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Indawgyi Lake Journal: In Myanmar, a Lake That Sustained Generations Feels Strains

But they are not just feeding them; they are also accumulating Buddhist merit, which could help them avoid reincarnation as such an animal. Every year, 80,000 pilgrims camp on the lake’s shores during the pagoda’s annual festival.

The Buddha’s locks in the Shwemyitzu Pagoda are not his only traces in the valley: a legend relates that Indawgyi Lake was created when the ruler of a prosperous and sinful kingdom insulted him, and the region’s guardian spirits retaliated with a flood.

A modern local story adds that when a foreign tourist strapped on scuba gear and flippered into Indawgyi Lake he found the ruins of wooden palaces in its depths. But he also encountered huge fish with bared human teeth: ghosts of the deceased offenders. Since then, no one has dared investigate what lies beneath its surface.

Just a few miles south of Lonton, the town of Maing Naung straddles Khaung Tong Creek. A decade ago, the waterway coursed pristinely into Indawgyi Lake, but it has since become choked with mud and chemicals from an illegal hydraulic K.I.A. gold mine.

Villagers warn foreigners not to venture upstream. On its banks stands a convenience store, stocked with bags of potato chips, shampoo and other sundries — as well as a scale and a miniature blowtorch for processing the raw gold that freelance miners sell before stocking up on supplies to take back into the jungle.

Elevated mercury levels and increased sedimentation make some environmentalists fear that the distinctive ecosystem is at risk. Other problems threaten the watershed too. Illegal logging is thinning the forests that once protected hillsides from eroding into the lake. Overfishing and the use of banned techniques like dynamite, cyanide and electroshock fishing have depleted fisheries that many locals depend on.

Source: NYT > World

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