our goal is to learn about these oral histories and origin stories told by the villagers and revered monks that call Indawgyi home.
In the 1990s, Burmese migrants came to the lake seeking economic opportunities and, as a result, the Burmese language has become more prominent in recent years. Kachin people, native to the north and having an equally complex story as the Shan, live in a few surrounding villages. Each group speaks its own language, has its own script, and its own narrative about life on the lake.
In an area that continues to become increasingly diverse, we want to use photography, videography, and, best of all, conversation to learn from these people and share their stories.
Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary has had a complex history. For hundreds of years, it has served as a crossroads between the mining center of Hpakant and Mandalay. There were always settlements along the lake that also played a hand in the mineral trade, but it was not until British colonialization that the environment was significantly transformed to greatly expand rice cultivation in the area.
During World War II, it was hotly contested territory between the Allies and Japanese who each wanted to dominate the mineral trade. After Myanmar became independent in 1947, control of the mines largely rested in ethnic Kachin hands as opposed to the majority Burmese government. Since China is the primary consumer of Myanmar's mineral wealth, most exports are shipped directly north into China while Indawgyi mostly returned to its agrarian practices.
It was established as a Bird Sanctuary in 1999 and, until recently, was accessible only by unpaved mountain roads. The region is home to a large variety of wildlife including elephant, gaur, sun bear, gibbon, rare birds, and endemic fish and turtle species. Its many trees and plants provided the sources of medicines used for hundreds of years.
Environmental degradation, particularly from large scale mining operations not far from the lake threaten the local habitat through sedimentation, chemical runoff and water contamination. These activities not only threaten the local flora and fauna, but the residents who live here as well.
We want to find ways to integrate advances in green technology to turn the tide against these trends. From solar-automated water filtration systems to electric boat motors, we will stay at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies that will benefit the health of the lake.