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Nope, it’s not the latest cardio-fitness craze. (At least not yet.)

Over the course of many generations, the Intha Fishermen of Myanmar’s Inle Lake have perfected their own unique rowing style. The fishermen stand at the stern of their low, flat-bottomed boat and wrap one leg around an oar, steadying the hull of the boat with the other.

The distinctive stance evolved as a way to better steer their boats over the reed-filled water and floating plants. This balancing routine also allows the fishermen to keep a hand free to scoop fish into their conical nets. The basket net has a spear sticking out of the top of the frame which is used to stir the weed below them. Soon as the fishermen feel the fish swimming against the frame, they release the net for their catch. The technique is only practiced by men -- Intha women continue to row in the customary, cross-legged position, propelling the boat forward with their hand-held oars.

Although many Intha fishermen use diesel engines these days, many others continue with the traditional leg rowing technique. And even more switch on and off, performing for awed tourists. The catch of the day is most often nga-hpein (aka Inle Carp), which sells for about a dollar a fish. A local favorite among the Intha people, it is often used in the regional specialty called Htamin Gyin (aka Htamin Jin). The carp is kneaded together with rice, tomato and/or potato, shaped into round balls and finally garnished with crisp fried onion, tamarind sauce, coriander, spring onions and garlic. A variation of tofu, beancakes, dried chili and Chinese chives roots often accompany the dish.

In September or October, the lake holds leg-rowing competitions for the fishermen at the Phaung Daw U Pagoda Festival, held at the renowned Phaung Daw Oo pagoda. Buddha statues, mounted on a colorful barge, are towed by Intha rowers from the Phaung Daw U Monastery and ceremoniously transported around its shores, staying each night at a different village.

The freshwater Inle Lake is roughly 44.9 square miles and is also a big draw for animal lovers with its large number of endemic species. Nowhere else in the world but here can you find over twenty species of snails and nine species of fish. Roughly 20,000 brown and black head migratory seagulls flock here from November-January each year. The lake is predominantly populated by the local Intha people. Members of a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group, they are devout Buddhists and live in houses of wood and woven bamboo on stilts.

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