Inle Lake, Myanmar
So day 3 in Inle Lake was going to be a free day. I had planned to rent a bike and ride around the countryside, but after seeing the rather reckless motorcycle drivers on the roads who bobbed and weaved around people and came ever so close to knocking people over, I ditched the plan and hired a guide and driver to take me to Pindya, a little town about 2 hours from my hotel that was home to the Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda. The limestone cave was sat high on the hillside and was filled with thousands of gold gilded Buddhas.
So at 9:30 we set off through the very narrow roads hilly roads past rice paddies, cattle wandering on the road, men and women working the fields and kids walking and biking to school. As with the day before, it was a bit overcast, but soon enough the sun broke through and the two hour drive passed very quickly.
The climb to the Pagoda was some 500 steps. I was up for the climb, but my guide did not look too thrilled when I said I wanted to make the climb. After some talk back and forth, I finally relented, but insisted we at least walk down.
So the driver took the windy road to the elevator that would take us to the top. Now legend has it that 7 princesses were wandering in the cave and a massive spider wove a web trapping them inside. A dashing prince made his way up the mountain to fight the spider, slash open the web and free the princesses. He eventually married the youngest. To memorialize this “fantastic and truly beautiful” tale there was a giant spider statute at the entrance to the elevator along with the prince on horseback with sword drawn. I did not take a picture.
The elevator ride was a quick one flight up to the top where we walked to the entrance and were immediately met by hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of Buddhas of all shapes and sizes and made of all shapes and materials. As we wandered through the winding pathway that lead through the cave, we came across naturally occurring caves and tunnels that were also stuffed to the rafters with Buddhas.
Many of the Buddahs dated back centuries, although there are some Buddahs that have been added in recent years. There are apparently 8,064 Buddahs in all. No idea who set about counting them, but I presume they have some kind of inventory for historical purposes.
So as we wandered, it was evident that the Buddhas were made of every kind of material possible. There were teak Buddahs, limestone Buddahs, alabaster Buddahs, marble Buddahs, and lacquer Buddahs. There were sitting Buddhas, reclining Buddhas, standing Buddhas, Buddhas with different hand positions, Buddhas with different faces. Buddahs for everyone!
One of my favourite caverns was a little tiny cave at the end of a long walkway. It was hidden from view and you had to crawl on your hands and knees to get inside what I learned was a tiny little prayer room. It was a squeeze to get through the little hole in the wall, but once inside, the cave was simply lovely.
After crawling back out of the cave, we wandered around the remaining area we had not visited and then made our way back to the entrance. Unfortunately, by the time we came out, storm clouds had started to roll in and it looked like a major storm was on the way. Nevertheless, I reminded my guide that I wanted to walk down so off we set as the thunder growled in the background.
We made our way back down all 500 plus steps, jumped back in the car only to have me ask the driver to stop. I had spotted a little stand where they were selling local tea leaves. Tea was grown on the hillsides in the mountainous Shan province and the area around Pindya was no exception. I figured I had to give the local tea a try.
The stand was run by an elderly lady and her daughter and they couldn’t have been nicer. Once they saw they had a legitimate customer they immediately tried to sell me some of their other products. Dried apricots. Uh no thanks. Dried seaweed. Again no. Uh what’s this. They gave me a taste of some kind of salty snack made of Blackfoot, peanuts and soya beans. It was delicious so I immediately added that to my purchase and called it good.
So with purchases in hand, I climbed back in the car just as the rains came. We drove up the hill and pulled in to a restaurant for lunch and made a mad dash for cover., It was one of those spectacular tropical rain storms with lightening and thunder and torrents of rain.
We were quickly served some green tea to warm up. (It had actually become a tad chilly with the wind and rain.). As we were up in the mountains, the heat of the lowlands had bee left behind. I ended up ordering the Shan style soup with chicken. As is customary in the area, the staff brought over a bowl of rice crisps and spicy chili sauce (sort of like chips and salsa).
Anyway, I had my fill of those and by the time my soup arrived, I was no particularly hungry. It was probably a good thing, because I did not like my soup. The Shan style of soup involves a thick sticky noodle, which I DID NOT LIKE. I found it gummy and kind of gross. So I ate the broth and veggies and gave the adios to the noodles.
By the time we finished lunch, the rain had stopped. My guide suggested we take a drive through town before heading back to Nyaung Shwe. Our first stop was a large grove of banyon trees. One of the trees was over 100 years old and looked it. Unfortunately, right beside the old guy, folks were building BY HAND a new stone culvert. Hopefully they do not damage the tree.
We then drove through town and around the lake before heading up the hill again and out of town. The drive back was a little different than the drive to Pindya because it was late afternoon and everyone was out in the fields. It never ceases to amaze me how difficult life is in developing nations such as Myanmar. There were people in the fields, young and old on their hands and knees planting, cutting rice and wheat and gathering wood for charcoal. It sure makes you think as you pass buy the fields and realize sitting at a desk dealing with the law everyday is a pretty easy way to make a living.
So we made it back to Heho Town (the town I flew into) and my guide asked if I wanted to make one last stop to watch some folks make Shan paper, a particular kind of craft that is only found in the province. So not wanting to turn down a chance to learn something new, I agreed.
We made a stop at a little shop where I watched a young girl pull strands out of the lotus branches (much like the weavers) and then soak the strands in water. She then took handfuls of the strands and massaged them in the water so that they filled and entire frame. Once the gluey substance was spread out, she gently place flower petals and leaves into a shape on the substance and lifted the frame, set it down and let the water drain.
Once all the water was drained, the frame was placed in the sun to dry for 24 hours. It was a remarkable process. Once the paper was dried, it was made into umbrellas, frames, note books and lamp shades. And if that wasn’t enough, I watched a young fellow carve the umbrella frame and clasp. It was really a work of art. I ended up buying a couple umbrellas and some frames for the equivalent of $15. Given the amount of work involved, the price was ridiculously low so I didn’t even bother to negotiate. And with that, we drove the 45 minutes to my hotel and I called it a day.