8000 Buddhas in Pindaya cave, Myanmar

De Museologue in Myanmar

My love and me just returned from travelling Myanmar. It is mystical, deeply Buddhist, and scattered with Buddha statues. So it comes as no surprise that one of the most astonishing places in the country has just that: Pindaya Cave, in a mountain near Inle Lake. It is home to over 8000 Buddha statues. All are donated by wealthy Buddhists and benefactors alike, the oldest being over 200 years old. It is a true treasure, showing the developments in Buddha art throughout the centuries.

The cave opens up atop lovely meandering stairs. There, foreigners are charged an entrance fee into the caves, as we found to be true for many places in Myanmar. It seems fair enough, as we have come merely for sightseeing and hardly for religious reasons. Sure enough, we reveal ourselves as the Japanese style tourists we have come to be; shooting photo after photo in an attempt to capture this magical place for later. Not easy in a dimly lit cave.

All religious sites in Myanmar require you to leave your shoes as the entrance. So most of our Buddha viewing was done bare feet. In a cave this inevitably leads to wet toes. Anyway, I have never had such dirty feet as in Myanmar temples, the worst one being the one littered with monkey excrement on Mt. Popa. Compared to that, the occasional water in the Pindaya Cave is not all that bad. Needless to say, every evening it was sheer happiness giving our feet a fresh bath. Prayers answered. So far for religious experiences.

The view from Pindaya mountain is stunning. You could find yourself at any remote corner of Myanmar and still have golden pagodas peeking out from the bushes. Likewise, the number of pagodas seen from this place in the middle of nowhere cannot be counted on both hands. It is a movie-esque sight, leaving us with an Indiana Jones-ish sensation. The finger-size spiders and overgrown pagodas along the stairway add to the experience. I mean, it is said that on this very place several women were once held captive by a giant spider, until a handsome prince came to their rescue. If that does not romanticize this mountain I cannot imagine what will.

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The mountain holds another unique experience with tourism. Reverse tourism, that is. As in, Myanmar youngsters lining up to have their picture taken with us, foreigners. It appears we are an exoticism here. It might be one of the few places left on the planet where locals yet have to have their first encounter with the white species. With the whitening creams for sale in the locals shops, though, we happen to be impersonating their very beauty ideals. It makes for unique connections between cultures. At the same time we feel slightly uneasy being admired so articulately. Our pictures will be a hit at some Myanmar high school.

I could write another few pages on this unforgettable trip to the Pindaya Caves. But if I could say one more thing it would be that travelling Myanmar in 2014 means having seen the country before massive tourism spoiled the place. Although we had some encounters with people seeing the advantages of rich tourists flocking in, early adopters of “easy money”, most of the people are unimaginably untouched by western society and its accompanying capitalism. Though, with time, it is beyond avoidable that Myanmar loses authenticity. Yet, as it is unavoidable I would recommend travelling here asap. You will, however, be aware of your own contribution to the process. To us, that is the only blemish of our travel through mystical Myanmar.

Oh yeah, and if at the end of your vacations you can still bare to see Buddhas, you are a novelty in the history of Myanmar travelling 😉

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